Beware scammers: Privacy, personal information and employment

INTERNATIONAL students need to be wary about giving their personal information out to scammers pretending to be companies looking for potential employees, warns Monash University’s multicultural employment consultant Danny Ong.

Beware scammers: Privacy, personal information and employment

Students must exercise caution when disclosing personal information during job applications.

Most international students are unaware of how their privacy and personal information shapes their work experience in Australia. In fact, privacy is an unfamiliar concept for most students as it is often not utilised in their home countries. In Australia, the Privacy Act regulates how your personal information is handled.

For example, it covers:

  • How your personal information is collected (e.g. the personal information you provide when you fill in a form);
  • How it is then used and disclosed;
  • Its accuracy;
  • How securely it is kept; and
  • Your general right to access that information.

According to the Australian Information Commissioner, “personal information is information that identifies you or could identify you… basically, any information where you are reasonably identifiable”. This includes, but not limited to, the following:

  • Name
  • Address and
  • Contact details
  • Bank account details
  • Date of Birth
  • Passport / student visa details
  • Pictures

Based on the above definitions, it is essential for international students to be aware of two key issues.

Protecting yourself

Students must exercise caution when disclosing personal information during job applications. Recently I have encountered a few cases where students unwisely disclosed their personal information to scammers who pretended to be companies looking for potential employees. Such advertisements are often found on free-to-list classified advertisement websites and pinned onto university notice boards.

Phishing is when scammers pretend to send emails from legitimate business (such as banks) to request personal information.

According to Scamwatch, an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website, “Phishing refers to emails that trick people into giving out their personal and banking information; they can also be sent by SMS… The scammers are generally trying to get information like your bank account numbers, passwords and credit card numbers, which they will then use to steal your money.

What you can do to prevent phishing:

  • Don’t be foolish: Some people may be surprised at this but students continually fall for the same trick when promises of large salaries and easy money are made. Well, if I have a way of making a large sum of money, do you think I will share it with you? Of course not!
  • Be vigilant: There are two key things you need to look out for. Firstly, when an employer is asking for a lot of personal information that is irrelevant to your job application (such as previous names and passport numbers), you need to exercise extreme caution. Please note that some of this information may be required after you have been officially employed by the company and signed a contract of employment.

Secondly, if the employer is asking you to transfer money to an overseas account through Western Union or any money transfer companies, it is definitely a scam. Remember, you are looking for work to earn money, not to lose it.

  • Looks can be deceiving: A professional website or email can be easily and cheaply developed by anyone in this modern age of technology.

According to Scamwatch, “phishing emails [and websites] often look genuine and use what look to be genuine internet addresses – in fact, they often copy an institution’s logo and message format, which is very easy to do. It is also common for phishing messages to contain links to websites that are convincing fakes of real companies’ home pages”.

The Need for Student’s Consent

Under the Privacy Act, universities (and all education institutions) are legally required to protect your privacy and ensure that all personal information is appropriately handled. Most significantly, universities cannot act or disclose any personal information that identifies students without their consent.

Simply, staff cannot act on your behalf unless you have provided consent for them to do so – as their actions may inadvertently identify you.

For example, you have been exploited by your employer and want justice to be done. You made an appointment to see a career consultant to explore the options that are available to you. After the appointment, you decide to remain anonymous and not to take any actions against the employer due to your financial needs. Your university will not be able to undertake any further action due to the potential risk of disclosing your identity to the employer. Without your consent, if such actions allow the employer to identify you as the complainant and fire you, the university may be held liable for the breach of your privacy.

As most students do not understand the legal restrictions that prevent universities from acting, they have a misconceived perception that universities do not care about their interest and welfare. I hope this article has helped you to understand the issues.

Danny Ong is a multicultural employment consultant at Monash University. 

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