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The members of Penn CASE: Bottom row (left to right): Ben Friedman, Christopher D’Urso, Sinziana Bunea, Christine Liu. Middle row (left to right): Nicole Abelev, Linda Zou, Reeti Shah, Isabelle Breier. Top Row (left to right): Derek Willie, George Pennacchi, Dylan Reim. (Photo from Eren Ozer)

While some Penn students are still on the search for off-campus housing, a club at Penn is helping students navigate legal complexities and avoid being scammed.

Founded by 2018 College graduate Christopher D’Urso in 2014, the Penn Consumer Assistance, Support, and Education group hosts workshops and provides online resources to help Penn students avoid various cases of fraud.

“These [scams] range from consumer fraud to something as serious as identity theft or debt collection,” Penn CASE President and College junior Eren Ozer said.

Ozer added that many students who encounter issues, ranging from subletting to dating scams, are often not aware of their legal rights.

“I was really surprised to learn that despite the fact that Philadelphia is the fourth major city in the U.S., there was no proactive consumer fraud program or education outreach or anything along those lines,” D’Urso said. “I asked, ‘well if someone wants to know what are their consumer rights and resources under Pennsylvania law, how do they find that out?'’’

Penn CASE members noted the challenges students face when searching for off-campus housing options.

Students who live off-campus said the process of finding housing is particularly difficult for international students, who may not have a guarantor who is a United States citizen who agrees to support or sign a lease.

“If you’re an international citizen who doesn’t have family in the U.S. then I would suggest reaching out to close friends or somebody before you sign your lease because it could be a problem,” College freshman and international student Ashna Sethi, who signed a lease with The Radian, said. 

Sethi also told The Daily Pennsylvanian that without a guarantor at The Radian, she is required to pay $2,000 upfront, rather than the typical $200 security deposit.

Sethi, however, added that many students can have significantly different experiences if they live in other off-campus units.

Ozer said while The Radian and Domus Apartments provide students more guidelines for approaching the application process, not all off-campus housing options give students clear guidance or additional resources.

The organization has also received national recognition. In May 2017, D’Urso won the Sol Feinstone award at the 2017 Ivy Day ceremony for founding Penn CASE. This award is given to sophomores, juniors, or seniors who have contributed to "constructive social and educational change" at their universities.

"That’s what it was all about, making sure we had an impact and helping people at Penn and in the Philadelphia community,” D’Urso said. “The last thing you want to do is create an organization and the community starts relying on it, and then it just dies. To see that it has continued to flourish and go beyond my expectations has been really amazing.”