Unfortunately, there are people who make a living by tricking others out of money. Students are often targeted but you can learn to recognise scams and protect yourself against them.
Scammers are getting smarter and more creative and scams are getting more complex. Some scammers access social media accounts to learn personal details about you so that they seem more legitimate when they contact you.
Anyone could be targeted by scammers, so it’s important that all students read this advice. Student-specific scams that we know of include:
Fake tax refunds from HMRC
A text message or email from HMRC advises you are due a tax refund and you need to provide your personal details.
Student Loans Company phishing scam
Students get an email from what appears to be the Student Loans Company asking for their bank details.
Reports indicate that £22 million has been lost to rental fraud in the last four years. Students looking for property are asked to pay a fee in advance without viewing the property. It transpires the property doesn’t exist.
If you are an international student, scammers may think you are an easy target because you are a long way from home, family and friends. You may be unfamiliar with local laws or not know where to go for help and advice. There are some scams that specifically target international students.
The ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam
This is a particularly nasty scam where a student is contacted by someone pretending to be from the Embassy of their home country who tells them they are implicated in a serious crime. They are persuaded not to tell anyone and to cut off all contact with their family and ‘kidnap’ themselves. Money is then extorted from the family as well as from the student.
UK Visa / fake Home Office / fake Police / fake bank scam
Fake Police, Home Office or other 'officials' contact the student and tell them there is a visa-related or similar problem and that they must transfer money/pay a fine or risk being deported. Other scams involve callers pretending to be the Police, demanding students pay taxes, or that there has been criminal activity in their bank account and must provide personal details to prove their innocence.
Tuition payment scams
Students are contacted and offered discounts or ‘help’ to pay their tuition fees. They may be told they can have a bursary if they supply their bank details.
Foreign exchange scams
Students looking for favourable exchange rates may unwittingly be laundering money and may also end up losing their money.
Have you ever been asked to let someone else ‘borrow’ your bank account?
New figures show that 3 in 5 students have been approached in person or online to become a 'money mule' - someone who receives money from a third party into their bank account and then transfers it or withdraws it to give to someone else, often taking a cut themselves. Organised Crime Groups seek to hide behind legitimate bank accounts (i.e. yours) through which to ‘clean’ their illegal funds.
Criminals are reliant upon you not really understanding that what they are asking you to do is a crime and that you could go to prison for up to 14 years for becoming a money mule.
HMRC advice on avoiding the money mule trap (PDF , 269kb)
See a video based on real experiences of how students can be targeted by criminals
There are many different scamming methods but, generally, look out for these tell-tale signs (from TheUniGuide):
The Metropolitan Police have information about online fraud and cybercrime.
You can read more about Top student scams: spot and stop them on the Which University website.
UKCISA has produced information about frauds and scams for international students.
If you think you or that one of your friends has been targeted by scammers, please contact the Student Hub as soon as possible:
+44 (0)1904 324140