Students have been warned to avoid the temptation of paying over rent deposits to scammers who have been preying on panic over scarce accommodation.
At least two overseas students planning to study in Cork have been caught out by the tricksters who made unsolicited contact pretending to have rooms to offer.
However, University College Cork Students’ Union (UCCSU) has heard from around 30 people who were contacted by an individual or group of scammers whose scheme sounded very similar in all cases.
With an estimated 25,000 college-goers having to find accommodation outside of designated student facilities, there is a ripe market for fraudsters to try and take advantage of the situation.
The supposed landlords have contacted the students by email, and sent them details of apartments they say they have to rent in the area.
It is unclear how their contact details have been obtained but UCCSU welfare officer, Rory O’Donnell, said they may have all been on accommodation sites or online forums discussing their searches.
“It’s been highlighted to me in the last three weeks, and there are definitely two cases where a deposit was paid, and possibly one other, all of them international students,” he said.
He has had preliminary contact with gardaí about the scam, in which pictures of properties have been provided. In some cases, the scammers have even agreed to discuss the details on Skype conversations.
“Their side was poorly lit, and the calls didn’t last long because the connection was poor. One person said they were told the place was ‘very close to the Metro’, which gave away that it was a scam,” he said.
Mr O’Donnell said it is a basic rule of any transaction to visit any potential living space before making any financial arrangements, but acknowledged that the pressure to find student accommodation is huge.
“I’m looking into a number of cases, the majority of them are international students who seem to have been caught,” he said. “They agreed to pay a deposit but had only seen pictures of the places. It is hugely important to go and physically see the place in person before paying money for a deposit. And try to see the landlord.”
With house-shares and purpose-built student accommodation harder to come by than ever, first-year students who do not yet know where they will be in college could be under more pressure than other years in a few weeks’ time.
Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) accommodation officer Deirdre Falvey also advises people not to panic.
“There appears to be fewer houses on offer through landlords, and most student accommodation is booked up already,” she said. “But I’m hoping it could be that some intending CIT students took our advice during school visits earlier this year to provisionally book places early.,”
Most colleges are providing lists of home-owners in their areas with rooms to rent to students, as an alternative to apartments or house-shares.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is to appoint a student housing project manager with funding provided by the Government under its new housing strategy. USI this week relaunched its online portal — homes.usi.ie — which provides searchable databases for landlords and students near various third-level colleges around the country.
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