Scam Alert

  A woman covers her ears and squints her eyes. Copyright: © Stanislava Petkova

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Stanislava Petkova

Info Service Center / Zertifikat Internationales for students / Notarizations / Study Progress Assessments

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+49 241 80-90661

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Even though the topic of scamming is not nice to discuss, we would like to prepare you well for it so that we can help you to avoid difficult situations. We have noticed in recent years that more and more international students become victims of scammers when looking for an apartment, a job or a service. This is not only frustrating, but can also be very expensive and can get you into a lot of trouble, especially financially. The International Office Info Service Center is always here to help you if you are unsure or get into trouble. Here we have collected some information and tips on how to recognize fraud attempts.

 

What types of scam are there?

Job Scamming

According to the Berlin police, job scammers copy or falsify websites of real companies and create fake job ads on the Internet. At first glance, the websites and offers look legitimate. With real-looking employment contracts and professionally designed company logos, the perpetrators create an appearance of credibility and authenticity. They ask for you to provide your social security number, health insurance data, bank account details and a copy of your identity card. In the employment contract, the allegedly legal purpose of the job is explained in detail. In this way, they try to maintain the impression of a legitimate employment relationship for as long as possible with the aim of obtaining sensitive data.

Jobs as so-called "parcel agents" are also a trend. According to the Berlin police, the tasks consist of weighing goods in parcels, photographing them, documenting their condition, repacking them if necessary, taking out invoices and forwarding them to addresses - mostly abroad. With the credit card data acquired for the work contract, which the deceived person has voluntarily transmitted by e-mail, high-value goods (electronics, cameras, cell phones, clothing, etc.) are ordered on the Internet in the name of the parcel agent. In most cases known to us, the transmitted account data of the students concerned are also used for payment for goods orders. The parcel agent is the only link in the fraud chain that can be quickly identified by the police. If the legitimate credit card holders (the defrauded students) have objected to the debits, the merchants address their claims by invoice to the parcel agent or the parcel agent, since delivery has officially been made to them.

In other scam cases, victims "assist" by receiving money for certain goods to their account. However, you have to send the goods to mostly foreign addresses and transfer most of the money to a supposed business account. You are only allowed to keep a small amount of the money as commission for the service. You therefore become a commodity agent. Often, there are also several commodity agents or commodity agents one after the other, in order to cover up the actual recipient. This is simply a form of money laundering. In the end, the defrauded parties have neither the goods nor the money. The merchant believes the defrauded person is the rightful buyer of the goods and expects the corresponding payment. In such fraud cases, students often need a lawyer.

Tips for avoiding jobscams:

  • If you are offered a lucrative job via an unsolicited e-mail, where you can earn an unusual amount of money without providing a corresponding service, you can assume that the offer is dubious. Do not respond to such dubious e-mail offers and do not establish contact with the sender.
  • Always decline offers that ask you to provide your account or credit card information to process payments. Do not be tempted by tempting commission offers.
  • Check your account transactions for unexpected credits. If there is a credit, immediately transfer the amount back via the bank. In this case, contact your bank and the police. Reverse payments should only be made to the original account.

Basically, the more tempting an offer is, the more suspicious you should be!

Source: Police Crime Prevention

Rent Scamming

A great apartment at a bargain price and with a great location - an offer that is too good to be true. Especially on real estate exchanges on the Internet, apartment hunters can fall for scammers. The scam is almost always the same: The scammers pretend to be UK or US citizens who have inherited the apartment to be rented. Or they say they used to work in Germany and want to rent out the old place after a job-related move abroad. After an advance payment of the first rent and the deposit by transfer on a domestic or foreign bank account or by cash transfer the keys are to be sent to the new tenant via the parcel service DHL or an agency. If the tenant is not satisfied, the money can be returned later. But the victims never see the money again, and the apartment often does not even exist or belongs to another owner who is unaware of the fraud.

Tips for avoiding rent scams:

  • If it looks too good to be true, it is often not a real offer, but a scam!
  • Scammers usually offer furnished and renovated apartments in a preferred residential location at a seemingly low rent and excellent condition with enticing pictures.
  • Any attempt to visit the apartment will be refused. The scammers will not let you view the apartment via video call or in person. A typical excuse is that they are very busy abroad for professional reasons.
  • Securing the apartment before the viewing: The scammers ask for a deposit or rent payment, as a reservation option due to high demand. The scammers may promise a refund if you do not like the apartment.
  • Do not trust any copy of a passport that is sent to you, and do not send yours. The scammers usually use a stolen identity and ask you to send a copy of your passport. However, they refuse any phone or video call and communicate only via email or WhatsApp instead.
  • If landlords can't prove they are the owners, they probably aren't. A draft lease does not prove the legitimacy of an offer or ownership. Fraudsters usually provide a foreign bank account that supposedly belongs to a family member.

For more tips on finding a place to live, visit this website.

Source: Police Crime Prevention

Accepting parcels on behalf of your neighbors

Anyone who accepts parcels on behalf of unknown neighbors should be careful: Fraudsters take advantage of this willingness to help so they can obtain expensive goods from the Internet. They order goods under someone else's name for several thousand euros with a pay-later option (payment is only made within a fixed period of time after the goods are received) and give a delivery address at a residence where they are not even registered. Sometimes they take advantage of the fact that residents are on vacation or absent, or they put someone else's name on an empty mailbox.

