Scam artists hold all the cards in a system in which the City Council, police and rental sites are powerless to act
April 6, 2014
The scarcity of housing in the Copenhagen area has created an environment in which rogue agents thrive, preying on desperate house-hunters unfamiliar with the Danish housing market. Most of the victims are foreign students.
Take the money – and gone
When Hristo Aleksandrov, a Bulgarian marketing student, tried to find an apartment in Copenhagen a year ago, he ran into one such scam-artist. The apartment was cheap and at a nice location. The only catch was that the landlord was in the UK.
“I thought maybe I was getting lucky,” recalled Aleksandrov, who had already sent 400 applications to rent a property over a two-month period.
However, when he asked to see the apartment, he was told to make a deposit in the account of an estate agent that only had offices in the UK. He decided not to go along with it and found another place.
Desperate, poor = easy victim
Following our request via Facebook, eleven more young people contacted us to say they had encountered similar scams in which they were asked for money beforehand. And several subsequently come across others who had the same experience.
According to Rasmus Kristensen from the renting site boligsurf.dk, it is a common trend. Young foreign students, he said, were particularly vulnerable because they were often desperate to get a place and did not have a lot of money.
Foreign students need to have an address in order to obtain a residence permit. But when the address is phoney, this can cause problems at the International Citizens Service (ICS) at the City Council.
“We often discover that the address is illegal or they have paid too much when they come to register,” said Violeta Janova, an ICS counsellor.
Too much to lose
Janova has seen it all: fake contracts, sky-high rents and unauthorised sub-renting without approval. There have also been cases in which students think they are the only ones registered at an address, but in reality there are five others living there.
“A lot of foreign students do not know what they can do and cannot do,” she said.
If the council finds out that the student’s tenancy is not legit, the student will be deregistered and therefore no longer legally present in Denmark. So the student will often tolerate difficult living conditions just to stay in the country. And pay handsomely for the privilege.
Information but no action
However, while the City Council and the ICS do everything they can to inform foreign students about housing issues, there is little either can do about individual cases. Instead, the students are referred to complain to the tenants’ complaints authority, Huslejenævnet.
So far, it has only dealt with a few cases. “We do not see them very often,” confirmed Marianne Dons, a manager at Huslejenævnet. “Normally, it would be a case for the police.”
Francesco Bergami, a 26-year-old Italian business student, went to the police last summer when a landlord living in England via Facebook asked for money before he could see an apartment in Copenhagen.
But it was a wasted journey. “I was told they could do nothing,” he said. “We were advised to report the incident to Faceook. Which we did … with zero results.”
Time consuming and costly
“The problem for us is when the person comes from a foreign country,” explained Sebastian Richelsen from Copenhagen Police’s communications department.
He explained that they could investigate who was behind the account or phone number. However, tracing the scams across borders is often both time-consuming and costly.
Renters, he conceded, should not pay any money before they have the keys to the apartment.
Landlords hold the cards
Rental portals like boligportal.dk and lejebolig.dk advise their customers to be aware of scams – especially ads in English – and to report them.
At boligsurf.dk, they have tried to establish some security for their customers by requesting them to sign in with NemID. However, it is only a voluntary requirement for landlords – instead they check their data and make a decision based on that
“We had it as a requirement for the first eight months, but we had to take it out because it put off a lot of landlords,” Kristensen explained.
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by Annette Birch
Published in the Copenhagen Post on March 27, 2014, http://cphpost.dk/news/african-advocates-ignore-the-elephant-in-the-room-says-expert.9062.html
Dansk Industri (DI) released a report on March 24 claiming that Danish companies could create 7,000 more jobs and earn 8 billion kroner more in revenue from exports to Africa, if companies exported as much to Africa as they do to EU countries.
However, Stig Jensen, an expert on the continent who is the head of the Center for Afrikanske Studier at the University of Copenhagen, said some of the findings sound like wishful thinking.
“I think there are many good opportunities for export to Africa,” he said.
“But we have to watch out that we are not all being Gladstone Gander on this one.”
