Beware of scams

Scams are increasing in frequency and severity with scammers often targeting international students, including those at UNSW. Recent reports have included what is known as virtual kidnapping and gift-card scams.

Most students think they will never fall for a scam, but many do. That’s because scammers are very clever and increasingly sophisticated. Scammers often specifically target international students for money. Remember, the main fees that UNSW will charge you for are your regular tuition fees (including SSAF), library fines, or rent for accommodation if you live on campus.

Below, read about how to spot a scam, what to do if you fall victim to one, and some specific examples of common and recent scams.

Catch up on our info session

Get an overview of our Term 3 2023 info session, including screenshots of scams directly targeting students.

Scam Safety for International Students

Watch our video

Get tips on being scam-aware from current international students.

More on how to spot a scam

Scammers will often pretend to be from an official organisation such as:

  • Australia’s immigration office or other government departments
  • An official visa agent
  • Australian police
  • An Embassy, High Commission or Consulate
  • UNSW
  • The World Health Organisation
  • A property rental agent.

Scammers will want money or information and may ask you to:

  • provide personal, bank or credit card details
  • send money to a third party
  • pay additional student fees or a fine
  • pay a ‘deposit’
  • pay additional money for your visa
  • pay your rent to someone other than your landlord.

Scammers may threaten and lie to you by saying ‘unless you pay money/fees/fine':

  • your visa will be cancelled
  • your place at university will be cancelled
  • you will fail your course
  • you will be deported
  • you will be arrested
  • you will lose your job
  • you will be evicted.

None of this is true.

‘Phishing’ messages are also common scams which:

  • appear to be official information from the Australian government or other organisation
  • can be emails, text messages or social media posts
  • ask you to click on a link for more information so that malicious software can ‘steal’ your personal, financial and banking information.

Get specific details on some common and recent scams below.

What to do if you suspect a scam

If you receive a request from UNSW, government, or police agency asking for money, please contact UNSW Security for advice to see whether it is legitimate (a real request). Never give your details or money to someone claiming to be from UNSW unless you are sure it is legitimate. 

Contact UNSW Security

More on what to do if you suspect a scam

  • Do not provide any information.
  • If you receive a phone call – hang up.
  • If you receive a text, email or social post that you are not sure about, delete it. Do not reply. Do not click on any links.
  • If you receive a request for money, or a threat, or if you have any doubts or suspicions about any request – cut off communication and contact UNSW Security to check whether it is real.
  • If you think someone has your bank details, please contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible.
  • Read tips on staying cyber safe on the Study NSW website
  • If you have been targeted and require support, please book an appointment with Psychology and Wellness or a Student Support Advisor. Students who also hold UNSW staff positions may contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Benestar, for support.
  • Speak up! Don’t be afraid to seek help or advice. Speaking up protects you, your family and other students.

Common & recent examples of scams

It's important to be aware that scams are continuing to circulate and scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and convincing. You can help keep yourself and our community safe by knowing what to look out for.

Virtual kidnapping

Currently, international students from China are the target of virtual kidnappings with Chinese the language of communication. In an effort to extort money, victims are tricked by a person pretending to be a Chinese government official into believing that they have been implicated in a serious criminal offence (drug distribution / money laundering) in China and that there is a warrant issued for their arrest. They must pay money for the warrant to be cancelled. They are threatened with deportation from Australia.

More on virtual kidnapping

  • Victims are told to transfer money into overseas bank accounts. If they cannot pay they are told to fake their own kidnapping.
  • To fake their own kidnapping victims are told to buy a new phone and not to use their old phone at all.
  • They are told to book a hotel room or AirBnB and to go that room and not communicate with anyone other than the “government official”.
  • Victims are told to buy rope and makeup. They are told to tie themselves up and apply the makeup to give the appearance they have been beaten.
  • Victims are told to take photographs and videos of themselves whilst tied up and to send them to their parents, to create the impression they have been kidnapped.
  • Sometimes victims are told their parents will be put in jail if they do not pay. 
  • Some victims are told to fly interstate or overseas.
  • Some male victims are told to go to addresses where female victims are staying and act as a government official for the scammers.
  • Scammers will show fake police stations and fake police identification.

    Make a report: 000 or UNSW Security (02 9385 6000)

Read more about virtual kidnapping from the NSW Police Force

Listen to a podcast from NSW police about virtual kidnapping

Fake authority scams

While there are many scams targeting international students, there are scams that specifically target the Chinese community, usually students, in Australia. These scams involve extortion, deportation and threats of arrest. Students in these scenarios are contacted by a scammer pretending to be an Authority, threatening arrest and deportation to China unless the student sends them money. 

