Chinese students victimized in tuition scam

Updated: 2016-08-02 13:48

By LINDA DENG in Seattle(

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Overseas Chinese students at the University of Washington in Seattle are being targeted in a tuition scam run on the Chinese social networking app WeChat, according to university police.

The number of Chinese victims is said to be about 90, and $1 million in tuition fees has been stolen from them, University of Washington Police Department investigators told Seattle Times on Monday. A suspect has not been identified, according to police.

"We received reports from multiple students, and are working hard to resolve this case," Major Craig Wilson of the university police told China Daily.

On July 19, police alerted students to the scam and urged them not to share their university information or checking account numbers with anyone. The scam began to unravel recently when a New York detective contacted the university about the use of stolen credit cards for summer tuition payments, The Seattle Times reported.

The newspaper, citing university police, said that at least 19 students have been defrauded, totaling $190,000.

A freshman male from South China's Guangdong province, who asked not to be identified, told China Daily that he was tricked into believing that he could save 5 percent of his summer quarter tuition (about $10,000) by sending money to and providing personal university account information to a female Chinese student who contacted him on WeChat, a popular messaging app for Chinese students in the US.

"I never doubted it because I received a confirmation letter from the university saying my tuition balance is changed to 0," he said. "But several days later, the balance was back to the previous number, and I realized it was a scam.

Another victim, a junior from Beijing, told China Daily he has known the female student who helped promote the scam for years. However, he also said it is too early to decide if she is part of the criminal operation.

"Some Chinese social media go too far right now. I have reported it to the police and am still waiting for the result of the investigation," he said.

"I think the scam works because the female student who originally approached these students claimed that she has been working with the Husky Help Organization," said the student, a member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at UW. "Some of us even have met and worked with her before."

The association is the largest non-profit organization of Chinese students at the school. "To Chinese students, 5 percent of tuition for a quarter is good enough to cover one month of meals," said the student.

Husky Help is a nonprofit, registered student organization at the university, established by several UW Chinese international students in 2013. The organization is dedicated to helping international students, especially those from China, to adjust to the new living/social/study environment at UW, and is popular with Chinese students.

On Sunday, the UW International Student Services alerted students to a scam in which telephone callers posing as police or agents of the Internal Revenue Service or US Customs and Immigration Service tell students that they owe money, and unless they pay immediately, they will be arrested or deported. The callers know students' names and other personal information.