common scams
Just about anyone can become a victim of common scams. Source: STAN HONDA/AFP

Scams are prevalent in all corners of the globe and international students, as temporary residents in a foreign country, are not immune to becoming victims of common scams. 

A 2018 report from the National Center for Campus Public Safety notes that online scams are among the most common crimes that affect international students in the US.

Global News recently reported that a 22-year-old international student Giulia Hallais, who moved to Calgary, Canada from Brazil 10 months ago, had received a call that her social insurance number had been compromised. 

The caller claimed to be from a government agency and told her that she’d have to send them all her savings to prove she wasn’t responsible for suspicious transactions.

Each time she questioned them, she was yelled at and told she was disrespecting the government. Hallais was also reportedly passed on to who she thought was a Calgary police officer, who said she could be arrested and deported if she didn’t follow all of their instructions.

There are plenty of cautionary tales similar to Hallais’s. 

To avoid becoming a scam victim means staying in the know about some of the common scams as well as their modus operandi that is typically targeted to students. 

Fraudulent phone calls

Many scammers would call students while posing as a government official or member of the police.

Yale University notes that some of the common scam themes include receiving a call from a number that looks like a government agency or police, while the caller may claim to be a government representative.

They may claim that students owe them money or have committed fraud, and may intimidate students to act immediately or threaten them with an arrest or deportation.

Some scammers may ask students to purchase gift cards and give them the codes, reported the US News and World Report.

Phishing emails

common scams

Avoid becoming a scam victim by learning about the common scams that are typically targeted to students. Source: Rob Carr, Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Scammers often try to obtain sensitive information — think passwords, financial information, and the like — through email. 

Phishing emails are tricky as they’re made to look like they’re from a legitimate company, such as banks and social networking sites. They may use a renowned company’s logo, or even have a URL starting with “https://”. Some may even claim that students are entitled to a tax refund.

If you’ve received an email and feel uncertain about its legitimacy, you can always call the company to verify these emails. Always inspect such emails closely. Grammatical errors and dodgy URLs should set your alarm bells ringing. 


Smishing is a text version of phishing scams.

Perpetrators try to mislead victims into believing that the text message is from a trusted organisation (like a bank) and convinces you to provide them with sensitive information, such as your bank details.

Some may also trick you into downloading malware.

Always be cautious and skeptical when receiving text messages, especially those that want you to disclose sensitive information, have grammatical errors, or with offers that seem too good to be true. 

Avoid downloading apps or clicking on links sent by these text messages.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

common scams

International students are not immune to becoming victims of scams. Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Getting scammed can be traumatising — you can lose your savings and affect your mental health. 

If you’ve been scammed, turn to your university for assistance, including the in-house security team or student advisers. For emotional support, contact your university’s counseling services.

You should also consider emailing the genuine company if you’ve received a scam email from someone pretending to be them.

If you’ve lost money through a scam, the painful truth is that it’s likely that you won’t be getting your money back if you’ve handed over cash or you’ve paid via a transfer wire service.

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