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[Caution!] 5 Common Scams Aimed at International Students

This article examines five of the most common scams that are used by fraudsters and con-artists to cheat and fool international students.

Mahesh Ramani

Government officials will never ask you for your passport number and social security number over the telephone or email. Do not share these details with anyone.

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As an international student in a distant land it is important that students remain aware about their rights and duties and have clear information about immigration requirements and money management. This article examines five of the most common scams that are used by fraudsters and con-artists to cheat and fool students in parting with their money.

1. The Immigration Scam:

This happened as recently as early 2013 when international students in leading American universities like Cornell and Stanford were targeted by scamsters via telephone or email. Callers claimed to be from the Department of Immigration and rang up international students telling them that their visas were due to be terminated as there was some fault with the documents that the students originally submitted. The students were then asked to remit money to an account number and told that their visas would be sorted out. Fearing for their security a number of naïve students panicked and transferred money. This led to public announcements by the administration of Cornell University, Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts cautioning international students about this ‘immigration-scare fraud’.

Points to Note for Students: 
Government officials will never ask you for your passport number and social security number over the telephone or email. Do not share these details with anyone. If anyone stops and questions you directly ask for proper identification and speak to your university admissions officer. Students in the USA can register a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

2. Shady Scholarship Agents: 

A scholarship can come in extremely handy for students to meet some of their tuition fees expenses. Most scholarships are offered by educational institutions, the government and private philanthropists and charitable organisations. Be wary of scholarship agents who approach you promising to secure a huge scholarship for you if you pay them a certain percentage of money up-front. These are unscrupulous crooks who seek to cheat unsuspecting and gullible students. 
Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit or excellence in a specific field like sports, music, dance, etc. Scholarships offered by genuine awarding bodies do not chase students asking them to pay money up-front. Hence be wary of any scholarship agent who promises to secure huge sums of money to fund your studies.

3. Study Loan Agents: 

Similar to the shady scholarship agents mentioned in the previous point there are numerous ‘bank-agents’ who promise to secure bank-loans to unsuspecting students. These individuals promise low rates of interest and extended loan-repayment tenures for a significant fee that has to be paid up front. Please be wary of such shady operators. In India, the banking system has evolved to a credible level of transparency and there are dedicated efforts to offer study loans to deserving students. Read our article on top Indian banks offering loans to students aspiring to study abroad for more information.

4. Student Accommodation: 

Most students’ secure on-campus accommodation where there is minimal cause to worry; at the most a mouse or spider may scare you! Students opting for non-campus accommodation options should be very careful and only opt for certified and authorised accommodation options or home-stay options that are certified by the University. A couple of years ago a ‘housing scam’ gained notoriety with many Asian students being duped by an elaborate ‘con’. Students were fooled by attractive looking images on a website operated by the scammer and paid deposits only to land in the USA and discover no such accommodation option existed in reality. A variation of this scam was when actual houses and flats were there but belonged to someone else and the owners had no clue on how their houses / flats got listed for rent. 

5. Visa Fraudstars:

These are the sixth type of scams that you might face - the 'silent killers' - visa frauds. On Friday, 21st Oct'16, there was a news that the Immigration NZ (INZ) has found that the number of visa fraud cases have increased from 75 cases in April to 640 cases by August. Most of the students who were deported applied through agents who turned out to be masterminds behind this fraud game. 

Labour's Immigration spokesman said he wants to publicise the names of those New Zealand institutions that are using fraudulent agents. 'If we knew the names of the providers, I think it would change the behaviour of those providers very quickly', Mr Lees-Galloway said.


Always be alert and careful with your passport, visa, credit and debit cards,  institution identity card, ‘Student-Travel Pass’ and any other important documentation. Be sure to keep multiple copies of your passport and visa for safety purposes and note down the address and phone-numbers of your embassy for any emergency. Do not share your bank account and other confidential data with anyone on the phone or over email. Remember - ‘It is always better to be safe than to be sorry!
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