A scam is a fraudulent activity aimed at stealing your money or identity.
Living away from their home country and perhaps having to speak a different language, international students are particularly vulnerable to being scammed. If you lose money in a scam, it can be difficult - sometimes impossible - to get back.
The truth is that anyone can be scammed. If you stay careful and alert, you can minimise your chances of becoming a victim.
Seven signs of a scam
How do you tell if it's a scam? If you receive a phone call, message, email or see a social media post with one or more of the following features, be careful - it may be a scam.
- Asking for large amounts of money (i.e. more than $500)
- Repeated requests for personal information
- Threats of deportation or arrest
- Pressure put upon you, trying to get you to act immediately
- Discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true
- Demands to communicate only via encrypted messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp, WeChat, QQ, Telegram)
- Demands for payment through third-party services (e.g. Convera, Moneygram), or in non-money forms (e.g. Bitcoin, gift cards), or payment to foreign bank accounts
Real life examples
Below are three cases of scams that we have seen in International Student Support.
Anh* saw a post on a social media site from her home country, which offered a way to get cheaper tuition fees. The service claimed to provide a discount if tuition fees were paid to them instead of to the University. Anh was sceptical at first, and sent a small amount of money - and was surprised when the system seemed to work. When she sent the rest of her tuition fees, though, the money (and the scammer) vanished.
Total loss: AU$45,000 (annual tuition fees)
What to do if you see an offer like this
- Be wary of any offer that claims to give a discount in tuition fees
- Ask yourself if it seems too good to be true
- Never transfer tuition fees to a third party. Tuition fee payment is made through your MyAdelaide account.
- Contact International Student Support with a screenshot / link, to ask if the offer is legitimate
Rohit* found a listing online for a new rental apartment, which was listed for a cheap price in a good location. He contacted the owner, who asked him to pay the first six months' rent in advance as a deposit. The owner said they were out of the country so they couldn't show Rohit around the apartment.
The owner mentioned that many other people were interested in the apartment and that if Rohit didn't pay the deposit now, someone else would take it. Feeling the pressure, Rohit transferred the money - and the owner, apartment listing, and money vanished.
Total loss: AU$ 7,500 (six months' rent).
What to do if you see an accommodation listing like this
- Ask yourself: does it seem too good (and cheap) to be true?
- Be wary if there are lots of excuses about why you cannot view the property in person
- Visit the University's Accommodation Service for advice
- Never pay a deposit without viewing the property first
- Always ensure you have a written and signed contract for any accommodation
Yan* received a phone call from an unknown number. The caller was very angry, and told him they were from the police in his home country, and that Yan had been caught in an illegal activity. If he didn’t pay $100,000 immediately, they said his visa would be cancelled and he would be arrested and deported from Australia.
Yan was told not to talk to anyone else, even his parents, or he would get into more trouble. He sent the money to an international bank account right away - and realised too late that it had all been a scam.
Total loss: AU$100,000.
What to do if you get a call like this
- Hang up - scammers may try to panic you to keep you on the call, but it's OK to hang up
- Block the number
- Even if the phone number appears legitimate, remember it may be a scam. Scammers can impersonate phone numbers of police stations, Consulates, etc.
- Talk to your family, friends, the University, and your country’s Consulate in Australia – you won’t get into trouble
- Do not provide any personal details to strangers on the phone or internet
- Do not make any payments over the phone
Protecting yourself from scams
Here are some tips for avoiding common scams.
- Always be careful if someone is asking you for a large amount of money
- Beware of urgent requests from unknown sources to transfer money due to a crisis in your home country
- Beware of random phone calls you are not expecting or from phone numbers you don’t know
- Do not click on direct links in emails claiming to be from your bank, the Australian Government, the ATO, your home country government, or other authorities. Always go directly to the organisation's website yourself to confirm its legitimacy and contact details
- Ensure your PINs and passwords are secure and private
- Be cautious of any offer that sounds too good to be true
- Take a step back: if someone is putting pressure on you, hang up or walk away from the computer
- Be aware that sometimes scammers will be from your country and speak your language
- Check your bank and credit card statements regularly for suspicious activity, and contact your bank immediately if something is not right
- If you are unsure about something, contact International Student Support
- Agency scams
- Fake kidnapping scams
- Tax scams
- Job scams
- Ghostwriting scams
- Money mule scams
- Online marketplace scams
In this scenario, scammers pose as an agent working with an Australian university, and ask for large sums of money in exchange for their services, which might include providing fake documents or academic transcripts, or providing false migration or program advice.
Students from China have been targeted with this scam . Students are threatened by someone claiming to be a high ranking official from China, who convinces them to make a fake hostage video of themselves. This video is then sent to the student's family in China, who are convinced by the scammer that their child has been kidnapped, and pay large sums of 'ransom' money.
In this scam, you may receive a call from someone claiming to be an Australian Taxation Office (ATO) officer. The fake officer tells you that you haven't paid your tax and threaten to arrest you unless you pay it over the phone immediately.
Be careful of fake job adverts that ask for application forms, including personal and banking details as well as copies of identification documents. These details are then used to steal your identity.
Job scams may also involve asking you to pay money before you can start work somewhere. If a job asks you to pay them first, it is most likely a scam.
These scams see third parties offering to write your essay in return for a fee. Not only is this plagiarism, but when the money is sent, the completed essay is never sent by scammers.
This is a type of money laundering, with scammers offering money for you to transfer stolen cash to another account. The legal consequences of being involved in this scam can be severe.
Recently, we have seen several students who have been victims of scams through online marketplaces. In particular, when selling a product, be wary of any buyer who asks you to send them money. For example, a scammer may offer to buy a $100 item by saying you first have to transfer them $1,000, and they will then send back $1,100. This is a scam. You will never receive your money back.
If you think you have been scammed...
- Contact your bank or financial institution immediately
- Make a report to the South Australian Police
- Contact International Student Support
- Report the scam to the Australian Government's Scamwatch and Report Cyber services
- StudyAdelaide - Protecting Yourself from International Student Scams
- SA Police - Scams and Cybercrime
- Secure IT - Online cyber security training modules
- Mandarin Phone Scam - Protect yourself from phone scams targeting Mandarin-speakers
- The Little Black Book of Scams - Learn how to protect yourself from common scams. Available in multiple languages.