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Advice and Counselling Service

Protect your money from scams and fraud

It’s vital to protect your income. This page explains the different ways you might lose money, how to prevent this, and where to get help. 

Four people sitting and discussing in front of a laptopIf your income has already been affected by fraud or a scam, there is a lot of support available which we list below, depending on the reason for your financial loss.

You can contact us for emotional support or money advice. It is also helpful to let Queen Mary Security know about your experience so they can build an overview of the types of scams affecting Queen Mary students and target appropriate resources and expertise at monitoring and preventing fraud within the university. 

Telephone criminals targeting students: we are getting reports of criminals calling students impersonating senior staff from Queen Mary’s Finance Department  instructing students to transfer funds from their bank accounts to keep their bank account "safe". Queen Mary will never call you about your bank account or ask you to make payments to others. Read more.

Most larger UK banks, such as Barclays, HSBC and NatWest have detailed information about fraud and a dedicated team you can contact for advice: 

Any fraud or scam: Action Fraud

Student Finance England scams: email and 

Housing/Accommodation Fraud: 
Action Fraud and 

Image-based sexual abuse concerns:


Gambling or gaming concerns:  YGam, Gamcare,Gordon Moody, and Gamblers’ Anonymous 

Financial abuse concerns: 
Women’s Aid 

Money mule concerns: independent legal advice from 
a solicitor or local law centre 

Debt Bondage - owing debts to criminals: 
Action Fraud 

Loan shark concerns:

Scams (fraud or 'bad business')

There are many ways fraudsters and scammers will try and steal your money – and your identity. They are mostly criminals, either operating independently, or for much larger crime syndicates, with proceeds paying for other criminal activity such as drug smuggling or people trafficking. Scammers may disproportionately target students perceived to be wealthy, often international students, or vulnerable students such as those on low incomes or with a disability.

Fraudsters may attend freshers' fairs, infiltrate friendship groups including university societies, and check social media or LinkedIn accounts to gather information about individual students, prior to scamming them. They also rely on fear of authority to gain trust and to pressure and intimidate their victims into paying them money.

In a typical scenario, they may telephone you and claim to be calling from the police, your government, the Home Office, Student Finance England, your bank, or Queen Mary's Finance Office. They may:

  • convince you that your money isn't safe or your account is at risk
  • create elaborate stories about why you need to do something, such as pretending to be a family member who has lost their phone and needs urgent assistance
  • tell you to lie to people who work at your bank about why you're making a payment
  • ask you to make a payment in your app or via online banking, and tell you which payment type to choose, for example, 'friends and family', so you don't need to read any warnings

Although there may be several variations of the same scam, victims are generally told that fraud or other illegal activity has been detected on their account and, unless they transfer funds immediately to rectify the 'error', there will be serious consequences such as fines, imprisonment or, for international students, deportation from the UK. Fraudsters know that if they can scare you, you are more likely to pay.

If you are contacted out of the blue by one of the organisations above or another large company you may have financial dealings with, trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Don't engage, end the call and don't respond to emails or texts. Report the incident to Action Fraud.

We know there is no word for scams in some languages, for example in Mandarin Chinese, and the closest translation might be "bad business" or "illegal business".  A government communication written in both Chinese and English highlights the most common scams affecting Chinese students.

Below we explain the most common scams, which target students. We have also written a blog post about protecting your money from scams and risk.  If you’ve been affected by any scam/fraud, contact Action Fraud to report this and get free advice about your options.  Action Fraud’s website has an A-Z of the different types of fraud which explains the most common scams and how to prevent them. 

Phishing (email)/Smishing (text) scams

Fraudsters target students with bogus emails (phishing) or texts (smishing), especially during months student finance or other funding gets paid into bank accounts. The aim is to obtain your online account details and passwords to enable the fraudsters to access your personal information and money.  A Queen Mary academic, Dr Paulo Oliva, has created a short film on how to spot phishing/smishing messages: 

Fraudsters can pretend to be from Student Finance England, the Police, the Home Office, the Inland Revenue, the Post Office, a courier company or any large organisation. The texts/emails can be random but, if you have an account or have had recent contact with that organisation, they can appear genuine. They can also be very persuasive and put pressure on you to follow their instructions.  