Africa world leader by 2050
DI predicted in the report that Africa could become the world leader in economic growth over the next 35 years as a result of rapid growth in private consumption, especially among Africa’s middle class – which will account for around one third of a predicted population of two billion in 2050.
This would account for a market of more than 10 trillion kroner.
Jensen found this estimate too optimistic. “I am always critical of predictions as they relate to how you see the situation right now,” said Jensen.
Diverse export market
Today, Danish exports mainly head to the continent’s richest countries: the northern states of Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.
However, DI pointed out that Danish companies could profit from other export markets like Nigeria Ghana, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Rwanda, especially in the areas of agriculture, food processing and the oil and gas industry.
Keep out of Nigeria
DI pointed out that Danish companies should take advantage of Nigeria, which, with a growth rate of 100 percent a year since 2000, is about to overtake South Africa as the largest African economy.
The Danish government agreed and in January opened a trade office in the capital – while other Western countries, like Sweden and the United States, have told their citizens to stay away.
Jensen shared their scepticism. “It would not be among the top ten countries I would invest in,” Jensen said. “Nigeria is an extremely complex country. It is one of the biggest economic players, but politically it is a very difficult country.”
Not good for business
Jensen explained that crime, corruption and conflicts are some of the problems that can hamper successful exports to Nigeria.
Several countries, like the US, have warned of terrorist attacks, kidnapping and conflicts in the country.
“A country like Nigeria is actually dangerous in contrast to Uganda and CAF, which are much safer,” Jensen said. This is not only because the transportation of products over land is often hindered, but also because businesspeople don’t like to go there.
“It is not good for business if people feel unsafe. Some are robbed and killed,” Jensen said.
However, Africa is not entirely to blame – the Danish state could also adjust its foreign and developmental policy so it better supported private Danish companies, claims DI.
“Danish development aid should to a larger extent than today be spent on projects that take into account both trade and aid and lend support to the companies,” Thomas Bustrup, a manager at DI, said in a press release on March 19.
“The companies can do something Danida cannot – namely create permanent jobs.”
Likewise, Jensen emphasised that Danish companies have to think bigger and network more if they want to export more to Africa.
“In general, Danish companies are too provincial,” Jensen said.
Jensen recommended that Danish companies got to know more about the customs of the specific export countries.
Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster, a network for cleantech businesses that is currently assisting companies that export to African countries like Senegal, believes that greater co-operation is necessary.
Danish companies should work together to provide more comprehensive solutions to the African consumers, it told Politiken.
Africa averaged annual growth of 45 percent from 2000 to 2012.
Last year, Danish exports to Africa amounted to 9.3 billion kroner – just 1.5 percent of total Danish exports.
Danish exports to Africa have grown by only 30 percent in the last five years.
by Annette Birch
Published by the Copenhagen Post on Feb. 20, 2014, http://cphpost.dk/news/is-personal-information-safe-from-foreign-governments.8985.html
The world has gone cyber and the government has decided to join other countries by pushing ahead with a new law regarding cybersecurity.
However, several experts and politicians are now questioning whether the law would make it easier for the government to hand over personal information to foreign intelligence services like America’s NSA.
Democratic principles at risk
“I understand that it is necessary to co-operate internationally in order to fight hacker attacks,” said Birgitte Kofod Olsen, the chairman of Rådet for Digital Sikkerhed, an independent organisation concerned with digital security.
“However, I find it difficult to see how we can uphold democratic principles, if we give our intelligence services such extended powers.”
The proposal would consolidate the Center for Cybersikkerhed’s placement under the wings of the Danish defence intelligence service, Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FET), where it was moved to from the Research Ministry in 2012 – at which point the information became exempt from public scrutiny.
It would enable the centre to not only collect and hand over information to foreign governments, but also to prevent ordinary citizens and journalists from obtaining access to information regarding the centre’s activities.
A reassuring meeting
Rikke Frank Jørgensen, a researcher and cyber expert at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, agreed with Kofod Olsen.
“The overall picture is that they get to exchange more with fewer safeguards,” said Jørgensen.
