Studying in Australia is an incredibly exciting adventure, offering new experiences, exposure to a foreign culture, and the chance to make lots of friends from around the world. While most students enjoy a smooth student journey, unfortunately unwelcome situations can sometimes arise in the form of student scams.

We’ve put together some useful tips to help you understand what to look out for and how to protect yourself against some of the most common scams.

Ransom, fraud and fake kidnapping

There is currently a scam targeted at Chinese students involving a staged kidnapping. The scammer demands the student tie themselves up and send photos to their family asking for a ransom to be sent to an offshore bank account. The scammer may then threaten the student with violence against their family members, arrest, or deportation from Chinese authorities on their return home.

A similar scam involves fraud instigated by a fake parcel delivery inquiry. In this instance, the student is contacted and told an illegal parcel addressed to them has been found and is being held and investigated. Often, the student is asked to follow prompts, shown fake police identification, and then coerced into parting with large sums of money.

If you receive a call or email that seems suspicious, it probably is. Government, police or law enforcement officials will never demand your bank account details, passport information or address, or ask to monitor your movements, over the phone. These are clear warning signs that the call is fraudulent and should be reported to Scamwatch, or ReportCyber if it’s an internet-based scam. You can also call Victoria Police for advice on 131 444.

Visa and immigration status

Some students have reported being called about their Australian visa status by someone pretending to be an overseas consulate employee. The scammer then tells the student that they’re in trouble in their home country (for example, being involved in a crime) and that their Australian visa will be impacted unless they pay money. In many cases, the scammer has been able to mirror official numbers to help them appear more legitimate.

Know that in Australia, only the Department of Home Affairs can grant, refuse or cancel your student visa. You can also register with the local office of the consulate for your country of origin when you arrive in Victoria, as they are a reliable source of information about your home country. You can find more information on visa scams, and how to report a visa scam, on the Department of Home Affairs website.

Course fees

Some international students are encountering scams around their course fees. In this scam, the student is approached by someone who claims they can bargain a cheaper rate on the student’s course fees. The scammer may even recruit international students to approach other students on their behalf.

Be aware that fees are set by your education provider and are not negotiable. You should never pay your fees to anyone other than your education provider, via the payment methods detailed in your acceptance letter. If you’re ever unsure about fees, have a problem paying them or need further advice, contact your education provider and talk to dedicated student advisors who are there to help you.

If you need help managing your money, setting up a bank account or budgeting while in Victoria you can find more information on our website.

Social media or online forums

Social media, online forums and virtual meet-ups are great ways to connect with other students when you first arrive in Victoria. But, be careful with the information you give out and the personal details you display online.

Some rules to follow include:

  • If an email looks suspicious, delete it without opening it
  • If you’re not sure a group or forum is legitimate, ask a friend for a second opinion
  • Make sure you don’t display or give out your personal details online
  • Check documents you send don’t contain sensitive information
  • Never send someone your bank account details, passport number or current address via email
  • Use antivirus and security software on your computer and mobile phone
  • Check your bank and credit card statements regularly for suspicious activity and contact your bank’s helpline immediately if something is not right
  • Know that your bank will never send you confirmation of identity or bank account details via email
  • If you think you may have encountered an online scam, contact Scamwatch or ReportCyber immediately for help

Rental conditions

Finding a new place to live is an exciting part of your student journey. But, if you’re moving into a private rental, it pays to be aware of your rights as a renter so you can protect yourself from difficult or dangerous situations. In some cases, students may be asked to either enter into an illegal rental arrangement that is unfairly controlling, or for money upfront that is then not passed on to the correct person.

Be aware that no one should hold your passport or other important documents while you’re renting accommodation from them. If anyone refuses to give you a key or card to enter the building or asks you not to answer the front door, this is a sign the agreement they’re asking you to adhere to may put you in danger.

Dr Heather Holst, the Commissioner for Residential Tenancies, recommends trusting your instincts and reaching out for advice.

If it doesn’t feel right, there could well be something wrong with what you are being asked to do. My advice is to check in with Study Melbourne or Consumer Affairs Victoria before you sign a contract and at any point where you are worried that something is not right.

You don’t need permission from your landlord or other tenants to call and you won’t be in trouble for doing so.

You can read more about your rental rights and obligations in Victoria here.

Workplace rights

Australia offers international students the ability to work while they study, which is ideal if you’re looking to earn money to support yourself during your time here. As an international student, you’re allowed to work 20 hours a week while studying and unlimited hours during semester breaks. It is essential to check the conditions of your visa and understand your rights while working in Australia.

You are entitled to a minimum hourly rate of pay, must receive a payslip every time you are paid, and must be given adequate breaks while at work for certain periods of time. If your employer isn’t following these rules, they are breaking the law.

Remember that only the Department of Home Affairs can grant or cancel your visa. Your employer does not have the power to do that and should not threaten to revoke or promise to grant you a visa. You can find out more about fair working conditions on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.