Since no one is present at the recipient's address, the parcel is left with neighbors. The scammer then rings the neighbors' doorbell and claims to be collecting the mail for relatives who are on vacation. If the bill is not paid because it was ordered under a false name, the neighbor must pay for the goods because they last received the goods and signed for them.

Tips for receiving parcels:

  • Look out for anything unusual, especially on home mailboxes (additionally attached mailboxes, frequently changing or additional names, and so on).
  • Only accept parcels for people you know and who are actually your neighbors.

If you have accepted a parcel for a stranger and an unknown individual rings your doorbell to collect it, then:

  • Ask to see their ID and make a note of the details.
  • Also note the appearance of the individual collecting the parcel (age, height, clothing, any unusual features) as well as the date and time of collection.
  • Keep the collection notification of the actual recipient to be able to prove that you have passed on the parcel.

If you suspect fraud, refuse to hand over the parcel if necessary and contact the nearest police station or call the police on the emergency number 110.

Source: German Police Crime Prevention

Doorstep fraud

Be alert if someone is trying to sell you something on your doorstep, especially if they are trying to lure you with bargains or freebies. This is often a scam used by criminals to get you to sign a contract, for example for insurance, cheap electricity, a magazine subscription, or a household appliance.

Pointers for doorstep sales:

  • Never buy or sign anything on your doorstep.
  • Do not let "representatives" or "sales representatives" into your home.
  • Only allow tradespeople into your apartment who you yourself have commissioned or who have been announced by property management (or the proprietor).
  • Never exchange money on your doorstep. This could be fraud (e.g. counterfeit money).

Source: German Police Crime Prevention

Police officer impersonators (on your doorstep or the phone)

It is an old trick: scammers pretending to be police officers ringing on your doorstep or the phone. At the door, they will show fake ID, while on the phone, they will try to get their victims to hand over money, for example, at home or at the bank to an unknown individual who is also pretending to be a police officer. The fraudsters claim, for example, that the money is no longer safe or needs to be examined for clues in a crime case. The scammers use a special technique that shows the police number 110 or another local telephone number on the phone display when they call.

Similar scams are calls from "Interpol", "Europol", and so on. The scammers usually only speak English and claim that your ID has been stolen and is being used in money laundering.

Pointers for police officer impersonation scams:

  • As a rule, you should never let unknown individuals into your home.
  • Ask to see their ID
  • If you suspect something, call the authority or institution where the officer supposedly works.
  • The police will never ask you for money.
  • Never give out any details of your financial situation on the phone.
  • Do not give in to pressure on the phone! Just hang up. Scammers often try to create pressure.

Source: German Police Crime Prevention

 

Further information on scams, news, facts, and tips from the police is available on the central German police website.

 

A Chinese Student at RWTH Tells His Story...

Recently, several students at RWTH have been victims of a complicated, targeted, and precisely planned scam due to a personal data leak. Summarized below is one such story from April 2022 to June 2023.

  A magnifying glass in front of a Scrabble board, highlighting the word "scam" Copyright: © Stanislava Petkova

It all started with two men in work attire showing up at the door of the student's apartment and claiming to be employees of the local internet network operator. Once inside the apartment, they asked to see the victim's ID and cellphone number, allegedly due to problems with the network. Shortly after, the victim would receive fraudulent calls at irregular intervals, mostly from numbers with European codes. The topics of the calls varied but would often mention European bank cards or related financial matters. The victim proceeded with caution, responding minimally and frequently hanging up.

Everything came to a head in June 2023 when the victim used a delivery service app and provided updates on his personal details and new address. The frequent fraudulent calls recommenced shortly after. The nature of the calls now included a voice message from a foreign number asking the student to press a specific button on his phone to resolve an alleged parcel problem. One call supposedly from the Shanghai Anti-Fraud Center in China was particularly alarming. The caller introduced himself as a representative of the center warning of scams targeting Chinese citizens abroad. After some time, the victim was informed by another number about his alleged involvement in a cross-border money laundering scheme. The caller, who claimed to be in contact with the Shanghai Anti-Fraud Center and the Shanghai Hongkou District Public Security Bureau, said the student’s identity had been stolen to open a fraudulent bank account and commit crimes. The student was forced to provide personal details and information on his financial assets and thus fell deeper and deeper into the scam.

The scammers communicated with the student via online platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which they justified by stating that the authorities supposedly offer this online service especially for citizens abroad. All the phone numbers were manipulated in such a way that the numbers matched the real authority numbers, which made them seem trustworthy. The fraudsters demanded many documents and screenshots of the victim’s personal details and even asked him to uninstall all the apps from his cellphone, except for the communication apps they used with each other. The victim had to give hourly updates via these communication apps, "in return for a guarantee of his safety".

This psychological pressure was partly responsible for gradually trapping the victim. The scam reached its climax when the student was presented with a fake arrest warrant. The caller, impersonating a public prosecutor, got the victim to reveal more personal information and write a "confession of his innocence". He was told to pay a five-figure amount to "avoid having to go to prison", and the victim transferred the money. The scammers then demanded even more money and asked for "bail" of up to one million dollars. When the student became aware of this, he contacted the police, realizing it was a very cleverly devised scam.

Shanghai Police was called in and confirmed that such cases are never handled online or via WhatsApp or Telegram. The student eventually reported the incident to the relevant authorities and the police and immediately took action to protect his own finances and personal details.