Over 300 international students in Australia were the targets of a recent flight ticket scam via social media. Trinh Le has the details and provides some tips on avoiding online scams.
It hasn’t exactly been a happy new year for hundreds of Vietnamese students in Melbourne and Sydney.
With Vietnam’s Tet celebration fast approaching, these students were ready to be reunited with family and friends for the biggest celebration in Vietnamese culture. However, upon arriving at the airport, they were greeted with some bad news: the tickets they purchased online through Facebook several months before were either fake or had been cancelled altogether.
According to an investigative report on SBS Vietnamese, a female account-holder under the name ‘Vi Tran’ is alleged to have scammed more than 300 Vietnamese students in Melbourne and Sydney after offering ‘discounted’ return flight tickets to Vietnam ranging between $1,000AUD and $1,500AUD. She is reportedly in possession of an estimated $350,000AUD.
Tran disappeared on January 6 and shut her Facebook page, leaving students panicked. In the days following her disappearance, the Vietnamese Dynamic Students group in Sydney made an appeal to New South Wales Police asking for an investigation.
Tran has since been arrested — she has been charged with ten counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception — and is expected to appear in court on February 3.
How did this happen?
On contemplating this matter, I was surprised to learn a great number of international students would opt for this type of online transaction, especially when you consider that Tran’s clients claim to have never met her in person.
It takes a lot of trust to rely on one’s word-of-mouth reputation, and for more than a year, Tran had built a good one within the Vietnamese student community — she reportedly offered students successful free upgrades to business class or allowed students extra baggage when she first started her ‘business’.
But trust is a two-way street and for first time travelers or those without much experience flying, trusting someone who can clearly explain their overwhelming travel transaction is paramount.
Such was the case for Nghia Tran, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, who had a bad experience in his first flight back in 2007.
“I was completely blank back then. No idea about where to buy the ticket; how I should board the airplane, things like that,” Tran said.
Things only worsened when he decided to purchase his flight ticket via a local agency who took advantage of his lack of travel experience.
“When I arrived at the airport, I could not check in because they said I did not have a ticket […] my ticket was [listed as] ‘stand-by’, and I could only get aboard if someone did not fly.”
Taking advantage of students’ lack of understanding when it comes to air travel is something scammers are likely to exploit.
In the case of Vi Tran, she reportedly provided students with reservation numbers, rather than the e-ticket number which would confirm their flight. After a period of time, she allegedly cancelled these reservation numbers — which meant students never truly bought their tickets through her.
How students can avoid online scams
- Trust no one
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Trust in an online space is tricky, so only buy from those who are officially licensed or registered and have had consistent positive feedback.
If you’re about to engage in an online transaction, the NSW Police recommends students to “stop, think and reflect” on why they’ve been asked to send someone money.
- Compare your options, see what else is available
Have a look at what options are available by frequenting official websites of airlines you tend to travel. Get a gauge of what price works best for you on the day you have to travel. Ask around registered agencies, like STA Travel or Student Flights, as well to see if there are cheaper deals available.
Personally, I only make my final decision after considering my options thoroughly while keeping in mind other factors, such as the allowed baggage weight, airline meals and transit time.
- Think you’re in trouble? Know who to contact
In the event that you are scammed or fear that you may be, ensure that you gather all transaction proofs and report your case to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. These include documents such as emails, chat conversations, bank statements, receipts and other bits of sensitive information you feel will be useful in building your case.
First published on Meld, Feb 2016. Photo licensed under CC.