LAHORE: Bilal Hussain had ambitions of becoming a chartered accountant and was willing to part with a large sum of money to realise his career dreams. These dreams, however, are in serious jeopardy thanks to swindlers who have taken his cash and cast a shadow over his credibility.
Bilal is not the only one as a large number of Pakistani students, who study online at international universities, have reported losing their fees to scammers. According to the agency, there seems to be a spike in fee payment scams targeting students during recent months.
Some swindlers represent themselves as university agents and ask students to pay them in Pakistani currency which will then be passed onto the university in the form of dollars or pounds. However, the payments are made through stolen credit cards or hacked data, thus permanently jeopardising the students’ future.
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Hussain, a resident of Model Town Housing Society, tells The Express Tribune that he had submitted his fee to a university for ACCA in London. It was later discovered that the money was paid through a stolen credit card and the university cancelled his registration.
The institute has also withheld his results for the last two semesters. "I am doomed and I don't know what to do now. I don't possess an international credit card; that's why I lost my money."
As many as 500 students, who live in different cities of Punjab, including Lahore, Shiekhupura, Okara, Multan and Sahiwal, have lost their money, according to data provided by the FIA Cyber Crime Wing.
Hussain claims students are at risk as these agents submit fees through stolen credit cards. When the universities find out, they do not only bar them for appearing in exams, but also put the names on a black list. “Various students, studying at universities in Malaysia, the US and UK, have been blacklisted to date,” he said.
There is no facility in the country to submit registration and monthly fees for students studying at online universities abroad. When students in Pakistan take admission to any university in foreign countries, they are required to possess international credit cards and online accounts for the process. However, no bank or financial institution in Pakistan provides such a service.
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As a result, students have no other option but to seek out agents or associates with these facilities. Sensing an opportunity, criminals jump into the fray and offer ‘help’. In many cases, the students are swindled out of either their own hard-earned money or family wealth, while dishonest agents mint millions.
It is often too late when the students learn that their fees and registration for the last few months has been paid through stolen credit cards. Some international universities have even filed applications with the police to take legal action against the students. In Punjab, a large number of students have faced such issues and financial losses.
Three suspects caught
Recently, some of these students contacted the FIA Cyber Crime Wing and the authority launched an investigation. It unearthed a big group which was involved in these illegal activities and learnt that even bank managers are involved in the scam.
Another student named Hassan Shafi, a resident of DHA, also filed an FIR and registered a case against the same suspects for paying fees through stolen credit or debit cards.
FIA Cyber Crime Wing Lahore Deputy Director Mohammad Usman says a team raided WAPDA Town some days ago and arrested three members of an international group involved in this activity.
The suspects were identified as Javed, Iqbal, and Waqas. The team also recovered important records, including data of stolen credit cards. FIA teams are looking further into the case.
According to FIA's initial report, universities in the US and UK have blacklisted hundreds of students for using stolen credit cards to submit their payments. Usman says that these suspects have been involved in this scam for the last five years.
"They have been depriving students of their chances to study abroad and have destroyed their future," Usman bemoans.
He explains that students studying abroad are required to submit money online through credit cards. Therefore, Waqas, Javed and Iqbal took Pakistan currency from the students then used stolen credit cards from a group operating in the US and UK to make the payments, he said.
The universities have permanently blacklisted students with suspect payments and the results of some 100 of them have been withheld, the deputy director reveals.
Usman continues that these students can no longer enroll in universities of Britain, Malaysia, and America. Usman tells The Express Tribune that the FIA Cyber Crime Wing has managed to obtain the remand of both suspects and started investigations. According to the authority, more of their partners in crime will be arrested soon.
He suggests that banks or financial institutions should help students complete online transactions so they can avoid such huge financial losses.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2019.
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