Be wary of scammers

Avoid being a victim

28 January 2020 | Youth

Ester Kamati

It’s that time of the year when students flock to institutions of higher learning to ensure that they are not left out of the system. When desperation kicks in along with the determination to get placement at a local institution, students become easy targets for the smart and cunning scammer. The Zone discusses how to stay safe from fraudsters who seemingly appear at the perfect time and persuade students to ignore logic and just “go with it”.

Scams vary depending on the situation you find yourself in, and can be found whenever desperation abounds. From “if you give me N$1 000, I’ll get you into the system” to “you don’t have to stand in the queue, let me deposit for you, I know someone at the cashiers” – anyone who tells you lies to get you to trust them and attempts to get money out of you is a scammer. Here are a few pointers to identify when you’re being scammed as well as ways to protect yourself.

Why students are an easy target

Feelings of inferiority are one of the reasons people often become trusting, making them vulnerable to scams, according to the SRC vice president at the University of Namibia (Unam), Phillipus Hamunyela.

“Generally, when you come to an environment which you are not familiar with, you tend to listen to anything anyone you find there tells you.” Hamunyela added that first-year students are especially susceptible to such situations as they are not well-versed in the processes at a new institution, they are unfamiliar with the surroundings and, often, they don’t know anyone there.

“It usually comes from a place of desperation,” he added, like when standing in queues for a long time. “When someone approaches you at the right time, it is easy for a student to fall for the scammers’ tricks.”

“I think scammers are always lucky. They come to you when you least expect it to give you solutions that look like they are amicable.” For example, asking for money to help the student “register quicker”.

Red flags: How do you know it’s a scam?

· The person asks you for money to assist you

· They take you to a place which looks a bit sketchy. “Let’s quickly go behind that building over there,” for example. If someone truly wants to assist you, they will take you to a familiar place, somewhere in public, or they’ll most likely have a tag on to show who they are.

· They have a sense of urgency, wanting to get things done quickly.

Ways to protect yourself

Hamunyela advises students to acquaint themselves with the necessary information beforehand to avoid being misled. He further advised students to read information on posters. “That way you can protect yourself when somebody comes and gives you information contrary to what you’ve read.”

He added that if students are in a position where they need guidance, they should familiarise themselves with the SRC or consult student assistants rather than trusting random sources on campus.

Simon Namesho, the communications and marketing officer at Unam, said a sense of urgency when a person claims to be helping you is a red flag. “The moment you are not in control of the process, then you should know that this is possibly a scam.”

He added that using university documents to lure students into a deal is another red flag. For example: “I can get you a proof of registration quickly, just give me the money.”

Annelie Don, the academic registration registrar at Unam, said there are individuals who pose as students because they know the loopholes and will approach students with various stories. “They might say ‘let me take your documents, I can go and copy it for you, I can ensure that it is certified’.”

According to Don, scammers may use certification stamps that are not authentic, while charging fees for the process. “Students should be aware of those. They are well presented. You won’t even see on their faces that it might be a scammer. There are even ladies who pretend. Very beautiful and very smart and can even speak in a soft tone, but please be careful, they might be scammers,” Don said.

Rosa Shilongo, the assistant accountant for credit control in the office of the bursar at Unam, said students should note that the university only has “one central payment point” during registration and that is in the main hall. “Whatever payment is being done should only be at that one central point, though Unam cashiers or FNB, and students should get a proof of payment.” She added that it is important for students to make sure that the student number reflected on the poof of payment is correct.

Money matters

Shilongo empasised that there is no way payments can be made in the corridors, adding that payments can only be made through the cashiers or at the bank, using the details provided on the university’s website and branded pamphlets.

“They should not accept anybody’s banking details to make payments with regard to academic registration”.

She advises students to obtain their financial statements from the institution to verify that subjects are correctly charged and payments made during registration are reflecting. “If not, they must come to our offices immediately with their proof of payment so that we can determine what could have gone wrong there.”

Additionally, students are advised to “take ownership” of their accounts after registration and make sure that they receive receipts for all payments made.

Shilongo also encouraged students stay away from people who promise them rooms in the hostel, as this placement is only done through the office of the dean of students.

Don added that students are often overwhelmed by having so much money in their pockets as this may even be the first time they see such a large sum of money. She advised students to deposit registration money into the university’s account rather than carrying large sums of cash on campus. “Students must be vigilant,” she said, and if you are unsure about someone offering you assistance, speak up.

She added that if you feel unsafe, you can also speak to the security officers. Don further advised students to not leave their personal belongings unattended and not to trust people whom they may not know well.

Consequences of scamming

If the scammer is a registered student at the institution, Don shared that the Student Disciplinary Committee will handle the matter. “Depending on the severity of the case, the student can be expelled from the university.”

If the scammer is not a student, the police can be called in, making it a criminal matter.

If the institution finds that a registered student has falsified a document, the relevant authorities are notified. “If it is the university’s document that has been falsified, the university takes action, and if it is for instance a grade 12 certificate that has been falsified or forged, then the ministry takes action.”

The university takes fraud seriously, said Don, and after a disciplinary hearing, the student may even be expelled.

Administrative scamming

Don shared that scams that also occur during the academic registration process take the form of falsified documentation or using somebody else’s details. She empasised that documents provided during the registration process should be your own, be authentic and be verified by the necessary authority.

Student-to-parent scams

Another form of scamming happens when students take advantage of their parents or guardians.

Namesho said students often go to the extent of asking for excessive amounts of money from their parents, claiming that the institution requested for it. “The students themselves become the scammers against their parents.” He added that parents should follow up on the information provided by their children.

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