  • Genuine banks and financial institutions don’t send emails asking you to click on a link and confirm your bank details or to transfer money to another bank account 
  • The Home Office never makes calls threatening you with a fine or deportation if you don’t pay them money 
  • The Student Loans Company or Student Finance England (SFE) will never ask you to confirm your bank details, login information or personal financial information by email or text message 

Always contact the organisation directly to check if a request is genuine.  

Student Finance England (SFE)have written a helpful Guide to identifying Phishing Scams and how to avoid them.  To avoid phishing scams, stay sceptical. Report email scams to  and phone scams to This will help SFE protect your and other students' accounts. Don't respond to the scammer directly. If the request is important, the company or person will contact you in another way. 

Vishing (phone) scams

Vishing refers to communications by phone, robocall, voicemail or voice over internet protocol (VoIP), most often purporting to be from Student Finance England, the Home Office, Post Office, your bank, the police, your university or other large organisation. Scammers take advantage of the assumption that, if someone has our number, we think we should either should know them, or our number was given to them for a good reason. So, they might pretend to be an acquaintance or a reputable institution like a bank.

As detailed earlier on this  web page, scammers may telephone you and:

  • convince you that your money isn't safe or your account is at risk
  • create elaborate stories about why you need to do something, such as pretending to be a family member who has lost their phone
  • use 'authority' to gain your trust - for example say they're from your bank and you need to make an urgent payment
  • pressure or worry you, or say you will get into trouble or be arrested
  • tell you to lie to people who work at your bank about why you're making a payment
  • ask you to make a payment in your app or via online banking, and tell you which payment type to choose, for example, 'friends and family', so you don't need to read any warnings

The best advice is: 

  • trust your instincts - if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't
  • beware of unknown or strange numbers - your friend or family members will already be stored in your phone, so you’ll know if it’s a number you recognise 
  • if you don’t recognise the caller, hang up and don’t press any buttons or try to talk to an operator 
  • use call blocking

Computer scams 

The best advice for computer scams is don’t make it easy for scammers. SFE’s phishing advice also holds good for computer scams but, additionally:  

  • Before logging into an online account, make sure the web address is correct  
  • Look for the padlock symbol which shows the account is secure 
  • Always use security software to protect your devices and information from malware and attacks and check it’s active 

Don’t use the same password for online banks and credit agencies. Make sure your password is strong and can’t be guessed.

WeChat / WhatsApp scams

We are aware that criminals are infiltrating WeChat groups using fake Queen Mary IDs and fake names. They tend to target wealthy international students in these groups by befriending them and saying they have a large amount of sterling they need to exchange into a foreign currency or vice versa. Once the students transfers the money, often several thousand pounds worth of foreign currency, the criminals exit the group and disappear.   

Although WeChat and WhatsApp groups are genuine and usually set up by an individual student on a particular course and cohort, the groups are not moderated, which makes it easy for criminals to access them and gain the trust of other students. 

Our blog post explains more about this type of scam and how to protect youself and your money:


Voucher / Gift Card scams

Gift Card scams are increasing, particularly with Apple and iTunes vouchers. Scammers may call or email, but they are also creating fake websites with chat bots. Whatever method the fraudster uses and whatever the reason, they all have one aim in common: to obtain the voucher number. As soon as you provide this, your voucher money disappears. Apple's advice is to never provide the voucher number to someone you don't know.

Kidnap scams

In the 2022-2023 academic year, this scam targeted Chinese students and the evidence suggests it may still be happening. We wrote a blog post about this scam and how you can protect yourself. It was also translated into Chinese: 


Parcel interception scam

This scam, which targets predominantly international students, is where a student is contacted to say a suspicious parcel addressed to them has been intercepted by the police or the Home Office. The student is told they need to transfer funds to the Home Office or the police as means of proving their identity, and the funds will then be returned to them, once their identity has been verified.  Unfortunately, the funds, once transferred are not returned and the criminal pockets the money. The scammer may also impose conditions such as not leaving accommodation, or not contacting anyone, whilst the "issue" is being investigated, with threats of fines or even deportation from the UK. This can lead to students being isolated and believing they cannot access help.  

If you are being affected by this, or know of someone else who is, don't hesitate to reach out for help by contacting Action Fraud. You can also contact us for practical advice or emotional support.

