As an international student, there are many unique challenges to overcome as you prepare for your education abroad. Unfortunately, this can include being the target of scammers who will attempt to steal your tuition and educational payments for themselves—in indirect and subtle ways.
Educational institutions have reported an increase in unauthorized, non-institution approved tuition payment companies (or individuals) stealing entire tuition payments from their students in the recent weeks. These scammers may even claim to have an affiliation with your instution. They might offer tuition or currency exchange discounts, or make other promises in an attempt to confuse you before you fully understand your institution’s official payment process.
To avoid the risk of fraud, follow these best practices when making your tuition payment:
- Take online security precautions.
If you’re paying your tuition online, make sure the website is secure. The address of any site you may use to share personal or financial information should begin with https (for example, https://www.flywire.com, which ensures the data you provide is protected through encryption. Additionally, avoid using public or unsecured Wi-Fi when sharing sensitive information. If you get an email from a suspected scammer, never click on any hyperlinks.
- Always verify who you’re speaking to.
Scammers may pose as a government agent and threaten to revoke your visa unless you send a payment to them immediately. They may also request your personal information, which you should never disclose until you have verified that the requestor is an actual government agent authorized to do so. If you receive any communications from a person posing as a government agent, your first step is to research whether their requests are valid.
- Don’t share your information.
Credit card information, personal information (i.e., name, date of birth), and banking details should never be handed out to anyone without a contract or relationship with your university, and payment enablers that aren’t verified as authorized by your university should be ignored. These scammers may claim to have relationships with universities and colleges that don’t exist, show “official” documents with artificial co-branded institution logos, etc.
Be careful of anyone that is asking you to provide sensitive information, as university officials should already know most of your details. This person may be fishing for your information to use fraudulently. As a best practice, always confirm with your university whether or not a payment processor is affiliated with them. It may help to check the institution’s payment website (e.g., by reviewing the payment portal and reviewing the “how to pay” section) to verify as an initial step.
- Be wary of aggressive, suspicious characters.
Is someone promising you a discount on your payment or volunteering to pay on your behalf? Be careful! If the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If you take them up on their offer and share your personal, banking, or financial information, entrusting them to pay on your behalf, you run the risk of losing your payment in full and set yourself up for further fraud risks later on. Fraudsters are very calculating in selecting their methods of introduction to international students—you could be approached on-campus, in a student visa application queue, or at an event for admitted students and their families in your home country.
Shelley Mancini, a Senior Relationship Manager at Flywire, met with an institution that informed her of a recent case of fraud. Rather than using the authorized Flywire process, a student from China had paid via a company on WeChat and lost $27,000. The payment disappeared entirely, and the student still has a large balance at the school. Situations like these serve as reminders as to why it’s important that students pay through a vetted, institution-endorsed, reputable payments partner.
- Use Flywire.
Flywire is the trusted international payment process for more than 1,600 institutions around the world. Our mission is to reduce the cost and hassle of sending your educational payments abroad by making sure your payment reaches your institution quickly and safely. Both you and your institution will be able to track your payment on Flywire’s encrypted website.
- Report suspicious activity.
If you suspect you are being targeted for fraud, you should note the information the scammer is attempting to get from you, stop communicating with them immediately, and report this to your university as well as the police.
Remember that your university’s trusted website and administrators can help you verify the approved payment process or the identity of someone requesting money or information from you. Don’t start your university experience off on the wrong foot—be smart and be safe!