Brazil: students cheated as agency closes
Students in Brazil intending to study abroad have been cheated out of their money by an unscrupulous agency operating in the country, according to authorities, who say they are continuing investigations to identify those responsible.
According to local media, Agência Mundi has closed its offices in São Paulo and its website asks that “no further payment be sent” to the agency.
Procon – Procuradoria de Proteção e Defesa do Consumidor – a government agency that is designed to protect, guide and defend consumers in Brazil, said Agência Mundi has scammed students in excess of R $1 million (approximately £165,000).
“If you multiply by the amount that each person has paid, the loss actually amounts to R $1 million”
“If you multiply by the amount that each person has paid, the loss actually amounts to R $1 million. Procon will apply fines proportional to this billing,” Procon executive director, Fernando Capez said.
“At the same time, in parallel, [we are] seeking a police investigation to pressure the owners of the companies [to] be criminally prosecuted and thus have to appear to defend themselves,” he added.
While Agência Mundi kept money students paid for trips, school enrolments, and accommodation, the agency is also known to owe English language schools money.
Agência Mundi is the third agency to close in Brazil in recent years.
Time2 Travel, an agency specialising in travel to Ireland announced it would close due to financial difficulties in June 2019.
In December, owners of another agency – 4U Intercâmbio, which also had offices in Ireland – allegedly disappeared with money from the packages purchased for English courses and accommodation for European countries.
“What is odd is that all of them happened very similarly,” one agent in Brazil told The PIE News. “The way they closed it, doesn’t [seem] like the company was trying to honour debts.”
Students should ensure they request an invoice from the school, as well as set out a payment deadline with the agency, the agent explained.
“Also, the agency always should give the possibility that the student can pay by himself directly to the school, otherwise it’s a questionable attitude from the service provider,” they added.
According to other sources, Agência Mundi primarily offered budget courses.
Speaking with The PIE, one agency said they had been approached by some students who had been in contact with Mundi.
“Since we work closely with colleges and university programs, and most of our partners are not budget, as Mundi offered, the little we could do to help them was to offer another program in one of our school partners,” they said.
Agência Mundi may have suffered due to sudden exchange rate changes, another added.
The agency focused on English language and Work & Study programs and was “selling promotional packages at lower prices than the schools with high quality, with long payment instalments”, they explained.
“When a sudden rise in our exchange rates came, sales probably dropped this year and it became impossible to keep up the business,” they explained.
“It brings a bad reputation for the whole market because people become worried about putting their money into any agency”
For Alexandre Argenta, CEO of Brazilian agency TravelMate, the situation has two dimensions for the market.
“It brings a bad reputation for the whole market because people become worried about putting their money into any agency.
“But on the other hand, it is positive because it cleans the market of companies that are not well organised or established, showing people that they should trust on the more traditional agencies that have been in the market for decades,” Argenta said.
It’s important that those traditional agencies hold the BELTA seal and membership, he added. Agencies must offer a variety of international education programs to stay healthy, Argenta contended.
“Due to the sales seasons of each program – teen programs, high school, languages course, work & study, work & travel, au pair, higher education and so forth – this is the only way a company can have business throughout the whole year, having consistent financial flow non-stop,” he said.
“Selling multiple countries is also important because when unexpected immigration changes happen, shutting down some programs, the agency will always have an alternative to continue in the business.”