Scammers often target university students in order to get money, or in some cases to acquire personal information that they can use for future scams.
The government’s Take Five To Stop Fraud campaign suggests that if you receive an unexpected offer, threat, or request for money you take five and consider whether it is genuine:
STOP - Take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
CHALLENGE - Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
PROTECT - Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud - the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime.
Sadly, scams often disproportionately impact international students and the University had additional information about scams at Fraud, tricks and scams | International Student Support | University of Exeter
Looking Out for Fraud
There are many types of scams and they can present in various ways, but there are some general things that should make you suspicious
- If it sounds too good to be true.
- If you’re contacted unexpectedly.
- You are pressured to make a decision quickly.
- If they demand your bank details or login details.
- Being asked to send money in advance.
- If you are given a mobile number or PO Box number as the contact for their company - these are easy to close and difficult to trace.
- If the email address is not what you would expect from the company.
- If there are spelling errors and poor grammar.
Phishing is when you are contacted unsolicitedly in order to collect personal information. A common example of this is an email linking you to what may look like a common seeming site (e.g. Twitter) but asks you expectedly to log in.
In other cases these can take the form of emails from the Student Loan Company or HMRC. Be on the lookout for unusual email addresses, typos, and requests which seem unusual. If you think a tax issue you can confirm whether an email is genuine by contacting email@example.com. and if it’s a problem with your student loan you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Social Media Scams
Social Media scams usually attempt to gather personal information about you in order to hack into your account. They can do this by asking you to reveal personal information in exchange or login details, and even by collecting information about users that are common security questions for example in the form of online quizzes
Fraudulent landlords post adverts and ask for deposit money without then having a house to rent. Once they have the money, they disappear. The National Union of Students advises:
- Never transfer a holding deposit before visiting a property.
- Avoid making payments via money transfer companies such as Western Union.
- Make sure the advert looks legitimate - for example, that there are photographs of the property and that the same photographs aren’t being used on lots of different adverts.
- Be wary of telephone numbers not based in the UK or beginning 070 (non-geographic business numbers), and of adverts that only let you get in contact via email.
- Use a trusted and verified landlord or letting agent - your student union or accommodation office probably has a list.
- Protect your deposit by using a scheme approved by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Some scammers present themselves as employers for the purposes of collecting personal information, bank details, or money. Be careful to research potential employers, and pay attention to how they are contacting you – if it is not through official company email addresses why is this? Does their office have an address and does the location match with one that you can find on Google Streetview or elsewhere online? The company may also require you to ring a premium rate number (0845, 0844, 0870, 0871 etc.) or ask for money upfront.
Fake websites and products and tickets
Various scams take money for products and services that don’t arrive or are radically different from what are advertised. Look for reviews and if you are unsure of a company you can get extra security by using a pre-paid credit card or an online money transfer system such as PayPal.
Criminal organisations sometimes look for people to act as money mules. This is where someone asks you to accept money and pay it into their account, keeping 10% of it for yourself. Often this is presented as helping someone out “I can’t access my account but I need to get this money to someone” or as a form of currency exchange – taking money from a third party abroad that for some reason can’t transfer money to directly where it needs to go.
Not only is this illegal, but it could be covering the tracks of people involved in dangerous black market businesses such as human trafficking, sex slavery, and terrorism.
Fraudsters may attempt to convince you that you have committed or are suspected of committing a crime, for instance you may receive a call about an unexpected package and find yourself talking to a person posing as a police officer who accuses you of receiving stolen goods and expects a bribe in order to forget about it. It’s also common for these fraudsters to target international students with threats that they need to make a payment to secure their visas or risk deportation.
The pandemic has presented countless new opportunities for scammers – and these situations are changing rapidly, although increased financial need has also driven more people than ever into all the traditional scams. You can find information about current causes for concern at News | Action Fraud
As of March 2021 one of the major concerns is fake NHS text alerts about vaccinations: While the NHS is contacting people by text, when they do they will never ask for your banking information, or for a payment.
Another form of scam that is increasingly popular at this time is tickets and travel scams, where people are planning for holidays or events after COVID and are more willing to overlook problems than they would normally be.
Multi-Level Marketing (or MLM) is a business model where a company sells its product on to distributers, who then make a profit from selling on these products or recruiting others to sell on these products and taking a percentage of the profit. They often tip over into being pyramid schemes.
Many businesses encourage you to sell to your friends and family. Constantly selling to friends, family, and social media contacts can damage your relationships.
If you are considering joining an MLM consider:
- Is the company honest with you and up-front about costs without you having to pay a membership fee or commit to them to get details.
- Does the business sell a product that people will want to buy at the cost that it sells for? Is there a reason why people would buy the product you’d be selling apart from that they’re friends or family?
- Does the business focus on recruitment of representatives rather than on selling their product?
- Does the business frequently take pains to reassure you that it’s legal? Few reputable businesses, operating within the law, will feel a need to do that.
If you are worried about a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme and want to report it you can contact Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040
What to do if you have been tricked
You can report suspicions or incidents to Action Fraud - either online or by phoning 0300 123 2040.
Your reports will then be passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and analysed to see if they can be used as part of a police investigation.
If you have had difficulty with a scam and now feel distressed you can contact the University of Exeter Wellbeing Services. If you are in financial difficulty you may be able to access funds through the Success for All Fund