Also known as employment scams.
Job scams exist in all industries. They are not unique to TEFL, albeit this page is specifically written for TEFL job seekers.
What is a job scam?
A job scam is a dishonest scheme designed to benefit the scammer in some way. A job scam is a fraud perpetrated by a confidence trickster, and usually involves a fake job and very likely a fake school or agency. The scammer usually tries their best to make the job look as genuine as possible, and often as enticing as possible. At the end of the day, after responding to a job scam and perhaps wasting hours in time, and money in phone calls, the job applicant will have nothing to show for it, may have unnecessarily disclosed personal information and may even have lost a large sum of money.
Why people do job scams
Mostly, people do job scams for the same reasons that people do crime - they intend to benefit themselves quickly and easily at the expense of other people. As a result of a job scam a fraudster may, for example, persuade the uninitiated to part with money directly, or to provide sensitive personal details (eg, social security number) that can be sold to third parties. Sometimes a job scam may not be an end in itself; it may be part of a larger crime. For example, some job scams enable criminals to launder money.
How to spot a job scam
Put yourself in the mind of the job scammer. How would you write a job offer or advertisement? You have almost complete freedom to write what you want since none of it is true. Virtually your only constraint is that it should appear credible. So what are the tell-tale signs that should lead you to suspect its credibility?
- It looks too good to be true. If a job looks too good to be true, it certainly is. Let's put that another way. If a job looks too good to be true, it certainly is.
- The English is poor. Actually, by the very nature of the international TEFL industry, this is not as true as in most industries. Many if not most TEFL job ads are posted by schools and agencies whose first language is not English. That's the whole point. So certain linguistic errors may not be surprising. Nevertheless, use your judgement and gauge whether this job ad for a school in Beijing is written by a Chinese secretary doing her best in English or by a scam artist in Nigeria (just for example). As an English teacher, you are better placed than most to recognize L1 interference.
- "Scam-free" or "totally legitimate" is actually stated in the job ad. Wow!
- Extremely low qualifications and/or "no experience" required.
- Excessively high pay is offered.
- Money is requested. Any time money is required, you have a red flag right there. This can be at any point during the hiring procedure, say in the original job ad or during a subsequent telephone conversation. Money may be requested for various reasons - to pay for a background check on you, to cover work permit application costs etc. Terminate the application immediately. Better still, report it.
- Bank details are requested. Classic reason - "we pay salaries by direct deposit into your bank account, so we need your bank account details." Again, this could be at any point in the procedure. (Obviously, some employers do actually pay salaries by bank transfer. Once you have taken up a post, are on location, and are satisfied that you have made the right decision, might be the time to think about disclosing bank account details if requested.)
- Address details are sketchy. No telephone, fax or web address.
- Email is anonymous (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail etc). Again, in the TEFL world and especially in developing countries, an anonymous email address is not always a red flag. Just one more point to add into the equation. (Ie, an anonymous email address for a school in Europe might be suspicious, while an anonymous email address for a school in China might be less so.)
- Unnecessary detail is requested. Use your judgement. Just how much information does a potential employer need to know about you (at this stage)?
- The job details are non-existent or sketchy.
- Any kind of money-transfer is suggested. For example, you are "overpaid" and asked to transfer the balance to a third-party, or money transfer will be part of your "normal" duties. These are money-laundering schemes and could land you in trouble with the authorities - apart from causing you to lose money too.
- The company does not take up your references. The company offers you a job without following up on the references you gave them.
How to protect yourself from job scams
Apart from checking for the above tell-tale signs, you can take the following action:
- First of all, always do your own homework. Check out any company or agency that interests you.
- Check the company's references. They ask for references from you: you can ask for references from them. Ask for details of two or three other teachers who are working/who have worked for the school and ask for their opinions.
- Forget getting rich quick. It ain't gonna happen.
- Use Google. Search for the school/agency in Google and other search engines. Look for the gossip online. If you suspect a scam, try searching for "XYZ School scam".