There are lots of scams targeting visa applicants. Learn what to look out for and avoid getting scammed.
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Migration and visa scams are on the rise. Many scams can be quite sophisticated and hard to recognise, so it’s important to know about the common scams targeting migrants and how to avoid them. If you are the victim of a scam, you also need to know how to report those responsible. This guide will help you spot scams and avoid becoming a victim.
What are some common scams to look out for?
Scams come in all different styles and use different methods to target their victims. Most scams request money in return for a service or reward. Sometimes, the scammer will pretend to be a government official or representative. Here are a few common migration scams to watch out for:
- Phone and email scams
These scammers usually request money from a migrant for their visa application. The scammer will impersonate the Department of Immigration and Border Protection or another government body. Sometimes, scammers will request payment through a money transfer services or with gift cards. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will never request payment over the phone or request payment via money transfer services or gift cards.
- Fake job offers
Scammers advertise fake employment opportunities and migration sponsorship. Applicants are requested to submit personal information and copies of their identity. The scammers then use this identity to make applications for loans in the victim's name or request money to further process their application.
- Online dating scams
Australians may be contacted by scammers from overseas claiming to be singles looking for a partner. After developing a relationship, scammers may ask for money or other valuables to cover their cost of getting to Australia to meet with their victim. Sometimes, they will ask for money to pay travel costs, bribes or hospital expenses.
- Phishing scams
It is easy for scammers to copy or impersonate websites, invoices, advertising material or the addresses of legitimate businesses or government departments. Ensure you are always at the correct website by typing the address in yourself instead of clicking on links. When contacting agents or a governmental department, find their contact information from a publicly available source such as the phone directory to ensure it is the legitimate one.
- Unregistered migration agents
Unregistered migration agents can promise to fast track applications or guarantee application success. They then charge exceptionally high fees and request payment without providing a contract or receipt. They also usually don’t operate from a fixed address or have a permanent phone number. These agents do not provide the services they promise, continue to extort money from the applicant or simply take the applicant's money.
How can I protect myself from scams?
Most scams come from unsolicited contact so be particularly wary of any emails or phone calls that are from an unknown party. Scammers may know that you are looking to, or have already, submitted a visa application and may contact you regarding your application. Like always, if it’s too good to be true it most likely isn’t.
Here are some basic ways to protect yourself from scams:
- Look out for non-official communication. Check to make sure website and email addresses are accurate. It is common to take an official-looking address and then just add extra letters either in or after the address to convince people it’s real. Sometimes websites can be replicated to look like the official site, so ensure that the address is correct before entering any personal information or using the contact information on websites.
- Keep your physical mail secure. Keep your mailbox locked and shred personal letters before throwing them away. Stealing physical mail is an easy way for scammers to obtain personal details to use as blackmail or initiate a scam against you.
- Independently check information about businesses or agents. Don’t rely on the registration information provided by a company or an agent. Verify the address, contact information and registrations with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority. It is also helpful to search for business and personal names online to see if they match the information provide to you.
- Only use registered agents and companies. Using a registered migration agent means you will only have to deal with a single person regarding your visa application. Agents registered in Australia are also required to meet registration requirements and stay up to date with laws and regulations.
How can I tell if a migration agent is fraudulent?
Scammers and fraudulent agents can easily copy legitimate websites or create fake businesses, so to ensure you are using a legitimate agent, only use links from the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority.
Migration agents in Australia must be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, and should have an established presence and permanent office location. Be particularly wary of agents that do the following:
- Request a cash payment up front without signing a contract.
- Ask for payment without providing a receipt.
- Want to meet somewhere other than their office or will not provide you with the address of their office.
- Have unusually high fees.
- Provide only a mobile phone contact number.
Getting a recommendation from a trusted source is another way to establish the credibility of a migration agent.
I think I’ve been scammed? What should I do?
Reporting scams helps the government and authorities keep the public aware of current scams. If you believe you have being scammed, you can report it to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on their dedicated reporting line. You may also report scams to SCAMwatch, which is part of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
If the scam originated outside of Australia, you could also report it to a relevant authority or to the police in that country.
You should verify any requests made about your visa application by contacting the Department of Immigration and Border Protection directly. However, be sure to look up the contact numbers for yourself and don’t use the ones provided to you by an unsolicited contact.
Using a registered migration agent can help you avoid scams and get your visa application processed smoothly
While the Department of Immigration and Border Protection accepts visa applications from individuals, migration agents can assist you in a number of ways. Using a registered agent will help you avoid scams as they will handle the processing of your application. All contact will be between you and your agent, so you do not need to worry about unsolicited third-party contact.
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