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.
If you get a suspicious call or text message, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Please report these at www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam
Scams Community Guide
The Department of Home Affairs has developed this guide to educate the community on different types of scams and what to do if you fall victim.
Please see attached translated guide (PDF files) on how to spot and avoid scams, just in time for Scam Awareness Week 2022!
Ransom and fraud
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.
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.
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.
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
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.