COVID-19 and Student Scams: How to Keep Yourself Safe

student scams

The COVID-19 pandemic has left people vulnerable, and unfortunately there are scammers who are taking advantage of that. As retailers closed and shifted to selling online, online shoppers are being deceived by fake websites, international students have been targeted by fake police calls, and unofficial texts seemingly from the Australian Government regarding COVID-19 are sending people to dangerous links.

Despite the fact that there are a number of scams specifically targeted towards international students, don’t worry! If you are vigilant and aware of these scams, you will be better able to avoid them. The Australian Government’s Scamwatch has a detailed list of scams that have appeared during the pandemic, so if you see or receive anything suspicious, you can check to see if it’s outlined there. 

We’re also running through some of the common scams that have been reported during this time, and how to keep yourself safe.

Impersonating official organisations

With all of the additional information regarding COVID-19 being communicated by official organisations, you’re probably experiencing a huge increase in emails and texts. Unfortunately, in some cases this means that scammers have started impersonating these official organisations, to try and get personal information out of you.

You may receive an email, phone call or text from an organisation like:

  • The Australian Government (including specific departments, such as the Department of Home Affairs, which deals with immigration)
  • Your education provider
  • A visa agent
  • The police (both Australian and international)
  • A rental agent
  • The World Health Organization
  • Your bank

These communications may ask you to provide personal details, including bank or credit card information; to send money; to pay additional student fees or fines (for example, for an ‘overdue payment’); or pay additional money for your student visa. Do not proceed with their instructions or click on any links they may provide.

You may be ‘threatened’ with lies about additional fines, deportation, arrest, eviction, or removal from your study course if you do not comply – this is not true.

What should I do?

If you receive any communication from an official organisation that you are suspicious of or have doubts about, do not respond, do not share any personal information, delete the text or email (report/block the phone number or email account, if possible) and, if it’s a phone call, hang up.

Get in touch with your international student service centre at your education provider if you want to see if the communication was real and legitimate. You can also get in touch directly with the specific organisation that contacted you through a legitimate line (for example, if it was communication from your visa agent, contact them directly with their official number, to see whether they require anything).

Online shopping scams

Scammers have also been creating fake online stores selling things that do not exist, such as cures or vaccinations for COVID-19, or for high-value items, such as face masks. 

At present, there is no cure or vaccination for COVID-19, so these claims will always be false and you should avoid them. To detect suspicious online traders, always check to see if they have reviews from customers, and how they are accepting payment. If it is through unusual methods, such as money order, international funds transfer or even electronic currency, such as Bitcoin, do not proceed with payment. 

You can find more information on online shopping scams at Scamwatch.

Where can I report a scam?

Where possible, you should report a scam (whether you are a victim, or have noticed something suspicious) to Scamwatch. You should also report scams to the official authority that controls that platform. For example, if you were victim to, or received suspicious communication from your bank, contact your bank directly to report the scam. Scamwatch outlines different types of incidents and who to contact for help.

Social media platforms will have their own scam reporting service, so if you notice a scam on Facebook or WhatsApp, for example, you can report directly through the website or app.

Where can I get help?

Remember that there is always help available to you as an international student. Scamwatch has a comprehensive list of where to get help, including counselling services, and how to change your online passwords.

You can also always contact the international student services team at your education provider for assistance.