By Melissa Timms
Erasmus students in Limerick lost over €2,000 in a housing scam last autumn.
Evi Kounali and Ada Agalliu, two exchange students from Greece, found
accommodation through a Facebook page and got scammed just before arriving at the University of Limerick (UL).
It seemed legitimate because of the Facebook profile, the copy of the driver’s license, the bank details and the contract were all in the same name, said Ms. Kounali.
“We felt that something was fishy, but you don’t think it would happen to you,” added Ms. Agalliu.
The worst part was after realising they were victims of fraud because the person behind it kept messaging them like normal and offering to pick them up at the airport.
When they reported it to the Gardaí, they said there was no point in pressing charges because the money was already gone and it would take too much time until it would go to court.
Incoming Erasmus Administrator Danielle McNamara at the International Education Division at UL confirmed that there had been an increase in the number of Erasmus students getting scammed for accommodation.
It is understandable that students turn to social media to find housing, but The International Education Division has a list of advice when looking for housing which are the following:
Apply for the student villages,
Look through UL’s database of approved landlords,
Never pay in advance
Ms. McNamara encourages exchange students to follow the information given, but added: “We would never turn a student away when they come to our door for help.”
In September there were 417 arriving Erasmus students, but for the-then upcoming autumn semester, there were only 206 incoming students.
The Gardaí are dealing with these situations, but because they are increasing and becoming more common there should be more attention and time given to it, said Ms. McNamara.
This is a problem that is also affecting Irish students going as Erasmus students to study abroad for a semester.
Another victim from Sweden, Maha Hafidh, said that she was angry with herself, the person behind this and the Gardaí who did not take her statement on the record.
Ms. Hafidh said that it is not what you would expect when you come from another country to study, and they are not offering any help.
This was hard to hear since neither the bank nor the police in Sweden could not get involved.
When going to the bank to get help, they referred her to the Gardaí which made the whole situation seem hopeless.
The International Education Division did everything they could to help with the situation; they helped with finding a hotel for the first few nights and finding a new place to stay.
When asked if this experience affected her exchange experience Ms. Hafidh said: “If I would have let it affect the rest of my stay here, it would have been like giving up and I am not that kind of person.”