DUO aware of Romanian student loan fraud since 2019

DUO has known since 2019 that the Romanian NGO GCRS may well be guilty of fraudulent practices. They were alerted by their Swedish counterpart, CSN, and at least one Romanian student.

GCRS pays Romanian students for purported freelance ‘journalistic work’, as revealed by UKrant two weeks ago, so they meet DUO’s hours requirement and qualify for student finances. In reality, the students hardly have to do any work. The money they receive as payment is actually money that their families pay to GCRS.

Investigation

The Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN) conducted an investigation into GCRS’s practices in 2018, according to spokesperson Anna Emillson. ‘The number of reported work hours did not seem to correspond with the number of articles and interviews that employees were expected to deliver. While the hours did seem to correspond to the requirements for acquiring a status as a migrant worker within the EU.’

Since completing the investigation in 2019, CSN no longer recognises GCRS as a trustworthy employer, and students claiming to work for the NGO no longer receive student finances.

According to Emillson, DUO inquired with them about GCRS in January 2019, possibly prompted by audits of student freelancers by the Dutch tax authorities in 2018. ‘We confirmed that we knew the organisation and that we had noticed that it was providing suspicious freelance work with the apparent purpose of getting students recognised as migrant workers’, she said.

Tip

In 2019, DUO was also tipped off about the NGO’s dubious activities by Valentin, a UG graduate. He was suspicious about GCRS from the start and applied, to find out more about the way the scam was being conducted. He left immediately after getting what he needed.

‘I didn’t report the scheme to DUO immediately, because I feared what consequences that could have for me. I also thought DUO would catch them in no time, since even I could figure out something was shady about it’, Valentin explains. 

However, when he saw that GCRS was only gaining momentum, he made the fraud report: ‘I explained GCRS’s whole process to DUO, and I even gave them my phone number, in case they wanted me to be their inside man.’

Valentin never received a response from DUO, and no obstacles were put in GCRS’s way. However, both the Dutch and Swedish tax authorities have since begun investigations into incorrect VAT payments by GCRS and the student freelancers.

Repayment

Meanwhile, students who worked for GCRS are running into trouble because the NGO eventually stopped paying their bills. ‘As a result, I had no bank statement to prove I had worked, and DUO made me repay the last eight months, plus a fine for the public transport card’, says Tania, a Romanian student in Amsterdam.

She now has a total debt of 10,000 euros. ‘I depended on that money, so I was terrified when I found out. I have had to take out loans to sustain myself.’ 

DUO is declining to comment further on the situation, said a spokesperson. ‘Because similar questions have been asked by Parliament, we cannot answer until those questions have been publicly addressed.’

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