No country is free of trouble makers. While international students studying in Australia will be perfectly safe most of the time, there is the unfortunate reality that someone will try to take advantage of their vulnerability.
Thankfully, you do not have to be left in the dark as to where about the dangers lie! This ultimate guides serves as a resource for international students. By reading it, you are educating yourself on what the most common types of scams are, what warning signs to look out for, and how to protect yourself. As mum’s around the world have been saying, “it’s better to be safe than sorry”.
It should come as no surprise that discount scams are the most common scams out there. Understanding the general cost of things is important for comparing and gaining an understanding of living expenses everywhere. It also takes time to develop this awareness, time that international students may not necessarily have. Here is what to look out for:
- People or organisations offering surprisingly low prices or substantial discounts.
- Lack of details. A fake organisation will probably not have very clear contact information or may be based overseas. They also may not have ‘fine print’ detail about terms and conditions or dispute resolution.
- Inflexible payment options. Someone may insist that you make payments immediately, in full or only pay by electronic funds transfer or a wire service. They may not offer payment through a secure payment service such as PayPal or a credit card transaction.
How to keep safe:
- Be suspicious of anything involving large sums of money.
- If you’re contacted or approached by anyone claiming to represent a university or institution, the Australian government or other organisations, make no commitments. Contact that institution directly and ask them if they usually approach people in that manner.
- Stay engaged with your university or institution. Orientation programs can include educating you about scams. Your university or institution may also have a student union specifically for international students.
- Try to conduct business through reputable websites and organisations and steer away from forums and social media.
- Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Most Australian universities or institutions rely on education agents to recruit students for them. Agents are paid on commission, which means for every student recruited they get a fee. Because of this, it’s difficult for universities to monitor them. This leaves some students vulnerable. A bad agent might:
- Charge you large amounts to make an application.
- Make a fraudulent application and then disappear.
- Advise you to choose a particular university or institution because that university or institution pays the agent more.
- Downplay the amount of English you will need to know.
- Offer to give you fake documents like IELTS certificates or academic transcripts, at a price.
- Misrepresent themselves as working directly for a particular university or institution.
- Ask for money for services that universities will provide for free like orientation and accommodation support.
How to be safe:
- If you come across an agent who charges more than average, think about if it’s worth it to you and make sure you shop around before making a decision.
- Be suspicious of anything that is ‘non-refundable’.
- Find out what credentials are required by an agent operating in your country and ask to see them.
- Do your research. Most university or institution websites will have information on what requirements you’ll need to meet. Most will also have translated material or even phone services specifically for international students who have enquiries.
- Ask the university or institution you are considering if they have agents who officially represent them in your country.
- Find out what services your university or institution of interest offers for free.
- Bring someone with you when you meet agents, like your parents.
- Walk away if you are offered false documents. It will only cause you trouble in the long run.
- Ask the university or institution you are considering for their list of suggested agents, reputable institutions like Melbourne City Institute of Education will list their agents online.
Accommodation is one of the most important factors an international student has to consider. Finding affordable accommodation in a new country is unknown territory. Here is how to protect yourself from dodgy accommodation deals:
- Always inspect a property, if the landlord doesn’t let you, do not proceed.
- Search the property online and find out where it is and if it suits your needs. Does it have good reviews?
- Ask about all the terms and conditions of your stay.
- Try to look for accommodation through official channels and websites rather than through forums and social media.
- Keep copies of all correspondence with the people you’re renting from.
- Avoid paying by money transfer if you can.
- Is all paper work done above board, check with the rental authority in Victoria.
Where to go for help?
If you suspect something is a scam or that you have been scammed yourself, there are numerous things you can do.
- You can report scams to the ACCC through Scamwatch.gov.
- If you think you’ve been scammed or are ever concerned for your personal safety, report the matter to your local police station straight away.
- If you need help or speak to someone for advice, you can speak with your Student Welfare Coordinator.
- If you have been scammed academically or anywhere on your campus, you can also lodge official complaints.
- Above all, never be afraid to ask for help. Educational institutions can provide assistance to students who have been scammed, but they must know what has happened to be able to help you.