International students scammed out of £105,000 in Northern Ireland

One student transferred £70,000 to a person posing as a Chinese police officer, law enforcement disclosed. The other student received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Chinese embassy, who threatened them with prison unless they transferred £35,000.

The Northern Ireland police service said it is working with local universities to raise awareness about scams. 

“Criminals are posing as international police officers and government officials to target international students”

“Sadly, this is a new version of a scam we have seen before, where fraudsters pose as police officers or government officials to con people out of money,” said PSNI superintendent Gerard Pollock. 

“Now the criminals are posing as international police officers and government officials to target international students. 

“The huge sum of money lost by these students are eye-watering but, unfortunately, all the criminals see is their gain.”

International students have been targets of similar phone scams in the past – in December 2020, the University of Sussex issued a warning to its students about fake calls from the “Chinese embassy” threatening students with forced repatriation unless they paid a large sum of money. 

Julie Allen, director of Member Services and Policy at UKCISA said the organisation is looking into the scale of this issue across the sector. 

“We know that universities are working hard to raise awareness of targeted scams, particularly among international students, from pre-arrival and airport pickups to orientation events through student societies and talks by the police,” Allen said. 

“We advise that students never transfer money, share personal details and bank details, or share their screen online with people they do not know.”

NUS-USI president Ellen Fearon said that it is “not unusual” for international students to be targeted by scammers more than domestic students.

“We’ve heard of dodgy landlords asking for very high deposits, higher instances of burglary targeting international students, and that’s on top of the extortionate fees they are charged for higher education,” Fearon said.

“While there’s often a lot of talk about attracting new students from overseas I would like to see government and institutions talking more about how to properly support them once they are here, and treat them fairly.”

Both UKCISA and the police advised students who are concerned that they are being scammed to call 101.

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