STUDENTS are being targeted by sophisticated fraudsters who dupe them into taking out mobile phone contracts with the promise of a monthly income, police have revealed.
The National Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU) has launched an investigation, nicknamed 'Operation Rosewood', into the fraud where students are asked to sign up to a mobile provider and then "sell" the phone and contract to a private company.
However rather than receiving an easy salary they are left with outrageously high phone bills for calls they did not make.
The fraudsters are then also able to gather personal information such as their address and bank account details which puts the students at further risk of identity fraud.
A number of universities around the country have been contacted by the NMPCU advising them to make their pupils aware of the scam. Major UK mobile networks have also been contacted to ensure those affected are properly supported.
While some arrests have been made in connection to the crime, police have described it as a complex, large scale investigation.
The NMPCU have made a widespread appeal for students to contact them if they have been approached to help them with their ongoing enquiries.
While the majority of cases are being perpetrated online, incidences are also emerging of the fraudsters making direct contact with victims. One student, in an anonymous interview with the BBC, explained how he was approached personally at his university.
After delivering a convincing and professional sales pitch the student was convinced by a "smartly dressed man" to take out a contract in his name to then "sell on" to the fake company.
According to the police some undergraduates are even taking out multiple contracts with one owing as much as £10,000. Police are currently investigating 350 cases but believe there could be thousands more victims.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first incidence of students being drawn into mobile phone fraud.
In 2012, a similar scam affected a smaller group of students who were also enticed into signing up for expensive contracts believing the contracts would then be cancelled but would help improve their credit rating.
However rather than terminating the contracts as promised the phones were then sold in Pakistan and India.
As well as incurring debts of around £2,000 the victims received intimidating visits from bailiffs. They were also treated as suspects during the resulting investigation.
Although they are certainly not the only victims of fraud it does appear that students are seen as a light touch and therefore more susceptible to such schemes.
Often living away from home for the first time students could be considered to be more naive and cash strapped so looking for easy ways to boost their bank balance.
The likelihood is that they would not have had a long term contract before so scam artists believe that they will therefore be readily snapped up by a phone provider. All this unfortunately makes them an easy target.
It's very easy to dismiss the above cases as the naivety of students but the reason that con artists are so successful is because they are so convincing.
There are simple measures that anyone, regardless of age, can take to avoid being defrauded in this way.
If offered a new contract, either by phone or online, no matter how tempting the deal mobile users should ensure that it is being sold by a reputable company. Any trustworthy dealer will allow a cooling off period and should not put on any pressure to close the deal.
If selling a phone consumers should ensure they restore the factory settings so any personal information is deleted.
While it can be embarrassing to admit, anyone who thinks they have been the victim of fraud should report it straight away.
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