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We created a shady agent for a fraud awareness campaign and some students sought his advice

If you want to study abroad, the only way to protect yourself from scammers is to do your own research diligently you'll be amazed how good you are at detecting fraud
BY Uma Asher |   09-09-2016

In a series of short YouTube videos, a skeezy-looking character called Lucky Lakhanpal dishes out shady advice to young people who want to study abroad. Oily-haired, paan-chewing, shifty-eyed, he’s constantly looking for a deal, whether he’s in his dumpy little office lined with posters of fake universities, or in a car in a shady parking lot, or in the office of a snooty brand consultant, or at someone’s birthday party, stoking parents’ anxiety about their children’s future.

The caricaturish Lucky, with his garish clothes and sly smile, may be ha-ha funny in a two-minute video, but in real life, agents like him are the stuff of nightmares – tens of thousands of dollars down the drain, the permanent stain of deportation on your record, that sort of stuff. These agents may have an avuncular manner, and they may make all the right inspirational noises about education and young people’s futures, but they’re in the ‘consulting’ business for one thing, and only one thing: money.

 

Fraud agents really don’t care what happens to you

Lucky has no interest in understanding your academic or career goals. His advice is based on his own agenda, which he never discloses but which seems to involve “cass only” transactions. To him, money is everything – you get strictly what you pay for, and nothing more, because he has no principles or standards. So he offers meaningless guarantees, and promises things that he’s not even remotely authorized to offer, such as admission or a visa. He may be able to fix up a job for you abroad – because he has crooked friends abroad who run immigration scams. It really has nothing to do with studying abroad.

We created Lucky as part of an awareness campaign. Most of our viewers saw him for the satire he was. One person messaged Lucky on Facebook, saying, “Are u kidding? What r u, Harry Potter?” Another sarcastically wrote: “Hey Lucky! I have never been to school! I make very good omelette! Can you help me get into Oxford University? I trust you.”

But some people wrote to Lucky actually seeking his advice. One person wrote that he had completed high school in another country, and added, “Is there any interesting job other than engineering which I can go for?” There was no hint of sarcasm – he really seemed to think it was worth his while to ask Lucky for career advice.

It gets worse. Another viewer wrote, “I’m doing my diploma in mechanical engineering but for my higher studies I want to go to US, but I don’t have much money. So can I go even if I can spare only Rs 2 lakhs per year no matter how the university is, I just want to study there.” One wonders what his definition of “study” is.

 

Indian students are the most vulnerable to fraud

Here at BrainGain Magazine, we aim to provide unbiased information to high-school and college students who are interested in studying abroad. We created the character of Lucky Lakhanpal to raise awareness, as we found that Indians who go abroad to study are being deported with increasing frequency (recent stories linked below).

In some recent cases, genuine universities realized that students’ credentials were faked to get admission, and asked them to leave. In other cases, fake universities recruited innocent students, and government authorities took action. Both types of cases involved fraudulent agents. And the countries that send the most students abroad each year are India and China, so it’s not surprising that students from these two places are the most vulnerable to agent fraud.

Of course, it’s easy to blame fraudulent agents. Naturally, one feels sympathy for scam victims and their families. But people cannot stop going abroad to study until various governments and universities have found a foolproof way to weed out fraud agents from real ones. So students must do all they can to protect themselves, and there’s actually quite a lot they can do.

 

You're not helpless – there’s a lot you can do!

The best way to help yourself is to do your own research. We Indians have been going abroad to study for decades, but we didn’t always have the internet. In the 1990s, most people had no access, and a phone call to the US cost something like Rs 90 a minute (incomes were lower, too). Today, it is easier and cheaper than ever to get reliable and up-to-date information from official sources.

You can trawl through trusted college search engines for various regions (for example, US and Canada, Australia, France, Germany). The official websites of universities will give you information about degree and course offerings, faculty, facilities, and admission requirements. If any of your questions are not answered in the website, you can email your academic queries to the graduate studies officer and your administrative queries to the administrative staff in the academic department.

The official websites of various testing services will give you information about the GRE, GMAT, SAT, and other tests that you may need to take.

Many countries’ high commission or embassy websites have links to the education-related services they offer. They also have information on student visas and other immigration issues. Many embassies offer cultural and education services in the metros, and their staff also hold regular information sessions and study fairs in smaller cities. Private education organizations may also hold such sessions or fairs. Follow them on Facebook, or look up the event calendars on their websites. The bottom line is: don’t rely on just one source. That’s the difference between doing your research diligently and being spoon-fed.

 

One last thing – no, make that two last things

One, many of us are used to having someone else take charge of our education-related decisions. If that someone else is your parents, you know they have your best interests at heart. But if your parents did not study abroad, or lack familiarity with academia in other countries for any other reason, they may place their faith in a student agent. That someone else may be paid by a real or fake university to recruit you, and may or may not have any principles or standards. The trick is to be able to tell a good agent from an incompetent one from an outright fraud, so it is really important that you do independent research. Do not rely on a single source for guidance and information – consult several, and make your own decision.

And two, don’t be that person who wrote to Lucky Lakhanpal saying he didn’t care about the university as long as it was in the US and cost under Rs 2 lakh a year. If your goal is not to study, but to look for a job, just look for a job; don’t go to a shady agent and apply to a shady school so that you can go to another country and then look for a job – you are setting yourself up for fraud. You could lose tens of thousands of dollars and permanently ruin your clean immigration record.

 
Some recent instances of fraud
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