student scams
Spread the word about the various types of student scams. Source: Jekesai Njikiziana/AFP

It’s not just housing and visa scams anymore; desperation and frustration from the COVID-19 pandemic are breathing new life into student scams all over the world.

As international students, it’s important to keep abreast of these and stay alert to avoid falling victim. That’s why we scoured news reports for the latest student scams. Read on and tell your friends.

Virtual kidnapping scam

These scams primarily target international students from China. Scammers call pretending to be Chinese officials, accusing students of a crime or warning them that their identity has been stolen. They threaten to arrest or deport these students unless they pay a fee.

The scam then takes a dark turn as students are forced to send photos or videos of themselves bound and blindfolded. Then, scammers use these videos to bully a ransom out of their family back in China.

New Zealand reported one case of the virtual kidnapping scam in August 2020, but it is not the first. Australia has been warning Chinese students of these scams since 2018. New South Wales police reported eight such incidents this year alone, through which victims lost a total of A$3.2 million.

Immigration scam

A Miami student-athlete almost fell for a scam involving two individuals claiming to be an immigration agent and a law enforcement officer earlier this month. They told her that her immigration status was compromised, and that she had to immediately wire money to an attorney in order to fix it. The scammers then informed her that she needed to transfer $990 through digital payment service Zelle, which her bank luckily flagged as fraudulent activity and stopped.

Undeterred, the fraudsters then told the student to send almost her entire bank balance to a Peruvian bank account. Luckily their communication got cut before she could complete the transfer, and she realised she had fallen for a scam. Police are unable to zero in on any of the suspects as this scam appears to involve subjects outside the US.

Job scam

Over in California, a community college senior was scammed out of thousands of dollars when he tried applying for a job. Posing as an employer, the scammer hired this student to write financial reports and perform electronic cash transfers.

First, he was told to provide his bank account information, as he was to receive cash (again, via Zelle) and turn it into Bitcoin. He then received a couple of cash deposits and returned them in Bitcoin. However, money was never actually deposited into his account; he had lost $7,319 of his own money, which he inadvertently gave away in Bitcoin.

Phishing scam

The Better Business Bureau in North Carolina has warned college students to be on high alert for suspicious e-mails from their school’s “financial department”. If you received an e-mail about a COVID-19 stimulus check, be warned that this could be one of the many phishing student scams out there.

You risk giving up your user name, password, or other personal information by clicking the link. To make matters worse, you could also unknowingly download malware onto your device.

Student loan scam

Nerdwallet points out two main types of student debt scams, as reported on NBC. In the first, scammers convince you to pay to get into a loan deferment programme. Those who fall victim to this trick are typically unaware that you can access the federal income-driven repayment plan for free. In times of difficulty, many are also quick to trust individuals and companies online who promise financial aid.

The second is the CARES Act Forgiveness scam, which claims to forgive the loan completely in exchange for the payment. Scammers run away with your money as soon as you transfer payment in either case.

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