Any student who has studied abroad knows the importance of securing a place to stay. The unfortunate thing is fraudsters know this too. And they’re not hesitant to capitalise on it.
A 2018 report by The Guardian details the problems international students face – precarious, exploitative and in some cases illegal living arrangements – as the supply of affordable student housing does not keep up with the boom in the international student population.
One solicitor who runs the international student service at Redfern Legal Centre said one in three students he sees are seeking help with tenancy issues. Their bonds are usually withheld without reason or they’re made to pay bonds above the legal limit. There’s no way of getting their money back because these students don’t know who their leaseholders are or where they live.
Housing scams run wide and large. These are by no means the only instances reported or experienced by international students in Australia. Here, we summarise the top four things you should know about this nefarious scheme Down Under:
Common modus operandi
It starts with a harmless-looking advertisement for a vacant house or room to rent on a housing forum or social media. It may even look legit, with photos and addresses.
Then, the “landlord” or “agent” requests that you deposit money into a non-Australian bank account. Alternatively, he or she asks you to mail a cheque or money order to a non-Australian address. This is supposedly to “book” the property and the keys will be mailed to you shortly.
But the keys will never arrive because the advertisement, landlord and property are all fake. Too many students have lost their money this way.
The example above isn’t the only type of scam going around. The rent is impossibly cheap or seems too good to be true, the landlord/agent is unwilling to let you inspect the property or the landlord/agent is supposedly “abroad” – these are all common signs warning you that it’s a possible scam.
A less common scam is where students find an apartment online, move in, and are told within a few days there is a defect with the property. They are then moved to a “significantly inferior” property, with the same rent, and told they either stay or lose their bond. Others have been duped into transferring a rental deposit from overseas, only to arrive in Australia and find the property never existed.
What to do if you’re suspicious
Universities like Melbourne University let you contact them for advice about suspicious housing transactions before proceeding to pay. It’s recommended that you bring along all documentation of the interaction, including screenshots of negotiations that took place online. This will give your adviser a better picture when assessing.
What to do if scammed
What’s a student to do if they’ve been scammed? It’s strongly recommended that you make a report to the police or your university. Alert your social circle – even if all of this is no guarantee you can get your money back, you would be able to protect another student from losing theirs.
You can also report to SCAMWatch at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The website provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams. While they may not reply to your report made via the Scamwatch Report due to the high volume received, the information you provide will help them in monitoring and taking action where appropriate.