Fraudsters target international students looking for accommodation

Ireland has the worst record in Europe for fraudsters trying to con international students with accommodation scams, EU-funded research shows, writes Niall Murray.

Nearly one-third of students who came to third-level college had experienced fraud while looking for accommodation. The 29% figure was the highest rate, and more than double the average of 12% for all 8,000 students who had studied at 600 institutions in almost 30 European countries.

The types of fraud mentioned in survey responses included being asked for a deposit in return for a key being sent by post. Other students referred to fake advertisements for accommodation on social media.

The findings are from preliminary results of the survey by HousErasmus+, which works to identify challenges and best practices around accommodation for international students.

It also found Irish accommodation costs were higher than expected for 77% of the 108 visiting students who took part in the survey. This was the highest proportion in Europe who faced unexpectedly high costs, and compared to an average of 43%.

Around two-thirds of overseas students found that the extra cost of accommodation here, considered most expensive alongside the UK, made it difficult to finance studying in Ireland.

University College Cork Students’ Union reported last summer that a small number of intending international students had been caught out by fake ads and some may have paid deposits to fraudsters, leading to cautions about verifying authenticity of accommodation offers.

Irish Council for International Students director Sheila Power said the levels of fraud experienced by those coming here is particularly concerning. The affordability of accommodation, including rooms in purpose-built facilities, was also a big issue for this country.

“Ireland is rated among the worst in Europe when it comes to the experience of international students trying to find accommodation. This is hardly compatible with our international education strategy to increase international student numbers by 27% over the next couple of years.”

Ireland fared much better on the question of discrimination, with just 12% of students saying they faced problems over their international status. This was the sixth-lowest level of discrimination, such as higher rents or less friendly treatment than domestic students.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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