The University of Washington Police Department has announced that about 90 international students from China might have become victims of fraud of up to $1 million in tuition money. Students were told that they could save 5 percent, or about $600, off the $11,340 summer tuition fee by paying a third party, Lt. Doug Schultz of the UW Police said.
All the Chinese students were attending UW in Seattle this summer. A fellow UW Chinese student well-known among the community spread the word of the deal via a frequently-used Chinese social media app called WeChat, writes Joel Moreno of Komo News. The student was an actively participant in extracurricular activities on campus and had a good reputation among peers.
The scammers asked the students to give their UW login details, writes Dan Harris of the China Law Blog. The UW ID and password were used to access the students' accounts. The masterminds of the scheme used stolen credit card numbers to cover the tuition fee, which generated a confirmation by the university that the payment was received. Subsequently, the students would give the scammers a check or transfer them money.
The police are still investigating the issue. No arrests have been made so far, confirmed Schultz.
The scam story started to unravel in back in July when a New York detective called the UW administration regarding stolen credit card numbers from the state of Washington being used to cover summer tuition payments. Schultz added that one card was used to charge about $25,000 in UW tuition fees.
For now, at least 19 students have been defrauded for a total of $190,000. However, according to the fiscal services department, their number could reach 90. That would mean scammers gathered more than $1 million from the Chinese students, writes Katherine Long of The Seattle Times. The university already contacted the FBI for help because the case might involve wire fraud.
Amanda He, a UW sophomore, who has already paid tuition in advance, did not get scammed. He is now helping friends to spread the word and to warn people. He commented that although there were some Chinese students from privileged backgrounds in class, there were also many from working-class families who struggle to cover nonresident tuition, which is three times as higher as in-state tuition. The scammers hit those students hard, she said. Some students managed to stop payments on the checks and get their money back.
Justin, who did not reveal his last name, is one of the University of Washington students who got scammed. He is working toward a degree in mechanical engineering. As reported by the local TV channel King5, Justin wrote a check of $11,122 to a woman who presented herself as a fellow Chinese immigrant who could obtain connections to secure him a 5 percent decrease off his tuition fee. Another Chinese woman picked up the check in person. Justin commented through an interpreter:
"I'm extremely angry and feel hurt and betrayed that a Chinese person has done this to me – preying on people who don't know how the system in the United States works. It's outrageous. I want the authorities to investigate this case and prosecute (whoever's responsible) to the fullest extent possible."
Lt. Schultz from the police department warned students once again never to provide their UW identification or password to a stranger. He also advised them not to believe anything that sounds too good to be true.