URBANA — University of Illinois police are working with Chicago police to try to find the person who scammed a teenager from China out of several thousand dollars.
UI police Sgt. Tom Geis said an 18-year-old UI student from China arrived at O'Hare Airport on the evening of Aug. 20 and, after clearing U.S. Customs, stepped outside the terminal about 6 p.m. to figure out how to get the bus to Champaign.
"A man approached him and said the bus wouldn't be there until midnight and that he could drive him for $1,000," Geis said.
The student, who apparently had a limited command of English, agreed.
"They take a train — we believe it's the airport train to remote parking — then get into a dark-colored SUV. He drives him to his residence hall at the Florida Avenue Residence halls in Urbana. The driver then writes down the cost of the trip, which totals $4,800. The student said he didn't have that much cash so he gave him what he had," Geis said, believing the victim to be out a total of $4,240.
Geis said the student was so overwhelmed that he left his cellphone in the scammer's vehicle.
Geis said the student initially tried to reach Chicago police via email and that the case came to their attention on Monday of this week. They then contacted the Chicago police station at O'Hare in hopes of identifying the scammer. The only description police have is that he is a white male, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a medium build and lighter short hair. The student did not supply an age.
Geis said he's heard of students being taken advantage of through Craigslist scams for apartment rentals or fake checks sent as downpayments for summer jobs — but never anything quite like this.
Geis and Sgt. Joan Fiesta said they assist the office of International Student and Scholar Services in presenting information for incoming international students but those presentations don't happen until they reach campus.
"We talk about U.S. customs, how to call 911, that we are service oriented," said Fiesta, who focuses on crime prevention. "People from different cultures have different police cultures. Their experience with crime may be vastly different."
Julie Misa, director of the International Student and Scholar Services program, said her office has a website with all kinds of information that foreign students can view before they ever leave home.
"We point them to our web page where we have extensive pre-arrival information, including information about transportation from Chicago to Champaign.
"We try to get them basic information. We do talk about how much cash to bring to get started. I think our suggestion is more in the neighborhood of $2,000," said Misa.
Once international students are on campus, they can attend orientation sessions on a variety of topics ranging from money matters, to local, state and national laws, tenant and safety issues.
"We spread it out a little over a week," she said of the information available to the students.
"We have a pretty extensive handbook when they arrive. That's available on our website. We do point them in that direction. It's a matter of how much you want to do (in terms of advance research)," said Misa.
Misa added that the Chinese Student and Scholar Association does a lot for incoming Chinese students, including coordinating transportation from O'Hare to Champaign.
"It's hard to know why this would have happened," she said.