Protecting yourself - scams, phishing emails and fraud

Over a third of students in the UK have been targeted by fraud and scams. Financial losses for students range from a few pounds to over £40,000 in one scam alone. This section has essential information for you to help protect your personal details and money.

What is a Scam?

A scam is a dishonest scheme for making money or getting an advantage (including data theft) which involves tricking people.   

Scammers (those who run the scam) manipulate people by exploiting either their kindness to help, making them believe something is real and/or making a request urgent so someone feels they must respond straight away. They want you to act without thinking or checking if the information they are saying is correct.

Scams can happen in various situations, which all have some similar things in common:

  • They seem very convincing and give you confidence that it is real. This may include something that looks like information from your bank, University, embassy or Amazon.
  • They offer rewards such as goods/products, prizes and/or easy money. These scams usually involve requests of clicking on a link and provide some information to get your prize/money.
  • They ask for your personal information. They could ask for your bank details with the excuse of wanting to send you money they claim is easy to get.

Ignore them and don’t share any information. If the contact has come via a phone call, don’t engage with the person – end the call. If it is an email, just delete it.

If you share your information, it can be used by hackers to then access your personal data and take money from your bank account. 

If something looks too good to be true – then it is. Here are some useful resources that can help you recognise and protect yourself from fraud and scams:

What is Phishing?

Phishing usually happens through emails or messages. These messages pretend to be from an organisation or a person you trust (for example, your bank). The main goal is usually to steal personal data, such as login information for accounts and credit card details.

Be careful – even if the sender is someone you know or recognise, their email address might be hacked. Phishing emails and messages usually contain:

  • A warning that your information has been compromised, your account is to be closed or something else has happened that needs your immediate attention.
  • A link or an attachment that you need to follow/open, for example to reset a password, enter updated payment details or confirm personal information.  
  • A message that you need to act immediately to avoid something happening to your profile/account.
  • A message from a person sharing a link for you to click on for a prize or to say they have seen you in a video.  

Ignore the contact and don’t click on any links or provide any information. If you do, the personal or card information you give can be used to access your accounts and steal money. It could also infect your device (your mobile phone or laptop) with a virus that could impact whatever you have stored, including your academic work.  

If you receive a message or an email and you want to check if it’s real or not, contact the organisation but don’t reply to the email directly. If you’ve been contacted by an organisation (for example, a bank) find their email address online first and use this address to contact them. If someone you know has got in touch with you, type their email address into a separate message to check if their email address has been hacked. 

Watch this video on how to avoid scams and phishing.

What is Fraud?

Fraud is when someone deceives, tricks, or lies to gain money/financial benefits or personal data that is unauthorised. 

The type of fraud that impacts students the most is Criminal Fraud. Criminal Fraud is when a person or an organised group steals your money or personal data. 

Impact of criminal fraud on you

Being the victim of fraud can have serious consequences for you, which can include:

  • Losing your money. This can have consequences on you being able to afford your tuition fees or accommodation. It can also impact any savings you had to help you in the future.
  • Identify theft. Your personal details are used to make payments in your name without you knowing. This can impact your ability to get credit (for example, phone contracts, loans, a mortgage) in the future.
  • You being arrested and charged with an offence. Being charged with an offence means that you’re formally accused of breaking the law.

Types of fraud and how to avoid being a victim

There are many different types of fraud, some are very creative and some are very personal. Here are some examples.

Bank Fraud

This could involve you receiving a call claiming to be from your bank saying you have been the victim of fraud and need to move your money to a new account with their help. Remember:

  • Your bank will never call you offering to set up a new account or suggest you move you money.
  • Your bank website has information on fraud and scams and how they might contact you to warn you of anything suspicious. Check this information so you know how to recognise bank fraud.

If you get a call from what seems to be your bank, hang up and phone your bank from a different phone to check if there is a problem. Don’t call from the same device that the call was made on as this is part of the scam to make you think you are phoning the bank independently. 

Money Mules

This is a type of money laundering which is a criminal offence. If you become involved and get caught, the consequences could be very serious. You could:

  • Have your bank account frozen.
  • Lose your place at university.
  • Face a prison sentence of up to 14 years if you’re found guilty in a court.

