Download our guides Your Next Career Accommodation Money and banking Cost of living Visas Employment Health and safety Language Life in Australia Studying Getting around Travel Advertise

Cyber Security 101: How to Outsmart Scammers & Stay Safe Online

It seems that cyber security is top of mind for most people across Australia, particularly given the recent large-scale hacks that have targeted major companies like Optus and Medibank. Unfortunately, many international students have found themselves right in the middle of these incidents, with thousands having been informed their data was breached in some way.

Sadly, international students being affected by hacks and scams isn’t unheard of. In fact, many scams have emerged over the years that specifically target the international student community in Australia. 

So, how do you protect yourself when you’re away from home, speaking a foreign language and aren’t always sure what’s official and who’s trustworthy? We’re here to help you answer those exact questions. 

Read on to learn more about the most common types of scams, the warning signs and how to protect yourself.

Common types of online scams in Australia

Agency scams

Most Australian universities or institutions rely on education agents to recruit students for them. Agents are paid on commission – for every student recruited, they get a fee. As a result, scammers will sometimes pose as agents in an attempt to get you to reveal personal information or financial details.

Warning signs

  • 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 to complete your degree.

Phishing scams

In phishing scams, hackers will pose as official authorities from entities like banks, government departments or telecommunications companies. They may send you emails, text messages, social media messages, or even call you on the phone. Usually, the scammer will encourage you to reveal personal information under seemingly legitimate pretences. For example, they might say there was suspicious activity in your bank account and they want to resolve the issue for you.

Warning signs

  • You receive an email, text message, phone call or social media message from a user claiming to be an official organisation but the email address, phone number or username doesn’t look legitimate.
  • The message doesn’t address you by name.
  • The message contains spelling and/or grammatical errors.

Rental scams

In rental scam scenarios, someone will pretend to lease you a property or a room in a share house to steal your money (e.g. they will often get you to send them money as a “bond” to secure the accommodation). 

Warning signs

  • The rent is a lot cheaper than other similar accommodation in the area.
  • You are asked to sign a lease or pay a bond or deposit before you have seen the property.
  • The landlord or agent makes excuses that you can’t view the property.
  • The landlord or agent requests money via money transfer.

Tuition fee scams

When it comes to tuition fee scams, the scammers will generally contact you virtually or in person, claiming that they are from government agencies and request payment of an “international student tariff” with the threat that your student visa will be cancelled. Others claim that they’re third-party agents who represent educational institutions.

Warning signs

  • Offer you extremely low prices or significant discounts.
  • Say they work directly for a particular institution without any form of official identification.
  • Be vague on terms and conditions, contact details and their head office location.
  • Have inflexible payment options, like demanding payments immediately, in full or only by electronic funds transfer or a wire service.

How to stay safe online

There are plenty of ways to protect yourself against online attacks. Let’s take a look at some of the simplest and most effective techniques.

Be aware

The first step is familiarising yourself with the various scams that are out there. By informing yourself of the potential dangers, you’ll be better able to safeguard yourself against them. 

Don’t open suspicious messages or click sketchy links

If you receive contact from an unknown user, don’t open it. You can always verify the validity of the email address or phone number by doing an online search. If no matches are found, delete the email/message as it is probably a scam.

Always use strong, unique passwords

Try to use passwords that are hard to guess; don’t include any personal information such as name, surname, date of birth, etc. You should also try to use different passwords for different platforms to increase security. Keep your passwords and PINs in a safe place in case you forget them.

Use two-factor authentication (2FA)

Take your security to the next level by using two-factor authentication. This means that, in addition to your login details (like username and password), you’ll have an extra sign-in step. Examples could include having a verification code texted to you or answering a security question. 

Be wary of unusual requests

If someone is asking you to reveal very personal details, send large amounts of money or do anything else that seems strange, it’s likely a scam. Don’t reveal any of your personal information, do not send money and report it immediately. 

Where to go for help

You can report scams to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) through Scamwatch. If you think you’ve been scammed or are ever concerned for your safety, report the matter to your local police station straight away. You can also report non-emergencies to the police by calling 131 444.

If you need help, most universities have free legal services and advice for international students and some can be anonymous if you want. These support resources are particularly helpful if you’ve been scammed academically or anywhere on your campus.

For more guidance on cyber security, visit the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).