Are you an African student considering making big moves abroad? If so, having a proper plan before arriving at your study destination is a must. With many seeing to seek greener pastures elsewhere, scam alerts have been ringing with news of students falling prey to cunning fraudsters.
Just on Sunday, Nation Africa reported that at least 1,000 study abroad hopefuls from Kenya were swindled by a dubious college in Nairobi promising placements in prestigious universities overseas. The con scheme robbed around Sh180 million (nearly US$15 million) from parents who thought they would be funding their children’s golden ticket to better educational prospects.
With countries such as Nigeria experiencing a severe brain drain crisis due to a waning currency, the rush to secure scholarships, college placements, and visa approvals can often override cautiousness. While it can be challenging to discern fraudsters from the genuine article, here are some common schemes to look out for:
Scam alert: What African students need to be aware of
Visa and immigration frauds
Not all passports are created equal. For many students in the Global South, getting a student visa can be a harrowing process involving exorbitant sums and tedious paperwork with no guarantee of approval. African students are doubly burdened with high rejection rates due to discriminatory treatment, thwarting years of hard work and sacrifice.
This predicament has given way to unscrupulous parties who sweep in to make a quick buck from others’ misery. Some of these regular ploys include phone or email phishing scams claiming to be from immigration services, who then obtain personal and banking information from students to rob them of their money.
To avoid falling into this trap when you’re applying for a study visa, be sure to:
- Submit your documents directly to the embassy, consulate, or visa application centre in your city.
- Never make any fee payments to a third-party service, whether online or in person.
- Do not give out any personal information outside of your visa application form.
- If you’re contacted by an unknown party about your application, call your visa centre or the embassy directly to verify your document status.
- If you’re submitting your university and visa applications through an education agency, make sure that it is authorised to represent the universities you’re applying to.
University admission scams
The incident involving Kenyan students mentioned above is hardly the first college admission fraud to dupe sincere learners. In 2018, Sunanda Kikla, the owner of Fraser Valley Community College (FVCC) in British Columbia, was revealed to have robbed around 560,000 Canadian dollars from fee-paying African students who believed they were going to Canada for further studies.
The victims — who hailed from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia and Cameroon —were lured to the college under false promises of getting lucrative scholarships and guaranteed job placements post-graduation, Global News reports.
Kikla had previously toured West Africa for recruitment and convinced the students to wire their payments through Western Union. The campus displayed on FVCC’s website was later exposed as stock photos, and no such institution had in fact existed.
One way to avoid getting cheated is to search if your institution is officially accredited by the country you’re heading to. For instance, Canada has a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) list of schools approved by the government. These institutions are authorised to host international students, and an acceptance letter from any DLI allows you to rightfully apply for a study permit.
Housing and rental scam alerts
You may be clear to enter a university abroad, but landing suitable accommodations aren’t always straightforward. With more countries chafing under inflation and rising living costs, shady landlords are quick to prey upon international students who lack the expertise to navigate a foreign rental market.
Popular study destinations like the UK, Canada, and Ireland are seeing an uptick in rental scams due to housing shortages. In costly metropolitan areas such as London and Toronto, homelessness is becoming more rampant among university students who are already saddled with high tuition fees.
In a sea of fake online listings, you might feel discouraged to begin room-hunting, especially if you can’t personally view the property. Here are some steps you can take to dodge the rental victim trap:
- Search private accommodations through your university website, which usually has a directory of verified property listings.
- Insist on getting your keys and a full viewing before signing your lease and making transactions.
- Connect with students from your country in your study destination online, such as through Facebook or Telegram groups. You’d be surprised at how many strangers are willing to help you out from their experience. If possible, get someone to view the room you’re interested in on your behalf so they can take note if anything is amiss.