MORE than 50 Sheffield students have been swindled out of tens of thousands of pounds in a sophisticated computer scam, writes Mike Russell.
Students logged on to Hallam University’s internal network to find what seemed to be an official university email asking for their identification codes and National Insurance numbers.
Hallam officials sent out a warning email just minutes later - but by then dozens of students had already replied.
The ‘phishing’ exercise was carefully timed to coincide with the payment of student loans for the summer term - and three days later more than 50 victims realised their money had failed to materialise.
Graham Wragg, head of South Yorkshire Police’s economic crime unit, warned all people to be on their guard against email fraudsters.
He said no bank or organisation would ever ask for personal information through an email or linked website.
Mr Wragg said: “If you are suspicious then contact the organisation involved and ask for written confirmation.
“A bank for example would never ask you to reveal your whole password or banking details - they would just ask for letters or digits. If suspicions remain contact the national Action Fraud website.”
Nottingham University students have also been hit by a similar scam, while Sheffield University has sent out an urgent warning to undergraduates to be on their guard.
Jenny Saunders, aged 20, a second year public relations student at Hallam, has lost £2,460 and is considering quitting her course if she doesn’t get the money back.
“I’ve contacted the student loans people and they say organised crime must be behind something as well thought out as this,” she said.
“As far as they are concerned they’ve paid out the money and that’s that, they won’t be paying again.
“I needed the money to pay off my overdraft and other bills, which would have left me with £300 to last the three months. It’s a third of my annual loan income.
“It’s an awful situation to be in - Hallam is helping with payments from its hardship fund but if I don’t get the cash back I may have to leave.”
David McKevitt, 22, a leisure centre management student living on Broad Lane, said he had lost £1,220 but he knew others who had lost well over £2,000 each.
“It’s clever - the emails were timed to coincide with the loan payment dates. I gave my details to what I thought was the university and my direct debit never arrived,” he said.
“I’ve been to the police to report the fraud and here I am with no money. I’ve borrowed £50 from my mum but that’s not going to go very far.”
A Sheffield Hallam spokeswoman said the university was aware some of its students had been targeted in a phishing scam and emergency financial assistance was available.
“This has affected their funding from the Student Loans Company. We have notified students of this issue and are working with the company to investigate. The police have also been informed.”
A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said officers were working closely with Sheffield Hallam and were keen to hear from anyone else who had been affected.
A spokesman for the national Student Loans Company said problems had arisen after students had their personal details accessed by a third party.
“We are working with Sheffield Hallam to investigate the extent of this and the police have been informed. To ensure that we minimise the risk of further incidents, we have put in place additional security measures,” he added.