It was a chance, forwarded email trail that saved Mumbai-born Rahul Seth from spending thousands of dollars and a year of his life at a sham flying training school near Brisbane, Australia.
“I was lucky. The email trail – which a friend chanced upon and forwarded— had angry responses from students duped by the Australian institute I was planning to go to. I found that the institute was making the same, false promises to me too,” said Seth, now a pilot, recalling the February 2009 incident.
Indian students keen to study abroad have over the past few years been duped on numerous occasions by fraudulent institutions and unscrupulous agents across continents and courses.
But government officials, students and education counsellors point out a commonality across cases of fraud against students. Students planning to attend an educational institution abroad must connect with alumni of that institution before finalising their plans to prevent fraud such as the Tri Valley University (TVU) scam, they concurred.
“I call it the alumni factor. You can’t go too wrong as a student if you are going to an institution that has produced happy, proud and successful alumni willing to talk about their alma mater,” said Bangalore-based consultant Rachna Dhingra.
Most established educational institutions today have alumni networks that are accessible through the Internet, and in popular social network sites.
“If students are unable to find a credible alumni network of proud alumni, there is something fishy with that institution. This is something we try to advise students applying to our country,” said a United States India Educational Foundation (USIEF) official. “Had genuine students at TVU followed this principle, they would not have been duped,” the official added.
Counsellors and officials also recommend that students correspond directly with universities. “There have been instances of agents falsely claiming to represent certain ... institutions. It is best for students to communicate directly with universities,” an official said.