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Advice and Counselling Service

Protect your money from scams and fraud

It’s vital to protect your income. This page explains the different ways you might lose money, how to prevent this, and where to get help. 

Four people sitting and discussing in front of a laptopIf your income has already been affected by fraud or a scam, there is a lot of support available which we list below, depending on the reason for your financial loss. You can also contact us for emotional support or financial advice. 

Any fraud or scam: Action Fraud

Student Finance England scams: email phishing@slc.co.uk and furtherinfo@slc.co.uk 

Housing/Accommodation Fraud: 
Action Fraud and https://www.qmul.ac.uk/residences/acc-contact-us/ 

Parcel interception scam: 
Action Fraud 

Gambling or gaming concerns: 
 YGam, Gamcare,Gordon Moody, and Gamblers’ Anonymous 

Financial abuse concerns: 
Women’s Aid 

Money mule concerns: independent legal advice from 
a solicitor or local law centre 

Debt Bondage - owing debts to criminals: 
Action Fraud 

Cryptocurrency Investments

Cryptocurrency Investments

Most students have limited income. That’s why cryptocurrency schemes which promise quick investment returns seem very attractive. The schemes have proliferated and many target students. Organisations running them employ influencers, including students, to encourage you to part with your money. The majority are perfectly legal and offer the temptation of quick and easy returns, but an article by the Guardian newspaper (October 2021) explains how students are lured into becoming money mules by criminals offering fake cryptocurrency investments.  

Even if the scheme is legal, the reality is, for most of them, you need sufficient income to hold your investment long term, or you’re likely to incur a loss, or lose your money altogether.  Sometimes, that can be hundreds of pounds. Ask yourself the simple question: Does it sound too good to be true? If it does, don’t go there. 

Blackbullion’s student support guidance has a useful summary of the types of cryptocurrency, how investments work and the huge risk of investing. There are also lots of online articles highlighting the losses made in the UK such as Fortune magazine’s crypto craze and crypto scams spiralling. 

The Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA's) Scamsmart webpage lets you check whether your Cryptocurrency investment scheme isn't a scam.  

Gambling and Gaming

Gambling and Gaming

Student gambling is also on the rise and is now classed as a digital harm, ie a harm that comes from using an app on your phone or the internet.  

There are hundreds of apps offering easy ways to gamble, such as sports betting and mobile casino games, to name a few. Apps are available 24/7 and there’s usually no-one monitoring your spending, like parents or flatmates, so you can spend as much as you want without being accountable to anyone.  

However, you can contact your bank and ask to set spending limits on payments you make to particular organisations. Added to that is the normalisation of gambling through celebrity endorsements and premier league and university e-sports team sponsorship by betting firms. Not forgetting TV adverts between big games and reality TV shows which offer free spins to make your dreams a reality. Except, for the majority of gamblers, they don’t.  

Many gamblers suffer serious losses. Gambling support organisations have identified four stages:  winning, losing, desperation and hopelessness. According to YGam, more than 19% of problem gamblers have considered suicide, and more than 50% of student gamblers have considered dropping out of their course. 

Gamers, too, can be tempted by so-called ‘micro transactions’ – offers to buy extras or virtual items with real money, such as weapons or tools. Like an old school sticker collection, the more items you have, the better.   

The invitations to upgrade and buy items often flash up during a game, when you’re high on adrenalin and not likely to make a rational decision as to whether you can actually afford to spend the money.  

If you need confidential advice about gambling or gaming, check out YGam, Gamcare,Gordon Moody, and Gamblers’ Anonymous. These agencies can all offer you support. 

Financial abuse

Financial abuse

This is a type of coercive control, usually by a partner or family member. It starts small; perhaps a new partner suggests you pay for the weekly shop and before you know it, you’re always paying for it, a family member asks to borrow some of your student finance income and the amount increases week by week, you agree to let someone use your bank card or take out a loan for them and they start requesting this more and more.  

In this type of case, the abuser will often use emotional blackmail to get out of repaying you what they’ve borrowed, or giving you back your bank card. It can end with you having no control over your bank account and your bank account drained, or worse you owe interest and charges on loans taken out in your name.  

Whilst not something you actively choose to do, like gambling or investing, financial abuse can be hard to spot, or to realise it’s happening, until it’s reached a serious level, either financially or the emotional abuse has escalated into threats to your safety. It can also be difficult to prove without specialist advice.  

Women’s Aid has helpful guidance on options for those affected by this. 

Becoming a money mule  

Becoming a money mule

By giving someone else access to your bank account, you might also inadvertently become involved in money laundering by becoming a money mule – the term for someone who allows their bank account to be used, usually by criminals, to transfer money.  

There are plenty of online videos showing the risks involved such as NatWest Bank’s Money Muling: A Student Crisis. The Money Helper webpage: Money mules – what are they and could you fall victim? explains that the penalty for knowingly allowing your account to be used for fraud is up to 14 years in prison, but the Metropolitan Police say they are focussing on finding and prosecuting those who are using money mules rather than those who are duped into becoming one.  

If you have been involved in money laundering, whether knowingly or not, get independent legal advice about your options from a solicitor or local law centre.

Debt bondage – becoming trapped by debt owed to criminals  

Debt bondage – becoming trapped by debt owed to criminals

Besides becoming a money mule, criminals may also try and recruit students to engage in other illegal activity such as selling drugs on campus. Typically, a student is approached by another student or a 'friend of a friend' who tells them about a 'great' way to make extra money.  

As a thank you they're offered a present, such as a very expensive pair of trainers, and told they can pay for them at a later date. What they're not told is that the amount they owe doubles, or even trebles, every few days to the extent it becomes impossible for the student to ever afford to repay the money, leaving the student trapped by debt. This is known as debt bondage and is often accompanied by threats of violence against the student and their family members. 