Hear from the Queensland Police Service's Financial and Cyber Crime Group on more about these types of scams and what to look out for.

More on fake authority scams

If you are contacted from a person claiming to be in authority (e.g. Police, Chinese Government, or elsewhere) asking for money, they could be trying to steal your money.

These are the steps you should take:

  1. Hang up.
  2. Do not pay any money.
  3. Contact UNSW Security on 9385 6000 or your Consulate in Sydney for advice.
  4. Report to the NSW Police Assistance Line on 131 444 or to your local police station. You may also call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
  5. If they have your bank details, contact your bank immediately.
  6. Warn your friends and family about this scam. 

Examples of real scams

  • Immigration & visa compliance  - pretending to be from UNSW College - example.
  • Gift-card scams - with scammers blackmailing and threatening victims if they do not purchase gift cards and provide the codes over the phone - read more on the ACCC website and on the Apple website.
  • Reports of students arriving at Sydney Airport and being offered a lift to UNSW - do not accept a lift with anyone you do not know or have booked a shuttle or transfer with. UNSW offers a free airport pick up service through Sydney Super Shuttle to newly commencing and returning international students. Students are transported by shuttle bus from the Sydney Airport International terminal to the UNSW Campus and select accommodation providers. Find out more:

Book an airport pick up





Sexual extortion (or sextortion, or image-based abuse) is a form of blackmail where someone threatens to share intimate personal images of you online unless their demands are met. These demands are typically for money, more intimate images or sexual favours. NSW Police takes sexual extortion seriously and there are consequences.

More on sextortion

The image does not need to be pornographic to be intimate. An 'intimate image' means an image (or altered image) of a person's private parts, or of a person engaged in a private act where they would reasonably expect to be afforded privacy. Examples include showering, bathing, using the toilet, engaging in a sexual act, or any other similar activity. 
Make a report on the UNSW Gendered Violence Portal

Find out what to do if you experience image-based abuse

Watch a video on Sextortion from the NSW Police Force


Rental scams

Rental scams trick people into paying money for a property or accommodation that doesn't exist or isn't actually available. In the current competitive rental market, scammers target vulnerable people in our community, particularly international students, so please be cautious.

More on rental scams

Recent example

  • An incident involving 9 victims who reported to the Police that they had fallen victim to the same rental scam. 
  • The scammer used the Korean messaging service, Kakao’, to advertise a property for rent. The scammer then hired someone to conduct property inspections for the victims, however the property turned to be an Airbnb and was not available for rent.
  • The scammer demanded a bond and two weeks rent for the Airbnb property that he did not own. The total amount scammed from all 9 victims was over $10,000.
  • Never send money or share personal details with anyone you don’t know or haven’t met
  • Avoid paying for a rental property by transfer or cash as these payment methods are difficult to trace and could be lost to scammers.
  • It is important to avoid paying rental bonds to individuals online. Instead, rental bonds should always be paid through a trusted third party such as NSW Fair Trading Rental Bonds Online, who will lodge and refund bond money securely.
  • Do your research about the property and real estate agent - only use well-known platforms.
  • Never pay upfront for a property before you’ve seen it in person - scammers may display impressive photos of properties or ask for a deposit before you've inspected it.
  • Be cautious of properties with significantly lower prices than other comparable rental properties in the area or landlords who pressure you to sign a lease quickly.
  • Understand your rental rights.

Find out more

Contract cheating scams

Contract cheating companies (often disguised as tutoring companies) are known to take your money and cheat you out of the education you deserve. Unscrupulous contract cheating companies, such as ‘HD Education’, position themselves as being officially connected to UNSW and can put you in danger of blackmail, identity theft, and being in breach of the UNSW Student Code. They are not connected to the University in any way.

More on contract cheating scams

If you need academic support, you can book a 1:1 appointment with an Academic Learning Facilitator

The University has sophisticated detection methods to identify students who use contract cheating companies. You can find information on the dangers of contract cheating on the Arc@UNSW website or the:

Conduct & Integrity Office

COVID-19 scams

If you get a message from the Australian Government offering a free COVID-19 test kit, do not open the link.

