Another ruse targeted at universities involves individuals posing as students with fake identification and making tuition payments with stolen credit cards. They then inform the school that they have decided to un-enroll and request a refund by check. This is a common ploy that has snagged many universities and staffers in recent years.

Another situation that has schools alarmed is shady operators positioning themselves as the “unofficial tuition payment processor” for a group of foreign students from the same country. These legal operators, working locally in the students’ home country, gather legitimate tuition payments from a group of students attending a specific university and approach the school promising to release the funds for a marked-up fee. The schools have little choice but to agree to the terms in the interest of their students and themselves.

5 Steps to Minimize Tuition Fraud Risk

All these situations are highly problematic for the students who lose money, the universities they put their trust in, as well as those companies like ours that promise swift and secure cross-border tuition payments. But there are some common-sense steps we can all take to minimize the risk for all involved.

For institutions:

  • Be very clear and proactive about communicating to students, especially foreign students, about what official payment channels exist and how to access them. If you have a preferred channel, make it very obvious. That will eliminate some guesswork for students and their families and put them at ease when it comes time to make the tuition payment.
  • Any business should be cautious when someone pays through one method and requests a refund through another. Especially if it’s within a very short timeframe. At Flywire, we advise our schools that if the payment was processed by us, it needs to be refunded through us as well.

For students:

  • Students should only use school authorized payment methods. If that method is not clear, reach out to the university and ask them what their preferred method is. Typically this can be found and accessed on the school’s website.
  • There are many companies advertising to help international students with school-related services, but if they do not have an official relationship with the institution, beware. If there is any doubt, check with the schools before engaging in any agreement or transaction.
  • Be very wary of any person or organization offering a discount on tuition. Always check with the university before agreeing to process a payment through any third party that is not directly affiliated with the school, or not visible on the school’s payment website.

Where there is money, there is usually some level of fraud, but with some common sense, colleges and students can protect one another from being victims.

About the Author:

Peter Butterfield is the general counsel and chief compliance officer at Flywire, a specialist in international tuition payment. In his role, Peter owns the risk and fraud functions for Flywire and has been very focused on this issue – well before this recent spate of scams.


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