Housing Scams 

Always get advice from Queen Mary Housing Services about finding accommodation and read their Private Housing Accommodation guide which is full of useful advice. Some tops tips for avoiding housing scams: 

  • avoid arranging accommodation online. If you can, visit the visit an agent with an office and shopfront property, first before paying any money and avoid using money transfers 
  • If you are overseas or not in London, contact Housing Services for advice about your housing options first before booking accommodation 
  • See Campusboard’s web page for advice about avoiding scams 
  • If you fall victim to a housing scam, contact Housing Services and Action Fraud for advice about your options. 

Prize scams 

You’ll be notified that you’ve just “won” a nice prize like money, jewellery or a vacation. These scams will ask you to pay something upfront. Does it sound too good to be true? It probably is. Ignore the message or email.

Retail scams

High-end luxury goods available cheaply on the internet? Check the seller reviews which often reveal a scam and that the goods are cheap, poor quality imitations. Too good to be true? It probably is. Don’t go there.

Romance scams

Criminals often sign up to dating websites with the sole aim of persuading you to part with your money. Be careful who you meet online – they may not be who or where they say they are - and follow Action Fraud’s advice.   

If you have been affected by any type of fraud and would like a confidential 1:1 appointment for practical, financial or emotional support, do not hesitate to contact us.

Crowdfunding scams 

Creators of the crowdsourced request promise a return for your small investment in their project, but may end up pocketing your money instead. Do your research before signing up and check online feedback for other campaigns by the same organisation, which may reveal a scam.

Becoming a money mule

By giving someone else access to your bank account, you might also inadvertently become involved in money laundering by becoming a money mule – the term for someone who allows their bank account to be used, usually by criminals, to transfer money.  

There are plenty of online videos showing the risks involved such as NatWest Bank’s Money Muling: A Student Crisis. The Money Helper webpage: Money mules – what are they and could you fall victim? explains the attraction to fraudsters of using young people whose bank accounts are likely to be "clean" to launder money. Whilst younger victims (teenagers as young as 14) may not fully understand the repercussions of allowing their bank account to be used to launder money, it may be more difficult for university students to rely on this defence. As the penalty for knowingly allowing your bank account to be used for fraud is up to 14 years in prison, it's important to realise the implications of becoming a money mule. However, the Metropolitan Police say they are focussing on finding and prosecuting those who are using money mules rather than those who are duped into becoming one.  

If you have been involved in money laundering, whether knowingly or not, get independent legal advice about your options from a solicitor or local law centre.

Cryptocurrency Investments

Most students have limited income. That’s why cryptocurrency schemes which promise quick investment returns seem very attractive. According to Blackbullion, 72% of students feel they lack knowledge about cryptocurrency. Despite this, schemes have proliferated and many target students. Organisations running them employ finfluencers, (financial influencers) including students, and fake celebrity endorsements to encourage you to part with your money. The majority are perfectly legal and offer the temptation of quick and easy returns, but an article by the Guardian newspaper (October 2021) explains how students are lured into becoming money mules by criminals offering fake cryptocurrency investments.  

The Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA's) Scamsmart webpage lets you check whether your Cryptocurrency investment scheme isn't a scam.  If it is, report it to Action Fraud

Even if the scheme is legal, you're likely to need sufficient income to hold your investment long term to avoid incurring a loss, or losing your money altogether. In the UK, there's zero regulation about how schemes operate, so if something goes wrong the FSCS (Financial Services Compensation Scheme) is unlikely to be able to help.  Blackbullion’s student support guidance has a useful summary of the types of cryptocurrency, how investments work and the huge risk of investing.

Essentially, cryptocurrency is an internet-based medium of exchange; a type of digital currency. There are thousands of types in the same way there are thousands of currencies worldwide. The currency itself has no intrinsic value and is hugely volatile and vulnerable to market manipulation. As well as supply and demand, it also relies on the sentiment of those who want to hold it, so a celebrity or other high-profile tweet or comment can cause a huge drop in its value in a matter of seconds, which might completely wipe out your investment. Ask yourself the simple question: Does it sound too good to be true? If it does, think again, unless you have thoroughly researched your options and are happy with all the costs involved, and with taking risks in an extremely volatile market. If you've considered all the pitfalls, but still want to go ahead, think about spreading your risk by investing smaller amounts in a few different schemes rather than all of your money in one. 


