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How to protect yourself from scams and fraud whilst at university.

If you’re already attending, considering- going or getting ready to leave for university then you must take some time to understand some of the potential scams that affect even the savviest of students. The scammers who target students often do so by pretending to be universities or places of authority.  

Common student-targeted scams include fake scholarships, phishing scams, grants, or admission fees. If you’re working part-time at university and engaging with tax and HMRC for the first time, then scammers may exploit this too.  

You might be reading this thinking you’re clued up when it comes to digital scams. That’s great, but it’s important to remember that scammers are always changing how they operate, and their scams can often look sophisticated and convincing even to the most vigilant among us.  

For those attending university, this might be the first time managing your finances and expenses outside of your family home. This inexperience is what scammers intend to prey on. It’s important to arm yourself with information on what types of fraud are out there, how to avoid scams and what to do if you’ve been targeted. 


Common student-targeted scams and how to avoid them:

Phishing scams usually appear to be communications from legitimate organisations. Universities themselves, government agencies like HMRC, UCAS or other familiar institutions. You’ll receive an email or reach a webpage seemingly from a recognisable source and upon clicking through you’ll be asked for sensitive information like your login details, bank details or personal information. Phishing emails can be sophisticated in that their design and tone of communication feels legitimate.  

How to Avoid a Phishing Scam:  

  • Double check the sender: Look at the email address or link information. Does it look normal?  
  • Unnecessary urgency: If the communication you’ve received is demanding something or enforcing an immediate deadline ask yourself “why?” this can often be an indicator of whether or not an email is legitimate.  
  • If in doubt, Google it. Go back to the source of your contact. If you receive a suspicious email from HMRC for example, then go and look at your previous correspondence with HMRC. Google the contents of your email or call using a number that you know to be legitimate. Remember to report suspicious phone calls, emails or texts directly to HMRC, this can be done here.  

Scholarship fraud offers fake bursaries or grants to students looking to pay for university. These particular scams are often advertised via email or social media. Scammers will target students by asking them to apply for scholarships, usually requesting a fee to apply or receive funds.  

They might also try to collect personal information such as: 

  • Your name and address 
  • Your bank details 
  • Your passport or national insurance number 

These everyday details could be used for fraud or identity theft. The promise of large sums of money or support with finances can be tempting and tends to work because there are lots of companies and institutions which do offer legitimate scholarships and funds. Don’t be fooled – always check. 

How to Avoid a Scholarship Scam: 

  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Is someone is offering you a large sum of money for no good reason? This should be a big red flag.  
  • Did you apply for this scholarship? Scholarships and bursaries are sought out by the student. Not the other way around. If you haven’t applied for a scholarship or didn’t know you were eligible for it, then it’s likely a fake.  
  • Ask your school or university. Check-in with your school or university about whether or not the scholarship is legitimate. Most universities and schools keep a record of scholarships and bursaries available to their students. They’ll be able to help you determine whether it’s legitimate or not.  

Student loan scams or student finance scams are a type of fraud that targets students who are seeking a student loan to pay for university. Fraudsters in the UK can impersonate the Student Loans Company (SLC) to get you to hand over your personal information, bank details or identifying information like a passport or driving licence. 

Less common in the UK are student loan scams that offer loans to students outside of the SLC. These might impersonate banks or other financial institutions, promising low-interest rates or other benefits.  

How to Avoid a Student Loan Scam: 

  • How did you receive the information? The SLC confirmed that they will never ask students to provide their personal or financial information via email or text message. 
  • Check the quality of the communication. Does your message contain grammatical or spelling errors? If it does this can be an indicator that it’s a scam. The SLC gives this advice: “If a student receives a suspicious message, they should report it immediately by emailing or calling our dedicated hotline on 0300 100 0059.” 
  • Look out for general greetings. Official communications will almost always use your full, given name. Look out for communication that starts with “Dear Student” or “Dear Friend” or communication that has one of your usernames or email addresses in place of your name i.e., “Hello JamesP-123”. 

Student accommodation scams target students looking for a place to live. This type of fraud can be common on social media and private classified sites like Gumtree or Facebook.  

Though these platforms are legitimate and many take measures to protect users, these types of scams are still common. They might use fake pictures and accommodation listings to entice you to hand over large sums of money and personal information to secure accommodation that might not even exist.  

How to Avoid an Accommodation Scam: 

  • Requests for money before you’ve seen a property. Legitimate landlords would never request a deposit from you before you’ve even seen a property.  
  • Pricing seems too cheap. Properties might seem very, even suspiciously reasonable whilst being decorated to an incredibly high standard. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  
  • How they want you to pay. Watch out for landlords or agents that ask you to wire money using services like Western Union. In the UK, rent is almost always paid for via BACS or a secure portal via an agency website.  

If in doubt about accommodation you’re being offered, it’s worth asking around and checking in with someone you trust before agreeing to hand any money over. Never feel pressured to make important decisions quickly. Northumbria’s Student Union also has this useful resource to help you out when choosing where to live. 



How to Stay Safe from Scams 

As well as the tips above, these are some general pieces of advice you can follow to keep yourself safe as a student online.  

Be wary of unsolicited email communication. If you receive an email, it’s normally when you’ve signed up for something, asked for information or given out your email address. If you receive an unsolicited email, then this can be a big indication that it’s illegitimate. Further information on phishing and suspicious can be found here.

Be careful when providing personal information. Research an organisation before you hand over your personal information. Putting their name into Google and reading what comes up can be a helpful and simple way to do this. 

Use security software and keep it updated. It’s a good idea to keep your anti-virus software up to date and make sure you have a firewall installed on your computer. Many online services now use two-factor authentication (2FA), and we recommend that you enable this where possible to help improve your digital security.  

Take your time and be cautious. If someone offers you something that seems ideal, or too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true. Be careful and take the time to understand an offer before you agree to anything, don’t be rushed into a big decision or something that could impact you in the future.  

Action Fraud have lots of resources available for you to familiarise yourself with what scams to look out for and how to report them if you’re approached. 


What to do if you’ve been the victim of a scam 

Falling victim to fraud isn’t something to be ashamed of, it happens. It’s a high-stress situation and the chances are it’s important to know how to ask for help and what to do next.  

First and foremost, if you think you’ve been a victim of a scam you should report this to the appropriate authorities.  

For online scams in England or Wales report these directly to Action Fraud.  

Secondly, you should contact your bank and potentially your credit agencies. Most banks have sophisticated fraud departments that can help ensure that a scam doesn't continue to affect you or your account. They will usually freeze accounts and send replacement cards to help you secure your account.  

Your credit agencies will need to be contacted if you suspect your identity may have been stolen and loans have been taken out in your name. You should take steps to secure your personal information by changing passwords or PIN numbers and checking with people in your network. Have they received any unsolicited emails, texts, or social media interactions from you recently?  

It's important to remember that scammers are constantly finding new ways to trick people, so it's essential to stay vigilant and take steps to protect yourself. By following these tips, you can help prevent yourself from falling victim to a scam and take the necessary steps if you do get caught out. 


Supporting student scam victims

The stress of a scam can affect cause a lot of emotion and worry, but there are many tools out there which can provide you with emotional support through a difficult time. 

At Northumbria, our support services will be your first point of contact whenever you need them, and they can decide which will be the best resources for you and your situation. You can access support services through your student portal. 

Alternatively, you can call Victim Support on 0808 16 89 111 – this is a free, confidential support line designed specifically for victims of scams.  

As always, if you need someone to talk to, or if your mental health is posing serious risk to yourself or others, call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 at any time.  

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