Up to six students have been victims of accommodation fraud, according to the Students’ Association.
An as-of-yet unknown individual used numerous Facebook groups, including the “University of St Andrews Class of 2018” and “University of St Andrews Postgraduate Recruitment” to advertise available rooms in nonexistent properties. Posting under several pseudonyms, the user solicited deposits ranging from £700 to £1500, and emailed the victims a lease doctored to appear similar to those of St Andrews letting agents. The Students Association became aware of the incidents in early August, and immediately notified Police Scotland.
“We at the Students’ Association are troubled by these attempts to take advantage of students at their most vulnerable,” said Association President Pat Mathewson of the incidents. “We would like to encourage students to take every measure in ensuring the legitimacy of property, and be vigilant in engaging with only reputable landlords and letting agents.”
The user created several accounts and pseudonyms for the scam, including ‘Zheng Ping,’ ‘Tobias Kessler,’ and ‘Brigit Abmk.’ In one case they even created a fake roommate, which the victim then corresponded with via email (let’s watch who we’re Facebook friending during these troubled times).
A spokesman for the university wrote of the situation: “We’re very concerned by these reports. The Students’ Association has been quick to raise awareness of this issue and we would urge all students to heed their simple but helpful advice. Thankfully, only a small number of students have been affected, and the more we can raise awareness of this type of fraud, the better able we are to prevent others becoming victims. If you’re in any doubt about who you are dealing with, don’t sign anything or part with any money, no matter how plausible the paperwork may look.”
The Students’ Association is recommending that students do not transfer any funds or sign any contracts before viewing the property with the landlord to avoid any further incidents. Police Scotland has also asked that anyone who believes they may have been a victim of accommodation fraud to file a report with them, and for students living abroad to do the same with the local police.