Parents of UI students receive scam calls

The phone scammers are impersonating UI Public Safety Department officers and requesting money from parents.


Matt Sindt

Photo illustration by Matt Sindt

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety is warning the university community after parents of students were targeted in a recent phone scam.

In the scam, perpetrators called parents of UI students impersonating a UI Police Department officer. The scammer told the parents their child had gotten into trouble, and they need to provide finances for damages caused by their child.

The call spoofed the legitimate, non-emergency phone number of the police department when calling parents. According to a UI Department of Public Safety release, the scammers also provided a fake officer name.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Hayley Bruce, UI Department of Public Safety’s assistant director for communication and external relations, wrote that this scam in particular has not happened to the UI Department of Public Safety before.

“However, similar scams are somewhat common and have happened to other law enforcement agencies across the country,” Bruce wrote.

Following reports of the scam on April 21, the UI Police Department gathered as much info as it could from reports and put together a scam notice, Bruce wrote. Currently, the incident remains under investigation.

RELATED: Iowa City residents scammed by UI email offering free baby grand piano

Brenda Hummel-Foreman, the parent of Sal Capaldo, who is on the men’s track team, received a phone call from the scammer on the evening of April 21. Hummel-Foreman said the caller ID read the “University of Iowa,” which she said convinced her to take the call.

Once she took the call, Hummel-Foreman said she could not remember whether the impersonator referred to her son by his name or just as her son. The impersonator then asked her if she had talked to her son that day and if her son was acting strange or different from usual.

“So then, I’m, like, my heart was sinking at that point because I didn’t know where this was going,” Hummel-Foreman said. “Then, he said, ‘Well, we have him.’”

The caller then detailed a false fight that her son engaged in outside the hatchet throwing business, Hatchet Jack’s, and said there was property damage.

“He claimed he knew my son because he’s an athlete,” Hummel-Foreman said. “I’m like, well, that’s not too far-fetched.”

Hummel-Foreman said she was told she would not be able to reach her son on the phone because the officers took his phone away.

The impersonator was also rattling off charges on the call that they were planning to charge her son with, she said.

“They said they were going to charge him with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and destruction of property,” Hummel-Foreman said.

She said she asked the caller if they’d done a breathalyzer test on her son, and the caller said they were getting ready to do that.

“I’m going, okay, that seems strange,” she said. “You’re telling me you’re charging him with public intox, and you haven’t even tested yet?”

After talking with the caller for a while, Hummel-Foreman said she heard a voice in the background of the call yelling at the scammer. The second scammer allegedly got on the call and said the owner of Hatchet Jack’s wanted to press charges for the damages.

Hummel-Foreman said the impersonators tried to get her to work out payment on the phone, but she chose instead to ask how to know that it was not a scam. After that question, Hummel-Foreman said the second impersonator got angry when she brought up the possibility of spoof calls.

At that point in the call, Hummel-Foreman remembered she had her son on the Life360 app, which can track people’s location if you add them.

Ultimately, Hummel-Foreman ended the call without providing payment, called her son, and told him about the call before calling the UI Department of Public Safety.

“That was Friday night, and they said, yeah, we’re getting a lot of them. They’re targeting the parents of athletes,” Hummel-Foreman said.

Dustin Berns, a UI first-year student and student security supervisor for the UI Office of Campus Safety, said he is concerned about the power of artificial intelligence to increase scam caller’s legitimacy.

“Because I know on TikTok, I’ve seen there’s people that call parents, and they’re able to use AI to replicate someone’s voice so familiarly that parents get really worried,” Berns said. “AI has made it harder to determine whether or not something’s a phone scam or not.”