Vietnamese students in US targeted by scammers

By Le Thu    December 4, 2022 | 08:53 pm PT
Vietnamese students in US targeted by scammers
Students walk past Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S., September 20, 2018. Photo by Reuters
Scammers prey on international students who live alone in a foreign country and are therefore easy targets when they make purchases, look for housing or seek part-time work.

Khanh Linh, a student at a university in New York in the U.S., moved out after spending the first year in a dormitory in accordance with the school's requirements. However, renting housing in the U.S. usually requires a credit check and a social security number, which not all students have.

When Linh saw an ad for a private room with a shared kitchen and bathroom that cost US$1,200 per month and said "no SSN required," she called right away.

Though it seemed odd the poster asked for a deposit of $1,000, she sent the fee because she "didn't have many options." After making the payment, she was immediately blocked by the poster.

According to an Open Doors report on international educational exchange released in November, there were 20,713 Vietnamese students in the U.S. in the 2021-22 school year, or around 2% of all international students.

Minh Nguyen, who works as a study abroad consultant in Chicago, says newly arriving Vietnamese students, young and inexperienced about life in the U.S., are often easy targets for scammers. Many are gullible and believe anything they hear, he says.

Some people even fall repeatedly for con artists' tricks, she says.

There are three main types of scams - procurement, recruitment and impersonating government officials - targeting Vietnamese students in the U.S., he says.

Le Anh, an architect in Michigan who has lived and studied in the U.S. for eight years, admits there is a lot of procurement fraud.

Vietnamese students, especially those who have just moved to America, often buy or sell things and look for accommodation, and scammers take advantage of this by making very appealing offers, she explains.

"These ads are just too good to be true. For example, a house for rent right downtown with a beautiful view and new interior but with a low rental cost. Photos are taken from the internet. When guests want to check out the place, they are often given excuses."

International students are often tricked into making a deposit first, she says.

Pham Hoa, a student living in Florida, was duped by a conman after listing an item for sale on Facebook. The buyer got in touch with her, exchanged information and then paid using the digital payment network Zelle.

The person sent her a picture purportedly showing a $180 transaction through Zelle. However, when Hoa said she had not got the money, the buyer sent another photo showing a transfer of her another $180.

She then received a fake email that looked like it was from her bank. It told Hoa that she had two payments of $180 waiting for her and a money transfer request that she needed to return $180.

"The photo of money transfer notifications and fake emails are so well made that they look like real information from the bank," she says to explain how she was conned.

Anh says when international students buy and sell things online, they should not fall for ads that seem too good to be true. They also need to carefully check both the seller and the product information and can call the e-commerce or online payment website to verify information, she points out.

International students should not tell anyone their SSN, which is used to keep track of identity, finances and records, she says.

She also warns against meeting anyone to buy or sell something at home so that they do not have to give out their address.

As for recruitment fraud, Nguyen says scammers often send out appealing invitations with good salaries and promises of visa sponsorship to get international students to give out personal information or pay fees for job training, make employee cards and receive goods.

"It's important for international students to remember that no company forces them to pay for training or buy merchandise."

To avoid being tricked by fake "companies," foreign students should apply for internships and jobs on reputable job sites, look up company information on Google and talk to people in job search communities, he says.

Scammers often impersonate U.S. government officials to prey on international students.

Khoa Tran, an IoT (Internet of Things) embedded programming engineer in North Carolina, saysscammers often pretend to work for the police; courts; immigration, labor or tax department; or banks, and persuade international students to break rules and regulations.

Then when they are threatened, many students who illegally do part-time jobs or don't have the required paperwork tend to panic, he adds.

International students are only allowed to work on the campus and for a maximum of 20 hours a week.

The con artist’s trick is to tell international students that if they tell anyone else about theirconversation, they will be slapped with a heavy fine and possibly deported.

Many students are afraid and follow the instructions, ending up losing money or having their personal information stolen.

Khoa says: "The rule for working in the U.S. is that everything must be written down. You should never make decisions over the phone."

He adds that public officials have to send documents home if they want to work with international students, though these are also sometimes fake and must always be double-checked.

"The most important thing is to stay calm and keep a cool head to avoid falling for these tricks."

When conned, students should go to government websites and get in touch with officials directly, he says.

Besides scams when they live in the U.S., Vietnamese students should also be careful about peopletelling them to carry things with them to the country since transporting certain items is illegal, he adds.

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