Staying safe from scams

Reading time: 4 minutes
The recent rise in students affected by scams has highlighted the need for vigilance, both on and offline. Although the start of the semester is a particularly popular time for these scams the reality is that anybody can fall victim to a scam at any time. Here Andy Shanks, Director of Student Wellbeing, shares what we can do to keep ourselves, and our students, safe.

Scamming people out of large numbers of cash, or personal details certainly isn’t new but each year we see different scenarios and situations that can catch people out. Andy elaborates: “Unfortunately, the number, variety and complexity of scams and frauds on the increase, can be identified globally and every one of us could and perhaps have found ourselves targeted in the course of our daily lives.

“Many scams are sophisticated in their organisation and orchestrated by professional criminal gangs who prey on vulnerabilities.”

So what should we all be looking out for? Andy explains: Be wary of clicking on links or webpages in unsolicited or unexpected emails or text messages. Also be cautious when receiving telephone calls even if allegedly from government departments, the police, other law enforcement agencies, banks or legitimate businesses. Remember telephone numbers can be disguised to appear genuine and that legitimate organisations do not normally conduct business in such a manner.”

If you think you’ve fallen prey to a scammer, Andy recommends contacting your bank straight away: “Contact your bank or the organisation with whom you have been in contact using a means that you yourself know to be genuine and seek immediate advice and assistance from the police.”

Safeguarding students

This semester, the number of students falling prey to scammers has been particularly high. Andy explains the most common ones: “There are a number but those most recently identified relate to alleged parcel in transit interceptions by government agencies followed by accusation of involvement in criminality, accommodation rental, owing money to HMRC, dating or romance communications and the online purchase and trading of cryptocurrency.”

These types of pinpointed scams can be particularly dangerous, especially to international students.Such scams can lead to the loss of vast sums of money, often involving tens and tens of thousands of pounds, which can seriously affect mental health and lead to difficulties with the ability to study,” says Andy.

So what should staff look out for to be able to help students avoid these scams? Andy explains:Very often nobody is aware of these events, as victims feel ashamed, guilty or embarrassed about what’s happened to them. Reported scams are known to have gone on for several days with victims being intimidated and ordered not to tell anybody or face severe consequences.”

Day-to-day, Andy encourages staff to look out for anything unusual: “Staff should be aware of changes in behaviour, non-attendance at lectures and tutorials or sudden decline in performance and achievement. Every member of staff has focus on their own particular discipline but can play a small part in contributing to the overall welfare and safety of our community, which equates to the size of a large town in Scotland.

“Merely by having an awareness of the subject, watching out for anything unusual behaviour, knowing where appropriate advice can be sought and promoting engagement with appropriate events organised by the University,” he continues.

How to help

The consequences of falling prey to scammers can have potentially devastating and life changing consequences. Andy recommends following these three key points:

  • 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 Police Scotland. Students are also encouraged to contact the Advice Place, University Security Team, Accommodation Catering and Events, Residence Life, Chaplaincy, a member of staff or even a friend.

Resources are available for staff to share with their students. Relevant information and advice can be found on the webpages of Police Scotland, Trading Standards and the Edinburgh University Students’ Association Advice Place, Security Team, Edinburgh Global, the Pre-Arrival and Induction Team, Finance, Information Security and Information Service and Welfare teams within the University.

The Security Team are available to assist and respond on a 24-hour basis on every day of the year so nobody should ever feel alone. You can call them anytime on 0131-650-2257.

Find out more about the Fraud Awareness resources on the Information Services webpages.