More on COVID-19 scams

There are reports of a scam text message currently circulating within the community, appearing as: 
'You have been in recent contact with a person who is positive for COVID-19. Please order a free test kit via; [uses malicious link].' 
This link will take you to a fake Australian Government or Medicare site designed to steal your personal information and bank account details. 

Find out more on the Services Australia website.

Scams on the increase during epidemics and pandemics

Scammers may start falsely selling COVID-19-related products online using fake emails or text messages to try and obtain personal data.

Scamwatch has received reports of:

  • phishing emails and phone calls impersonating entities. These include the World Health Organisation, government authorities, people confirmed to have COVID-19, and legitimate businesses such as travel agents and telecommunications companies
  • people receiving misinformation about COVID-19 sent via text, social media and email
  • products claiming to be a vaccine or cure for COVID-19
  • investment scams claiming COVID-19 has created opportunities.

Therefore, it is important to stay vigilant about the security of your personal information and to only take note of information and advice from reputable sources.

Medibank security incident

In late 2022, a significant cyber incident has occurred within Medibank Private which has affected international students studying in Australia who have overseas student health cover policies with Medibank Private or the Australian Health Management Group Pty Ltd (ahm) which is a Medibank Private Ltd subsidiary. 

More on Medibank security incident

If you have ever purchased your Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) through Medibank (even if you have switched to another provider), please refer to Medibank for the most up-to-date information regarding the recent cyber security incident.

Who can I speak to?

In person: visit the Medibank store on Kensington campus for face-to-face enquiries between 9:30am - 3pm, Monday to Friday.

Phone: contact Medibank directly on 13 23 31. 

Please continue to check your email for further updates from Medibank.

We recommend remaining aware to any suspicious messages you may receive that include links or ask you to provide any personal details.

Information for international students

Read more from Study Australia

Scam targeting Mandarin-speaking community

This scam most commonly involves a pre-recorded message in Mandarin notifying people there is a parcel on hold for them - left via voicemail, via WeChat or Whatsapp. Victims who respond are transferred to people claiming to be from a courier service. They are told they have been implicated in a crime and that a parcel with their name on it has been intercepted. This is always a lie.

More on scam targeting Mandarin-speaking community

Victims of this scam are then threatened by people claiming to be Chinese authorities such as government officials or police. Victims are told they must transfer large sums of money to prevent themselves or any of their family or friends from being deported or charged. This is always a lie.

If you receive a call like this, hang up the phone immediately and report it to ScamWatch and NSW Police. Do not send them any money or provide your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone.

Read more about this scam in English

Read more about this scam in Mandarin

WeChat scam offering students the ability to alter their student records

This scam most commonly occurs with students receiving a WeChat message from someone claiming to be from an organisation or service that offers the ability to alter grades, secure Fee Remission, or amend any other parts of a student record in exchange for money. This is misleading and you should immediately contact UNSW Security for assistance. No services or companies outside of UNSW can influence or guarantee the outcomes of Fee Remission, Review of Results, or change any aspects of student records.

More on WeChat scam offering students the ability to alter their student records

Victims of this scam are usually approached by a person or 'agent' claiming to be from an educational organisation that focuses on helping underperforming students. They may also pretend to be students and join WeChat groups to look for their targets and approach individual students separately by sending them friend requests.

You can be vigilant and take additional measures to protect yourself against this scam by:

  • Declining friend requests from unknown users or strangers with a suspicious username
  • Being more careful when sending messages in a WeChat group
  • Not sharing personal WeChat Moments and info with anyone you do not know.

Read more about social media scams

Money Mules

Criminals are targeting students (online and in-person), offering them payment to receive money into their bank account and transfer it to another account or cryptocurrency exchange. Money Mules are recruited, sometimes unknowingly, by criminals to transfer stolen money on behalf of others. If you have been approached for this scam, immediately contact UNSW Security for assistance or report it to the police.

More on Money Mules

Victims of this scam can be approached via social media, email, online pop-up ads or fake job offers (e.g. money transfer agents). The money being transferred is often used by criminals to fund other serious crimes like cybercrime, terrorism, and human trafficking. In Australia, participating in money muling is a serious criminal offence. If convicted, you can face anywhere from 12 months to life in prison.

You can be vigilant and take additional measures to protect yourself against this scam by:

  • Reflecting on whether the offer is too good to be true, be on guard
  • Not engaging with any online posts offering large sums of money
  • Not sharing your bank and personal details with anyone you don’t know or trust - even among friends or family.

Read more about Money Mules scam

Useful links

Back to top