Over the last two weeks, four different scams have successfully defrauded students out of significant sums of money. These scams exploited different segments of BU’s population and operated with different methods.
Some scams specifically targeted international students. One defrauded a student of $150,000 by video conferencing them from Chinese embassy phone numbers. Another blackmailed a student out of $25,000 by claiming to be a Chinese government official.
Other scams targeted students desperately seeking jobs. One claimed to require money from students in order to obtain a position as an Amazon secret shopper or Walmart employee.
These scams have been a long-running problem on campus. In November 2018, there were reports of scams defrauding three international students of $124,500 by purporting to be Chinese officials. In February 2019, reports came out of more job scams targeting students, defrauding students through convincing them to buy gift cards.
Of course, students bear some responsibility for being vigilant of these scams. Checking the source of a job offer and never sharing one’s credit card information is imperative.
Boston University, however, should also bear some of the responsibility in the prevalence of these scams.
First, it is important to acknowledge that Boston University students come from many different backgrounds. Many may not have had the same exposure to internet safety norms as others and, thus, would benefit from more active efforts from the BU administration to educate students who are potentially more vulnerable to these kinds of schemes.
Chinese international students have been heavily targeted by these scams. The students scammed out of $150,000 have been met with ridicule and memes.
It is important to acknowledge how these scammers manipulate international students. Some Chinese international students may act out of fear given the Chinese government’s surveillance measures.
A June 2021 report from Human Rights Watch reported that international Chinese students studying in Australian universities feared retaliation from the Chinese government.
Scammers claiming to be Chinese government officials — and in some cases, utilizing legitimate Chinese embassy phone numbers — pinpoint a real fear many international students may have.
The International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) created a website with tips to avoid common scams. However, more effort should be made to inform students of the nature of these scams before they take place, rather than after.
Second, one of the reasons employment scams may have been successful is because the official BU student link portal — that the SEO itself admits that some of the postings may be fraudulent — may look illegitimate to a lot of students.
Last February, BU announced plans to renovate the website over the next three years. Why was no effort made to update it beforehand?
Moreover, BU claims no responsibility for vetting the job listings posted. On the Student Link Job Listing website, the Student Employment Office plainly states at the bottom of the page: “SEO does NOT perform background checks on employers, nor does it endorse or sanction any employer or company.”
On the Center for Career Development website, BU claims to “vet internship and job postings and employers who request permission to recruit BU students and alumni” but urges students to stay vigilant.
But what exactly are the action steps or vetting processes behind this “endeavor?”
Posting a job listing on Student Link is incredibly easy, and only involves posting details about the job and contact information. Providing references or background information to confirm the legitimacy of the job offer isn’t required.
The Center for Career Development’s Senior Associate Director Eleanor Cartelli stated the center “will never contact students about a job or internship opportunity that is not listed in Handshake.” But on the CCD website, the center itself states that jobs on Handshake may be illegitimate.
At the very least, the Center of Career Development and the Student Employment Office should be vetting these careers and job listings rather than resting the full responsibility on students. Or, at the very least, they should make an effort to distinguish legitimate job offers from scams through web design.
These suggestions are not meant to remove any responsibility from students on maintaining internet safety. It is important to be vigilant online and be aware of these scams.
Detective Lieutenant Kelley O’Connell of the Boston University Police Department claimed that the fact that only three of the nine scams attempted was successful is indicative that “our outreach to our community on preventive action on these scams is working.”
But BU can be doing more than outreach. When the administration is not doing enough to vet the jobs placed on their website, it is unfair to claim they’ve done enough.