However, she was more reassured after a meeting on March 17 with the Defence Ministry and other organisations, where the ministry promised that no personal information would be handed over to foreign governments.
Access to personal details
Both experts pointed out that one of the problems was that the draft law gave too broad a mandate as to when personal data may be handed over to cybersecurity units abroad – for example to foreign intelligence services such as the NSA and British intelligence services.
”It can be each time they [the Defence Ministry] say there is a security incident,” Jørgensen said. “But what is a security incident? It could cover a wide range of situations.”
What is a ‘security incident’?
The law proposal only specifies that a “security incident” is a negative occurrence that could influence data or information systems. An example given is the installation via an email attachment of a trojan horse, which either destroys the existing data or allows the hacker to absorb the information of the targeted computer.
This not only includes information in connection with a terrorist attack, but also when a hacker, located in for example China, has hacked into a public computer in a council’s health department. In a case like this, the information could be handed over to the NSA if the American authorities have experienced similar attacks by a Chinese hacker.
Ministry: Nothing personal
”It could be information regarding a person’s health, their social security number and other personal information related to the incident,” Olsen said.
However, the Ministry of Defence at a meeting with all the relevant organisations on March 17 said it would further specify the type of situations in which data may be exchanged. Moreover, it was reiterated that the information that could be transferred abroad concerned traffic data, like email addresses, not content.
Several politicians on both sides of the aisle are concerned the new law could go too far.
“The road is paved with good intentions, but it opens up for a truckload of personal information that can be collected, stored for a long time and handed on to others – without anyone knowing about it,” Venstre’s IT spokesperson Michael Aastrup Jensen told Politiken on March 10.
The former government partner SF and its co-operation partner Enhedslisten are also concerned.
“I would be concerned that citizens and companies lose their legal rights, and that we lose control over our own information,” Stine Brix, the IT spokesperson for Enhedslisten, told Politiken on March 5.
Defence spokesperson Zenia Stampe (R) told Politiken on March 5 that her party is willing to look closer at the proposal.
Under civilian authority
Olsen recommended that the centre should be moved back under the jurisdiction of one of the civil ministries like the Justice Ministry or the Research Ministry, where the public would have insight into the information under the rules of openness in government.
“It should be removed from the Ministry of Defence,” she said.
“We do not discuss whether they can look at the information. The problem is that it [the information] is obtained by the intelligence services. When it is there, it can also be used.”
86 percent of people in Denmark use the internet (Source: Danske Medier, 2012).
The government’s goal for 2015 is that 80 percent of communication between public institutions will be via internet – opposed to 73 percent in 2011.
According to the Defence Ministry, the most important cyber threats today are: 1) Espionage from foreign states, 2) private hackers and 3) militant islamists.
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By Annette Birch
The article was published by the Copenhagen Post, http://cphpost.dk/news/employment-minister-says-green-card-revision-is-imminent.8750.html
Green card legislation needs to be revised, admitted the employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (S), at a parliamentary hearing yesterday. The hearing was held in order to follow up on a report by 21 Søndag that showed that many highly-skilled foreigners on green cards are employed as low-skilled underpaid workers.
“I can only distance myself from employers who exploit people in that situation,” said Frederiksen.
“It is therefore necessary that we discuss Green Card Provision.”
She underlined that it was also important to take into account the need for Danish businesses to recruit highly-skilled foreign workers.
Dansk Industri, a lobbying organisation for Danish businesses, agreed that it was necessary to revise the Green Card Provision as it had never been the intention to have green card holders working in low-skilled jobs in Denmark.
“We think that it would be best to keep the provision, but make it more specific towards the Danish labour market,” said Claus Aastrup Seidelin, a labour market consultant in Dansk Industri.
He emphasised that the Green Card Provision has been an advantage for the Danish economy – and especially for medium-sized companies that often have difficulties going through the costly process of recruiting highly-skilled workers in other countries.
DF: It was a mistake
The purpose of the Green Card Provision was to grant Danish companies easier access to highly-skilled labour, and it has been widely used. In 2013, Udlændingeservice reported that it had issued green cards to 2,328 foreigners.
