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Scams and fraud

Students can be vulnerable to financial crime scams, especially those experiencing life away from home and from the guidance of parents for the first time.

To help keep you safe, please see below some examples of some of the most common scams and areas of risk affecting students.

If you need any advice and support, contact the iCentre: [email protected].

Fee payment scams

One fraud is particularly targeting tuition fees paid by overseas students. Criminals may present themselves as a government agency and request payment for an 'international student tariff', in some cases even threatening to revoke a student’s visa if the payment is not made.

In other cases, fraudsters may create a fake email which appears to be from a genuine UK university, requesting payment for fees or informing a student of a change in bank account details to pay fees.

To avoid these types of scam:

  • be wary of anyone who offers to make a tuition payment on your behalf
  • avoid companies advertising tuition payment services that are not endorsed by the institution
  • look for warning signs that an agent is not legitimate, such as requests for large upfront payments, offers to create false documents, refusal to provide references or charging fees for services that an educational institution provides for free, such as accommodation support
  • do not share personal, banking or financial information with anyone who lacks a verifiable relationship with the relevant institution.

Money muling

The ‘money mule’ trap involves students being offered payment in exchange for receiving money temporarily into their bank account. They will then be asked to withdraw the cash to hand over or transfer it on.

This type of scam is on the increase, targeting students who are short of cash and may be tempted by offers to make ‘easy money’ on job search or social media websites.

Allowing your bank account to be used in this way is illegal and could result in a criminal record or even a prison sentence. Students caught up in money muling are also likely to have problems opening a new bank account or obtaining credit in the future.

Avoid involvement in money muling by:

  • being wary of unsolicited offers to make ‘easy money’
  • researching companies offering such ‘job’ opportunities and making sure their contact details are genuine
  • being especially cautious of ‘job offers’ from overseas as it will be harder to check whether they are legitimate.

Accommodation scams

Rented accommodation is another area where criminals can take advantage of students.

Typically, fraudsters might advertise a property that belongs to someone else – or even a property that doesn’t exist at all. They may make excuses as to why a student can’t view the property but insist on rent or a deposit up front, promising to forward keys via a courier service, which then never arrive.

To avoid falling victim to this kind of scam:

  • only use reputable high street rental agents and always view a property inside and out before entering into any agreement or parting with any money
  • ask to see legally required documents such as energy performance and gas safety certificates
  • check that the rent is typical of properties in the area – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Internet security

Your personal data can be at risk through the use of smartphones, laptops and other digital devices connected to the internet, whether for study or social activity. This can expose you to fraud and scams. This risk is increased if you use free Wi-Fi, for example in cafés or public space, where any security weakness in the Wi-Fi network could be exploited by criminals to intercept data.

Phishing and vishing

Students can be targets for both phishing (emails) and vishing (phone calls), with fraudsters often posing as their bank or another official body.

A typical phone scam might involve a fraudster calling about a refund or problem with a payment card. They may ask the student to confirm their security and bank account details, supposedly to resolve the issue, and then use these details to take payments from the account.

Another common scenario is fake technical support impersonators claiming they have detected a fault with a student’s laptop computer and seeking remote access to fix the problem. They may suggest the student needs to buy a piece of software straightaway to solve the problem. Such calls are unlikely to be legitimate, so if you are unsure of a caller’s credibility, hang up.

Online shopping scams

The popularity of booking tickets, getting student discounts from restaurants or buying course books online makes it easier for fraudsters to advertise fake products or services that may never arrive.

Ways to avoid this type of scam include:

  • taking care to research a private seller or even a legitimate-looking brand, for example by reviewing other customer’s feedback
  • never opening a link in an unexpected email.
  • checking URLs or email addresses of unsolicited emails, including the spelling, to make sure they are genuine
  • insisting on viewing high-value items like vehicles in person before paying.
  • using secure payment methods rather than direct bank transfers.

Fine scam

You are called by someone claiming to be from a government department or agency working on their behalf. They inform you that you have not paid a fee which you need to pay now to avoid prosecution. Examples have been immigration tax (which does not exist), visa tax or a health fee. Quite quickly their language is threatening, warning that if you do not pay a fine over the phone you will be arrested, have your visa cancelled or face further financial penalties. They will try to keep you on the phone and reconfirm their credentials by referencing official bodies such as the Home Office and the Royal Courts of Justice.

This is a scam. In the rare situation where someone may be fined by the UK Government, this will be done so in an official capacity in writing. You would call in to pay over the phone or to appeal the fine.

Even if the scammer claims to be from your home country it is very unlikely that any official government agency would contact you in this manner and request payment over the phone.

You should refuse to pay but offer to take their information to look into the matter and call back. If they refuse to give this to you then you know that they are a scammer. Hang up and block their number. If they do give you information, provide this to Action Fraud who you can contact for advice about the call. No official agency would refuse to provide you with full details of who they are, why you are being contacted, how to check the legitimacy of their claim, or how to appeal a decision.

If you need any advice and support, contact the iCentre: [email protected].