Image-based sexual abuse

Image-based sexual abuse, also commonly known as revenge porn, describes the sharing of intimate images or videos without consent. This has traditionally been associated with someone whose relationship has ended as a way of them seeking revenge. However, in a student context, it may also cover scenarios where a victim is coerced by someone they think they have just started a relationship with into allowing intimate photographs or video footage to be taken of them, or into sending intimate images/videos of themselves to an individual whose only intention is to blackmail them for money. 

As soon as the images or footage have been received, the person will threaten to send them to the victim's family and/or their employer and/or their university unless they pay a large sum of money or an equivalent such as Apple or Amazon vouchers. Whilst understandably this can cause a great deal of distress and shame to victims, the most helpful course of action can be to reach out for support, as doing nothing only gives the blackmailer more power. The Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre and Queen Mary's Sexual Assault and Harassment team can offer you practical, legal and emotional 1:1 non-judgmental, confidential support. 

Financial abuse

This is a type of coercive control, usually by a partner or family member. It starts small; perhaps a new partner suggests you pay for the weekly shop and before you know it, you’re always paying for it; a family member asks to borrow some of your student finance income and the amount increases week by week; you agree to let someone use your bank card or take out a loan for them and they start requesting this more and more.  

In this type of case, the abuser will often use emotional blackmail to get out of repaying you what they’ve borrowed, or giving you back your bank card. It can end with you having no control over your bank account and your bank account drained, or worse you owe interest and charges on loans taken out in your name.  

Whilst not something you actively choose to do, like gambling or investing, financial abuse can be hard to spot, or to realise it’s happening, until it’s reached a serious level, either financially or the emotional abuse has escalated into threats to your safety. It can also be difficult to prove without specialist advice.  

If you think you are being affected by financial abuse, have a look at Women’s Aid's helpful guidance . 

Debt bondage – becoming trapped by debt owed to criminals

Besides becoming a money mule, criminals may also try and recruit students to engage in other illegal activity such as selling drugs on campus. Typically, a student is approached by another student or a "friend of a friend" who tells them about a "great" way to make extra money.  

As a thank you, they're offered a present, such as a very expensive pair of trainers, and told they can pay for them at a later date. What they're not told is that the amount they owe doubles, or even trebles, every few days to the extent it becomes impossible for the student to ever afford to repay the money, leaving the student trapped by debt. This is known as debt bondage and is often accompanied by threats of violence against the student and their family members. 

Criminals often target the most vulnerable students - students from low income households who might be tempted by the prospect of earning a little extra money, students who are new to London and whose family live in another part of the UK or abroad, or students with health conditions or disabilities.  Such students may be vulnerable to so-called cuckooing. This is where a criminal takes over the student's accommodation and uses it to store drugs, weapons or money.  

For advice about debt bondage, contact Action Fraud. You can also contact usfor practical advice or emotional support.     

Owing money to loan sharks

Traditionally loan sharks were community-based illegal money lenders offering cash loans to vulnerable individuals who couldn't get any other form of credit. However, with rising costs for rent, bills and study, students are now also being targeted by loan sharks. The loan sharks tend to use fake names and fake university IDs, though they may also be genuinely registered Queen Mary students. They come across as friendly and wanting to help you out as a "friend" with your money issues. However, once they've lent you the money, the amount you owe escalates daily and they can turn nasty very quickly. If you can't afford the repayments, they often use threats and violence against you and/or your family to make you pay. 

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) has issued new advice to students facing rising costs for bills, rent and study equipment. Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT has suggested credit unions as a safe way to borrow and save. To highlight this as an option, the IMLT has recently helped produce a grime music video helping to spread the message about credit unions and how they can help young people avoid illegal lenders and debt. The video, which was paid for by money recovered from loan sharks, has been produced in partnership with Nourish Social and the Association of British Credit Unions Limited (ABCUL). It uses a track by artist Vader and producers Nothing But Beats to tell the story of Amy, who falls into debt after a relationship breakdown, but finds a way out with the help of a credit union. It can be viewed here:

You can call the 24/7 confidential hotline on 0300 555 222; text a report to 078600 22116 or send a private message on

You can also visit the website where there is a live chat facility from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

To find your nearest credit union, go to




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