Liz Eden –Written evidence (FDF0089)
Below is my submission of evidence for the above committee which I provide in a personal capacity:
- I work in a student support role at a Russell Group university. I manage a team responsible for helping students experiencing complex financial difficulties. We have, unfortunately, seen a number of students who are affected by scams asking for financial support after they realise they have been defrauded. Although the impact on the individual varies, several common themes have emerged from our discussions with students affected by scams and fraud.
- Victims are likely to be students who feel isolated. In our experience, scams predominantly affect international students. The students we support have spoken of their difficulties integrating into social communities at university. This means these students may not have the interpersonal networks which enable them to quickly 'sense check' if something does not seem right. Additionally, students who are experiencing loneliness are particularly vulnerable to 'romance scams' or any scam which relies on the fraudster making an emotional connection with the victim.
- Students talk about being manipulated psychologically. The 'Chinese Police/Embassy Scam', which is particularly prevalent at the moment, works by terrifying the student into thinking they are in serious trouble with the authorities. These psychological manipulations can be very subtle and multi-layered. One student told us about how gentle the fraudsters were, as they convinced her that they were on her side and were working to help her demonstrate her innocence. Another student told us how he was befriended by a scammer who started up a remote romantic relationship with him, and then excitedly told him about a wonderful opportunity to invest in cryptocurrency. As the student started to become wary about the amount he was investing, the scammer became very critical and intimidating, and used the relationship they had built up to coerce him into investing more money. This money was then stolen when it emerged the investment vehicle was fraudulent.
- We hear students expressing deep feelings of guilt and shame when they realise they have been defrauded. They are angry at themselves for having trusted someone they shouldn't, and they are also afraid other people will be angry with them for having been so gullible. In some cases, students have turned first to their parents for support. They are then further distressed by their parents' reaction which might be intense anger or disappointment.
- Students have expressed frustration at the lack of support from banking institutions. Some banks have implemented measures to encourage their customers to stop and think before they proceed with a transaction. However, as a result, the banks’ position is that the student is culpable, and that the bank will not take any action to try to recoup the student's losses.
- My team works closely with other teams across the university, including the International Student Support team, the Crime Prevention and Personal Safety Advisor, and the Mental Health team to support students when they are caught out by scammers. We continually try to raise awareness of scams as a risk. The orientation and induction materials include content designed to help students protect themselves, and we employ different modes of delivery to try to maximise the impact of this messaging.
- Some students have suggested that if warnings were to come from trusted institutions with a shared cultural background, eg country embassies, that they might be more impactful. We intend to explore this in the upcoming academic year. However, as above, sometimes fraudsters pose as representatives from authorities, so that may also cause concern and confusion.
21 July 2022