Martin Henriksen (DF) thought that his party had made a mistake by voting for the Green Card Provision.
“A lot of foreigners come to Denmark [on green cards]. They can have all the good intentions in the world, but they end up in jobs which were not intended for them,” said Henriksen.
Green card revision just around the corner
Frederiksen would not divulge the content of the revision, despite several attempts by Henriksen. She only said that the government was making an inquiry into all provisions involving the granting of permits to foreigners who come to Denmark to work. A final proposal is just around the corner.
“With regard to what the green card will consist of, you will have to keep your breath until we present our conclusions,” Frederiksen said. She will discuss the proposal with the parties in parliament when it is ready.
Dansk Industri noted that the companies would benefit the most from the highly-skilled foreigners, who tend to have skills highly sought after by the Danish labour market.
“You could construe that foreigners, who have skills sought after by the Danish labour market, should be given more points than those with skills not so sought after in the labour market,” Seidelin said.
af Annette Birch
Statsminister Helle Thorning Schmidt og finansminister Bjarne Corydon fastholdt ved samråd d. 20. februar, at den ikke havde prøvet at skjule oplysninger fra folketingets medlemmer. Den borgerlige opposition bestående af Venstre, Det konservative Folkeparti, Liberal Alliance og Dansk Folkeparti havde indkaldt de to ministre i samråd efter, at der var kommet oplysninger frem, at statsministeriet havde bedt rigsrevisionen om ikke at undersøge det lovforberedende arbejde i solcellesagen.
“Vi har ikke noget ønske om, at der er noget, der skal skjules eller holdes hemmeligt,” sagde Corydon på samrådet. Han henviste til, at regeringen havde ønsket at diskutere om der skulle være standarder for lovforberedende arbejde.
Ellen Thrane Nørbye (V) var ikke enig, da rigsrevisionens undersøgelse ikke drejede sig om nye oplysninger, men om faktuel viden som allerede var til stede.
”Brevet, der blev tilbageholdt fra folketinget, drejede sig om, at regeringen ikke ønskede, at rigsrevisionen skulle vide, at regeringen tilbageholdt erhvervede oplysninger,” sagde Thrane Nørbye.
Solcellesagen førte d. 30. maj 2013 til en næse til tidligere klima- og energiminister Martin Lidegaard, da det kom frem, at han allerede inden lovens fremsættelse havde haft kendskab til, at et hul i loven ville koste staten et større millionbeløb. Senere oplysninger om, at ministeren skulle have tilbageholdt flere oplysninger fra Folketinget, fik d. 10. oktober statsrevisionerne til at bede Rigsrevisionen undersøge, hvordan staten har støttet solcelleanlæg i perioden 2010-2013 og klima- og energiministerens information til Folketinget. Jyllandsposten bragte d. 30. oktober en artikel, hvor de beskrev, hvordan Statsministeriet d. 23. oktober i brev til Folketingets formand havde slået fast, at regeringen ikke mente, at Rigsrevisionen skulle undersøge det lovforberedende arbejde i solcellesagen.
Hverken Corydon eller Thorning bestred på samrådet, at statsministeriet havde sendt det pågældende brev. Mens statsministeren ikke ønskede at uddybe sit kendskab til sagen, fremførte Corydon, at regeringen havde ret til at begrænse rigsrevisionens undersøgelse af det lovforberedende arbejde.
“Der var lagt op til en mere vidtgående undersøgelse end tidligere set. Det ligger langt fra rigsrevisionens kernearbejde,” sagde Corydon. Han henviste til, at han ikke ville diskutere interne oplysninger om, hvad der skete i regeringen og hvem der vidste hvad på hvilket tidspunkt. Han anså solcellesagen for lukket med næsen til tidligere klima- og energiminister Martin Lidegaard.
Mike Legarth (C) var derimod ikke enig i, at solcellesagen var afsluttet.
”Vi fik jo ikke svar på spørgsmålene fra Martin Lidegaard. Hvis regeringen havde vidst, hvad embedsmændene vidste, så burde man have videregivet oplysningerne,” sagde Legarth.