This type of scam happens when you allow someone to put money into your bank account and then transfer the money into someone else's account. You might also be asked to withdraw the money in cash. The scammers will offer you goods/products or money ( a commission) as a reward for letting them use your account. 

Criminals encouraging people to get involved as money mules are not always obvious so be aware of:

  • Job offers that ask for bank details in advance without any interviews or applications. Stay with recognised job sites to avoid the risks.
  • People or organisations offering money that seem too good to be true – don’t trust anyone offering easy money.
  • Anyone (even people you know) who contacts you on social media, in a group chat or through an online request asking for your bank details so they can transfer money into your account. 
  • People saying they are having difficulty opening a bank account or have cash they want your help to keep safe by putting it in your account for a short while. Even if they offer money for your help, ignore them.

Watch the true story of a student who was convicted of being a money mule.

Tuition Fee Fraud

This is when someone gets in touch and offers to pay your tuition or accommodation fees for you.

They usually offer to give you a discount on the cost, or offer a better exchange rate and claim that if you provide your bank details they will make the payment direct to the University. They usually contact you via social media  (Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, etc.) and would send you proof of payment to try and convince you they're a real agency.  

Only use University-approved payment methods to pay for your university fees. Never pay through a third-party agent. Check how to securely pay your fees.

Accommodation Fraud

You might get contacted on social media by scammers pretending to be landlords. They’ll accommodation and demand housing deposits to be paid in advance.

Don’t trust anyone asking to pay money in advance, especially if you have not met in person, you haven’t seen your accommodation or signed a contract. Unipol is a trusted, not-for-profit charity that specialises in providing housing for Leeds students and postgraduate researchers. Take a look at what they have on offer. 

Visa Scams

International students can be contacted by scammers pretending to be from the Home Office or the University. Sometimes students can be contacted in their native language and on social media platforms commonly used in their home countries.   

You might be told that the Home Office needs you to pay a fine, threatening that if you don’t pay them quickly or provide your personal details there will be consequences. They try and scare you by telling you that if you don’t do what they say you’ll be arrested or that your visa will be cancelled. 

If you get a call like this, even if the caller speaks your language and the number you’re called from seems real, just hang up. Official organisations will never ask you to pay money or share your personal details with them.

Fake Kidnapping

This is when someone receives a call, usually saying they’re from an Embassy or Police, which threatens to arrest you because of accusations of criminal behaviour..Students are told they need to pay money to avoid being arrested. When they are unable to pay the amount demanded, the callers asks them to take a video of them faking their own kidnapping and send it to their family. The students are then asked to send the video to their family so that they pay money to secure their release.

Understandably this is very frightening and can seem a very real threat. This is a scam and does not come from the Embassy or the Police.

If you receive a call, don’t respond to what the caller is saying, please put the phone down and get in touch for help and support. 

What to do if you think you have been a victim of a scam, phishing or fraud

We understand it can be very upsetting and worrying if you’ve responded to something that you now feel may not be right. You may also feel embarrassed or ashamed as you thought what you was doing was ok, please be assured that support will be there for you. Frauds and scams can be very clever and sometimes difficult to spot. 

Act as soon as you realise something may not be quite right. If you have received an email or phone call or other communication and you are not sure if it is a scam or a fraud, don’t respond.

Instead, get in touch with the University Harassment and Misconduct team and they can help identify if you need to take any action.

Remember: anything that is asking for an urgent or emergency response, is someone’s way of getting you to act without checking if something is ok to do – it does not mean you are at risk.

You can also:

  • Contact your bank straight away and let them know what has happened. They may be able to put a stop on any payments leaving your account. Your bank can also help give guidance on changing passwords and other key information if you feel your personal data has been stolen.  
  • Contact the Police – you can phone 101 or make a report online. If you feel under any immediate threat call 999.
  • Contact the university IT Service Desk team, if you have opened a link or attachment on your device.
  • Report fraud and scams to Action Fraud who will record the information.