Criminals often target the most vulnerable students - students from low income households who might be tempted by the prospect of earning a little extra money, students who are new to London and whose family live in another part of the UK or abroad, or students with health conditions or disabilities.  Such students may be vulnerable to so-called cuckooing. This is where a criminal takes over the student's accommodation and uses it to store drugs, weapons or money.  

For advice about debt bondage, contact Action Fraud. You can also contact usfor practical advice or emotional support.     

Scams (fraud or 'bad business')

There are many ways fraudsters and scammers will try and steal your money – and your identity. They are mostly criminals, either operating independently, or for much larger crime syndicates, with proceeds paying for other criminal activity such as drug smuggling or people trafficking. Below we explain the most common scams, which target students. If you’ve been affected by any of them, contact Action Fraud to report them and get free advice about your options.  Action Fraud’s website has an A-Z of the different types of fraud which explains the most common scams and how to prevent them. 

We know there is no word for scams in some languages, for example in Mandarin Chinese, and the closest translation might be 'bad business' or 'illegal business'. 

Parcel interception scam

This scam, which targets predominantly international students, is where a student is contacted to say a suspicious parcel addressed to them has been intercepted by the police or the Home Office. The student is told they need to transfer funds to the Home Office or the police as means of proving their identity, and the funds will then be returned to them, once their identity has been verified.  Unfortunately, the funds, once transferred are not returned and the criminal pockets the money. The scammer may also impose conditions such as not leaving accommodation, or not contacting anyone, whilst the 'issue' is being investigated, with threats of fines or even deportation from the UK. This can lead to students being isolated and believing they cannot access help.  

If you are being affected by this, or know of someone else who is, don't hesitate to reach out for help by contacting Action Fraud. You can also contact us for practical advice or emotional support.

Housing Scams 

Always get advice from Queen Mary Housing Services about finding accommodation and read their Private Housing Accommodation guide which is full of useful advice. Some tops tips for avoiding housing scams: 

  • avoid arranging accommodation online. If you can, visit the visit an agent with an office and shopfront property, first before paying any money and avoid using money transfers 
  • If you are overseas or not in London, contact Housing Services for advice about your housing options first before booking accommodation 
  • See Campusboard’s web page for advice about avoiding scams 
  • If you fall victim to a housing scam, contact Housing Services and Action Fraud for advice about your options. 

Email/text scams

Fraudsters target students with bogus emails or texts, especially during months student finance or other funding gets paid into bank accounts. Known as phishing, the aim is to obtain your online account details and passwords to enable the fraudsters to access your personal information and money.  A Queen Mary academic, Dr Paulo Oliva, has created a short film on how to spot phishing text messages: https://youtu.be/DuxpnubpfM8. 

Fraudsters can pretend to be from Student Finance England, the Police, the Home Office, the Inland Revenue, the Post Office or any large organisation. The texts/emails can be random but, if you have an account or have had recent contact with that organisation, they can appear genuine. They can also be very persuasive and put pressure on you to follow their instructions.  

Remember:  

  • Genuine banks and financial institutions don’t send emails asking you to click on a link and confirm your bank details or to transfer money to another bank account 
  • The Home Office never makes calls threatening you with a fine or deportation if you don’t pay them money 
  • The Student Loans Company or Student Finance England (SFE) will never ask you to confirm your bank details, login information or personal financial information by email or text message 

Always contact the organisation directly to check if a request is genuine.  

Student Finance England (SFE)have written a helpful Guide to identifying Phishing Scams and how to avoid them.  To avoid phishing scams, stay sceptical. The safest response is no response at all. If the request is important, the company or person will contact you in another way. 

Computer scams 

The best advice for computer scams is don’t make it easy for scammers. SFE’s phishing advice also holds good for computer scams but, additionally:  

  • Before logging into an online account, make sure the web address is correct  
  • Look for the padlock symbol which shows the account is secure 
  • Always use security software to protect your devices and information from malware and attacks and check it’s active 

Don’t use the same password for online banks and credit agencies. Make sure your password is strong and can’t be guessed.

Phone Scams

These are, generally, automated voice messages supposedly from HMRC, Student Finance England, the Home Office, Post Office or other large organisations. Scammers take advantage of the assumption that, if someone has our number, we think we should either should know them, or our number was given to them for a good reason. So, they might pretend to be an acquaintance or a reputable institution like a bank. The best advice is: 

  • Beware of unknown or strange numbers- your friend or family members will already be stored in your phone, so you’ll know if it’s a number you recognise 
  • If you don’t recognise the caller, hang up and don’t press any buttons or try to talk to an operator 
  • Use call blocking.

Prize scams 

You’ll be notified that you’ve just “won” a nice prize like money, jewellery or a vacation. These scams will ask you to pay something upfront. Does it sound too good to be true? It probably is. Ignore the message or email.

Retail scams

High-end luxury goods available cheaply on the internet? Check the seller reviews which often reveal a scam and that the goods are cheap, poor quality imitations. Too good to be true? It probably is. Don’t go there.

Crowdfunding scams 

Creators of the crowdsourced request promise a return for your small investment in their project but may end up pocketing your money instead. Do your research before signing up and check online feedback for other campaigns by the same organisation, which may reveal a scam.

Romance Scams

Criminals often sign up to dating websites with the sole aim of persuading you to part with your money. Be careful who you meet online – they may not be who or where they say they are - and follow Action Fraud’s advice.   

If you have been affected by any type of fraud and would like a confidential 1:1 appointment for practical, financial or emotional support, do not hesitate to contact us.

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