Common Student Scams and How to Avoid Them

Security at UCL explain each type of scam, share advice on how to spot them, and what to do if you suspect you've encountered one.

Scammers are using new methods to try and take your personal information.  These attempts can be in person, on social media, via email, phone call, and text. Schemes take advantage of the latest technological developments to get information and money.

At UCL, the safety of our staff and students remains our number one priority. IT Security have been working hard to put in place more measures to reduce the risks of fraud and scams.  This helps ensure UCL remains a safe place to work and study.  

Like everyone, students can fall victim to a scam. It is important you know how to spot signs of a scam and the most effective methods to protect yourself. Protecting your personal information helps protect you and your money. 

Common student scams

Anyone can be a victim of a scam – whether that is in person, over the phone or via a fraudulent email or text. Below are the most common scams affecting students that you should be aware of.

Hard luck/lost card scams

This is where you are approached by someone who claims to have lost their bank card and needs money. They ask you for cash and in return they will transfer the money into your account. They are likely to make a payment to you on a fake banking app, meaning no money has gone into your bank account.

Money mules

'Money mules' receive stolen funds into their account and are then asked to withdraw and wire the money to a different account (often overseas), keeping some of the money for themselves. 

Even if you are unaware that the money you are transferring was illegally obtained, you can still be prosecuted for money laundering.  

Remember, you should never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust.

Bank account at risk

This is where you receive a call or text telling you your bank account has been attacked and for safety reasons your money will need to be moved into a new account.  

Banks will never call you to ask you to move your money. Hang up and call your bank from the number on the back of your card or you can contact most bank fraud lines by calling 159.

Fake refunds or unexpected windfall

You receive a text message or email from a company (usually Amazon, HMRC or Royal Mail) saying that you are owed money and asking for your bank account details to process the refund. Do not respond to the email or text. Go to the company’s website to verify the refund is legitimate.

Student Loans Company Phishing Scam

You receive an email or Text from what appears to be the student loan company asking for bank details. Do not follow a link in the message but search the official company page and ensure you are on the official web page.

Rental Fraud

Reports state that millions are lost to Rental Fraud each year. In some cases students looking for property to rent are asked to pay a fee in advance, without viewing the property. It could be that the property does not exist or is not available for rent. Always double check.

International students 

There are also some scams that target international students. Learning local laws can be time consuming and difficult. To keep yourself safe, please read the common scams listed below which affect international students. 

Tuition Fee Scams (distinct from Student Loans Company Phishing Scam)

Students or their family are contacted and offered discounts or ‘help’ to pay their tuition fees. The scam works by the Scammers paying the students tuition fees with a stolen card so that it shows up as paid on their university account and the student then pays the scammers. The bank then at some point asks for the money back leaving the student out of pocket and still needing to pay their fees.

We have also had reports of students receiving scam phone calls where the caller knows details such as the student's full name, personal email address or phone number. They then try to convince the student to send their fees via bank transfer rather than Flywire. UCL only accepts tuition fee payments via Flywire – do not transfer any money to anyone asking you to pay your fees by bank transfer, and report the call to the university.

UK Visa / Fake Home Office / Fake Police Scam

International students are contacted by phone. Typically they are 'put through' to someone claiming to be the UK / International police or a Home Office official. They claim that you have been involved in a crime, or are at risk of deportation, before demanding payment.

Legitimate Home Office officials will never contact you and ask you to pay visa fees or fines over the phone.

If you receive an unexpected call, contact the university or UKVI on 0300 123 224.

The Virtual Kidnapping Scam 

A student is contacted by someone pretending to be from the embassy of their home country. This person tells the student they have been accused of a serious crime. They are then persuaded not to tell anyone and to cut all contact with their family. Money is then extorted from the family as well as from the student.  

What can you do?

Scammers will look to use a variety of methods to try and get your personal information. Here are the key questions to ask yourself: 

  • Has someone contacted you out of the blue? 
  • Does the information provided sound too good to be true?
  • Have you been asked to provide your personal information?  
  • Are you being pressured into making an immediate decision? 
  • Does the text or message you received contain spelling or grammatical mistakes? 
  • Have you been asked to keep quiet about something?   
  • Have you received a one-time code for one of the accounts which they have asked you for? 
  • Have any contact details been provided? If so, is it a mobile number or PO Box? 
  • Do you think you have been scammed? 

Please visit the fraud and scams webpage for further information on how to avoid scams and to find out more on the support offered to students who may be a victim of a scam or fraud.  

Additionally, if you are worried about any of the information above, please get in touch with UCL’s Support and Wellbeing team who are on hand to support.