Meet the students who’ve fallen for online scams and lost thousands of pounds

One student lost £3,000

It was nearing the end of the academic year when Bristol student Rosie got a Facebook message from her course mate Alice. The message read: “Hi I’m a bit embarrassed but could I ask you for a big favour?”

Alice told Rosie she was behind on her bills and asked if she could help her out. Rosie, being a good friend, and knowing full well that Alice wasn’t the best with money, coughed up the cash, no questions asked.

But it turned out that it wasn’t Alice asking for the money. It was an online scammer who’d hacked into Alice’s Facebook account and just robbed Rosie of £350.


The scammer speaking to Rosie through Alice’s account

Online scams are becoming more prevalent and sophisticated in the UK.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 6,000 cases of coronavirus-related fraud with a total of £34.5m stolen since 1st March 2020 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Just last month there was the ‘Census 2021’ scam which involved text messages telling people they needed to pay some money for a late or incorrectly filled out Census form. Then there was the ‘Royal Mail’ scam. This one claimed that you need to pay an extra £2.99 shipping fee for a parcel.

The Tab caught up with some students who’ve fallen victim to online scams and had lost thousands of pounds.


The ‘Royal Mail’ scam

‘It’s a bit scary because Facebook is definitely not safe’

Rosie wasn’t the only one who fell for a Facebook Messenger scam that would cost her friendship group over £1,000.

After Rosie sent the scammer £350, she saw a Facebook post, this time genuinely made by her friend Alice, saying her account had been hacked and warning her friends not to send her any money. “The blood just drained from my body,” Rosie told The Tab.

Rosie called her bank but by the time her case was reported, the scammer had withdrawn all the money from the account and disappeared. It later transpired that a few more of Alice’s friends also sent money, with one sending the hacker £720.

Alice had obviously been on her phone that day, but the hacker had cleverly archived all of the messages with her friends.

The only reason Alice realised she got hacked was because she was with one of her friends at the time, who  received the dodgy message claiming to be from Alice herself.

None of the students got their money back. Rosie told The Tab: “I would definitely check next time. I’d call her first just to double check. It’s a bit scary though because Facebook is definitely not safe.”

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “We recently introduced safety notices – proactive warnings that are helping 70 million people per month spot and avoid potentially harmful interactions like scams.

“We encourage people to not accept suspicious requests and to report suspicious messages to us right away so we can take action.” 

‘It’s defo made me and my parents question every call and text since’

Mathumye fell for a wifi scam that left her around £600 out of pocket.

The third year Warwick student was having problems with her Talk Talk wifi, struggling to stay connected in her Zoom lectures, so it was no wonder she was excited when someone called the house offering her a solution.

The person on the phone, purporting to be from Talk Talk, said she needed to update her router and was eligible for a refund for the inconvenience the bad connection had caused.

The person told Mathumye that in order to transfer her the refund, they would need her to open up her online banking and share her screen with them.

She concedes that this “now sounds extremely stupid.”

The scammer withdrew money from Mathumye’s account in chunks, taking a total of £3,000. Because Mathumye was quick to report the crime, she managed to get back all but £600.

“It’s defo made me and my parents question every call and text since. Like it was so traumatic for me because I felt so guilty but I know I’ll never fall for anything like that again,” Mathumye said.

‘I just panicked and clicked the link’

Leeds fourth year Lauryn got a text that she thought was from her bank, Santander. The events that followed left her with just £8 in her bank account.

The text said that Santander had noticed unusual activity in her account, sending a link so that she could check what was up.

“In hindsight it is so dumb to have clicked on it, but I just panicked and clicked the link, and it was just a normal online banking log on,” Lauryn told The Tab.

15 minutes after Lauryn had entered all her information and security questions, she got a real text from Santander saying she’d entered her overdraft.

It turned out she’d inadvertently handed over her account details to a stranger who had taken around £250 leaving her with £8 in her account.

Luckily for Lauryn, Santander were able to issue her with a full refund. “Now I know not to click on links because I was sooo lucky the bank gave me my money back and that it wasn’t too much otherwise would have been way worse!” Lauryn said.

A spokesperson for Santander told The Tab criminals often use “number spoofing” to make it look like their text is coming from a bank, and warned customers to “never click on a link in a text message.”

They added that customers should be wary of “common warning signs of a scam, like misspellings or grammatical errors, or links that direct you to share information or make a payment.”

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