Types of possible scams targeting students studying overseas and what to look out for

There are numerous benefits of studying abroad, such as gaining a whole new perspective about your host country, making international friends as well as learning a different language. That said, there are also various scams targeting international students pursuing their educational goals in their dream countries. As an international student grappling with the nuts and bolts of living independently in a new country, you may be especially susceptible to some of these scams.

What is a scam?

A scam typically entails an individual, a group of individuals, or a group that offers something alluring to the target student before the latter falls into their trap.

The important thing to note is that when things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Be on your guard if alluring offers appear out of nowhere. According to many news reports in Singapore and overseas, there has been an alarming increase in scams since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. These scams, elaborate or otherwise, may or may not involve COVID-linked offers to lure potential victims to take the bait.

Thus, we have compiled a list of some of the more common international student scams, and how to detect them. Hopefully, you can avoid falling prey to such tricks. 

#1: Visa/Immigrant Scam

As an international student hoping to or already living abroad in your dream country, you need a student visa.

Nonetheless, your desire to study in a particular place can make you vulnerable to conniving fraudsters who exploit you by providing fake visa papers in exchange for large sums of money.

While the exact details may vary, this type of visa or immigrant scam typically entails you receiving a phone call from someone alleging to be from immigration authorities, an education agency, or another legitimate group. The caller would likely claim that you have a problem with your visa, and instruct you to provide personal details on the phone and pay a certain fee to address the alleged problem.

Should you receive a call like this, be on high alert. Avoid providing the caller any personal information, such as your identity card details or bank account number. Moreover, do not verify that any information they may already have about you is accurate, nor make any transfers of money requested. The best thing to do is hang up instantly. Report such calls to the police or the relevant school authorities, so that action can be taken against the scammers when possible. Report the incident as soon as possible. You can contact your international student advisor who can report the call to the police on your behalf.

Be mindful that no immigration authorities will contact you by phone demanding money, regardless of the country you plan to study in or are studying in.

Another clue that a scammer is contacting you is when they request payment via gift cards, cryptocurrency (Bitcoin for example), or even by money transfer services like Western Union.

#2: Rental scams

When you study abroad, finding a safe, convenient, and affordable place to live is a pressing issue. Scammers know this very well, and exploit students’ needs to find suitable accommodation.

A typical rental scam you must be wary of entails a fraudulent landlord posting property adverts online, requesting you to either submit a holding deposit or send a bank statement as evidence that you can afford the rent. Furthermore, the scammer may claim that they are overseas and cannot show you around the property. If you send the scammer money, he or she then disappears.

Even if an actual property does exist, and the fraudulent landlord can show you around to make it seem that the place is a legitimate rental property, remain on your guard. This is because a deceitful landlord can demand you give a deposit before handing you a keys for the property that does not work. One way to avoid falling victim to such rental scams would be to search for legitimate accommodation on reliable property listing sites. Avoid adverts that do not show you pictures of the property. Be careful of adverts that only show email addresses without any phone numbers. Make sure you know the market rental rate before committing to hand over any requested sum of money.

If a rental price is too good to be true, it probably is. When possible, do your due diligence on the representing property agent, by ensuring he or she is properly registered with the relevant authorities at your host destination. A safe way to find suitable student housing would be to ask your host university if it has any connections with reliable housing agencies or landlords.

#3: Money Laundering

Criminal groups may entice students to receive and hide stolen money on their behalf, with false promises that students can receive a cut. Such actions are considered money laundering and can lead to a hefty fine — and even a prison sentence.

Scammers or criminal groups know how often students are in need of money to pay for tuition fees and living costs, hence they target students frequently. Delete emails that promise easy money in return for accepting transfers into your personal bank account. Do not share your bank details with strangers, and report any unanticipated payments you see in your bank account to the relevant authorities. Although it may be alluring to receive some money in return for a payment, the consequences (like arrest) can be very serious, disrupting your educational aspirations. 

#4: Employment Scams

As most international students can work for a minimal number of hours to earn extra cash while studying abroad, seasoned scammers can advertise jobs for students online or on bulletin boards in public areas, requesting students apply with various personal documents. They would then gain access to personal details of target students to steal their identities to open bank accounts or set up fake online profiles. Such actions may unwittingly land you in grave trouble.

When applying for a job, ensure that your desired organization is reputable. A safe way to find a job is to enquire via your host university or study institution if they have jobs for students.

#5: Scholarship Scams

Studying abroad can be costly, with the prospect of receiving scholarships very enticing. With thousands of students in Singapore and overseas hoping to get a scholarship online, scammers who know students’ desires to mitigate high educational fees have set up scholarship scams online to entice their potential victims. When you or any unsuspecting victim apply for the online scholarship by submitting personal and educational documents, the scammer may demand an exorbitant administration fee. Should you pay this “fee”, the scammer ceases all contact with you.

Common Scammer Techniques

Various scam techniques exist to win students’ trust before cheating them of their life savings or a considerable amount of money. For example, scammers may employ persuasive techniques to convince students that their offer is exactly what they need, while pressuring students to pay money or fees to seize said opportunity. Alternatively, scammers may try the stick approach and blackmail students with deportation if they do not pay a certain sum of money upfront.

Your Safety is Your Responsibility

When you study abroad, your safety becomes your responsibility. Avoid being a victim of scam by educating yourself and keeping in the know of various scam techniques. If you have fallen victim to a fraud or ruse, report it to your university or institution immediately.  Additionally, you can report such episodes straight to the relevant authorities of the country you are studying in.


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