Phone scam returns, targets Winthrop students

Winthrop University Campus Police is again investigating cases of a phone scam targeting students.

The university’s police department says two students were called Monday by a suspect pretending to be an IRS agent. The scammer asked the students to put cash on re-loadable cards purchased at a grocery store, according to a police report.

The students were told that they were in trouble for putting false information on their student loan paperwork, the report states. The suspect on the phone told one student that he had an arrest warrant for her. Another student said she was told that she would be arrested in her dorm room if she did not pay immediately, according to police.

The student told Campus Police officers that the caller knew her dorm room number.

Police say the caller asked each student for $950. Based on police records, it appears one of the students spent $950 on a re-loadable card.

Earlier this year, Winthrop officials said they were investigating at least five cases of students who were targeted by a similar phone scam. The Rock Hill Police Department and the Columbia office of the Joint Terrorism Task Force are also investigating.

In those previous cases, Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis said the calls appeared on caller ID as coming from the Rock Hill Police Department. The caller then identified himself as a Winthrop employee and informed the student that they have an outstanding balance on their campus account.

The phone scam attempted to have students make payment over the phone, police said in January.

Winthrop officials have said that similar scam tactics happened last year at the University of South Carolina, USC Aiken and other schools in the Southeast. Most of those calls “spoofed” local police department numbers in the local area to make it appear on caller ID that the spam call was from authorities.

The most recent wave of phone scam attempts targeting Winthrop students spoofed a city of Rock Hill government phone number, according to police records.

Zebedis has said that the spam callers seem to be obtaining student phone numbers from the university’s online directory. He added that no other sensitive information is known to be compromised.

Winthrop maintains a public student and employee directory on its website with telephone numbers included. In some cases, students list their parents’ home telephone number or their personal cellphone number. School officials say students can choose to opt-out of being listed from the online directory.

To avoid being scammed, Winthrop police suggest:

▪ Never giving a stranger money over the phone.

▪ Never giving personal information over the phone, such as Social Security number, date of birth, or financial information.

▪ Verify the caller’s identity by asking for their name and phone number. Call back to verify their information. If the call-back number is fake and part of a scam, call local police.

▪ Do not engage in a lengthy conversation with the caller.

▪ Keep a log of the call times, the topic, and the caller’s demands to turn over to law enforcement.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068