UTPD has joined forces with the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force to investigate the ongoing student kidnapping and accident phone scams. Managed by the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force is a group of local law enforcement and intelligence.
Since June, four UT families have come forward saying someone contacted them on the phone using a fake or blocked number, claiming that their student had either been kidnapped or hurt and was in immediate need of money. When the involved families investigated, they found their student had not actually been hurt or harmed. UTPD Captain Julie Gillespie said UTPD contacted federal authorities about a week ago. She said authorities have been working on similar scam cases all over the U.S. for the past two to three years.
Gillespie said there is no way to know for certain where the scammers are obtaining their victims’ information.
“When we became aware of the incidents involving UT students’ families, we immediately began investigating how information has been obtained,” she said. “To this point we have made no specific link to UT. Much public information can be obtained via the World Wide Web.”
In two recent incidents, the caller claimed students had been injured in a car accident, according to the UT alumni magazine The Alcalde. Two calls in June claimed students had been kidnapped. In each case, a voice with a foreign accent asked that a sum of money be deposited in a foreign bank account.
UT spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said UT and UTPD are using many means of communication to reach out to anyone affiliated with UT to prevent them from becoming victims of the scam. Weldon said UTPD has shared information using email and social media as well as releasing a media advisory. She said UT alumni magazine the Alcalde and Texas Parents have also published articles informing UT parents of the scams.
“UTPD shared this information via email, social media and a media advisory,” Weldon said. “In addition, The Alcalde (the alumni magazine) and the Texas Parents association published articles.”
Investigators have asked for any families who have been victims of the scam to contact UTPD at 512-471-4441.