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Protecting Yourself from International Student Scams

Scams targeting international students can crop up from time to time. From COVID-related schemes to virtual kidnapping scams, international students may face significant repercussions if they fall victim to such traps.

That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself on ways to spot scams and how to protect yourself against them.

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What is a scam?

A scam involves an organisation or individual who tries to deceive or trick victims into giving them money or stealing their identity. A scam is illegal, even if they do not succeed.

There are a few warning signs to keep a lookout for, including discounts that seem too good to be true, vague details or a lack of information, threats of deportation and demands that you pay through an insecure payment method like a bank transfer over a secure one like PayPal.

What are some common scams to watch out for?

A caller pretending they are from the Australian Tax Office and saying if the student does not speak with them a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Another variation is that an officer is already on their way to arrest the student for failing to pay taxes. They will state the student owes money and must pay immediately to prevent the arrest. This is a scam and you should not provide any personal information. The best action is to hang up the phone.

Another scam that has become more prominent recently is a virtual kidnapping scam. This scam has largely targeted Chinese communities across Australia. In most cases, scammers call international students claiming to be a Chinese authority (i.e. the embassy or the police). They then convince the victim that they have been implicated in a crime in China and may face extradition to China or criminal charges in court. Some even go as far as threatening the victim’s family if they refuse to cooperate. The scammers then instruct international students to fake their own kidnappings by taking photos of themselves blindfolded and kidnapped. They send the photos to their families overseas and pressure them into handing money over to scammers for their relative’s release.

There are other types of scams targeting international students that have been around for years and unfortunately still occur today, some of which include:

  • Agency scams – in this scenario, a scammer would pose as an agent working with a Australian university or institution. Those falsely posing as agents will often ask for large sums of money in exchange for their “services”, offer to give you fake documents or academic transcripts, or downplay the amount of English language proficiency you will need to get into an institution.
  • Discount scams– in most discount scams, those committing the scam are sometimes fellow students. Students will often approach other students promising fake discounts on university fees, predominantly through false online advertising.
  • Accommodation scams – accommodation scams usually involve the scammer requesting a large lump sum payment from an international student (under the pretence that it is the bond) and/or misleading the student on the quality, location, and/or conditions of the home.
  • Blackmailing – some scammers will try to involve you in wrongdoing or accuse you of wrongdoing in order to blackmail you into giving them money.

How to protect yourself

If you’re looking to strengthen your personal security to keep yourself safe from scams, these tips are a great place to start:

  • Limit the amount of personal information you put online and do not give your personal information to strangers
  • Do not give money to strangers online
  • Ensure your PINs and passwords are secure and private
  • If you suspect you’ve been targeted by a scammer, do not respond to them. Block their email and/or phone number and report it as soon as possible
  • If you’re uneasy about a phone call you can hang up and seek advice before making any decisions.

Safety resources

A great resource you can use to stay up-to-date on current scams is Scamwatch, a site run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which provides information on how to recognise, avoid and report scams in Australia.

There are also several safety resources specifically for international students here in Adelaide that can help protect you against student scams. To start, you can check out our tips on how to strengthen your personal safety in various areas, such as home safety, street safety, and data safety. If you suspect you have fallen victim to a scam, report it as soon as possible to the South Australian Police. You can call the non-urgent police assistance department at 131 444. The police are here to help and can assist you in determining if it is a scam or not.

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