ESL Job Scams – How To Protect Yourself When Teaching Abroad
Recently several unsuspecting https://www.esl101.com/ members lost a significant amount of money to scammers posing as employers in the United Arab Emirates. (Note if you received an e-mail from someone claiming to be Adrian May from Ajyal International School in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, do not respond, and whatever you do, DO NOT send him or his associates any money.) I refer to scammers as him throughout because every scammer I have come across has been a man – or at least portrayed himself as one.
Before divulging what happened and how to avoid falling victim to a scam, I need to make one important point. If you heed this simple advice, your chances of falling victim to an online job scam are virtually nil. This is the first rule of teaching abroad –never wire money to anyone for any reason in order to obtain a teaching position overseas. Do not send money – especially by Western Union, MoneyGram or by bank transfer to secure a job, put a deposit on your apartment, pay for your airline ticket, or to help someone’s cousin who was mugged and is injured in a hospital in Manila (I got that e-mail this morning).
I have been involved in the ESL industry for over 20 years and in the last two decades I have never once seen a legitimate job that required applicants to send money to an employer or an affiliated travel agent, insurance agent, etc. for any reason. There are jobs where you may have to purchase your own ticket – most jobs in China are like that, for example, but they will never require you to send them money so they can purchase a ticket or other services on your behalf. Let’s hold hands class, and repeat after me – “Don’t send your money to anyone!” I may sound like Captain Obvious of the Good Ship Teach Overseas – but I wouldn’t be writing this if people didn’t send money to people in hopes of gainful employment on a regular basis.
While a small percentage of scams involve identity theft or other forms of fraud, well over 90% of the scam victims I have seen fall prey to some variation of the advance fee fraud scheme described above. While this may seem obvious (sadly, in hindsight for some), these scammers can be extremely convincing. Here are a few more things to look out for when assessing whether a job opportunity is legitimate:
1. Be wary of web based e-mails. If your entire interaction with someone is solely based on e-mails from a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo account, for example, keep in mind that anyone anywhere can register an e-mail address. I have seen convincing e-mails from scammers utilizing web based e-mails with impressive sounding titles, logos and certifications in their signature. Remember that all this can be faked or copied. This is not to say that all job offers from web based e-mails are fake – many are not, but be extra careful. Validate their identity some other way, don’t rely solely on correspondence from a web based e-mail account. These same scammers can set up Skype accounts and host interviews as well.
2. Even if a job offer comes from a legit sounding domain, do your homework, particularly if the job offer is too good to be true. I an example of this was a scam that was sent out a few months ago from the e-mail: email@example.com. Sounds legit, right? The website looked legit at first glance. However if a user clicked around the site one would soon realize it was only a few pages in total and the only working link was for employment opportunities – not so legit, right? Furthermore, the homepage featured a rather fetching young lady in a short skirt dressed as a provocative teacher – perhaps the daughter of the woman in Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” video – if you are totally lost – you have to be over 40 to get this rather tortured analogy – but the point is – no real school in the Middle East would ever have a rather suggestive photo like that on the homepage. A bit more research revealed that the domain was registered in 2016, in Lagos, Nigeria. Hmm – not so legitimate at all, right?
Compare this to the real King’s College Dubai website here: http://kings-edu.com/. (This is one of the tricks scammers use – either creating a web based e-mail that is extremely similar to a widely used e-mail address from a school, or creating a fake website that uses the same or similar name as a real school.)
So now you are probably confused – thinking – “OK, so I am not supposed to trust web based e-mails, or legit sounding e-mails, how do I get a job?” Here are a couple of pointers:
a – Another reminder – if your job application gets you to a point where you are supposed to send someone money – it is a scam.
b – Research the website carefully. Check the domain registration history – there are many online tools – but this one is a good free one: https://www.whois.net/. If your e-mails are sent from a specific IP – check the location of where the e-mail IP’s originate from – there are many free tools to check the physical addresses of IP’s – here is one: https://www.iplocation.net/. If the school claims to be in Dubai, for example but the IP’s of the e-mails are from Abuja – something strange is going on. See what other sites link to this domain. There are various link checking tools - I use Moz Open Site Explorer most often: https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/
c. Call the school unsolicited. If you have your doubts – do a Google search for the school online, and call them directly, unsolicited. Ask for the HR department and ask about the job advertised and whether they have received your application. Do your own search online for the school – in the case of King’s College – if you called the number on the fake website, the scammer himself would probably answer the phone. However the fake website would not show up in a google search for “King’s College Dubai” – you would find the legitimate school website first. Call the number listed on the school website and ask to speak to the person you have received the job offer from.
d. Never trust any domain with a .tk extension. Tokelau, a tiny island in the Pacific managed by New Zealand, owns .tk, and will sell these domain extensions to anyone for any reason. Tokelau’s economy is entirely based on phishing (see what I did there – Pacific Island, fishing, etc.) – read more here: https://gcn.com/articles/2011/12/23/internet-growth-phishing-makes-tokel...
The tricks and scams that scammers use are varied – but they all lead down the same path. At some point they are going to try to convince you to send them money for some reason. Don’t do it. You’d be better off setting your money on fire – it will at least keep you warm and dry if you live here in Vancouver, or use the energy to power an air conditioner – OK the analogy is falling apart but the point is valid – do not send money to anyone, especially by Western Union or MoneyGram. Do not wire money through the bank either – although you may have more recourse if you actually wire money. Still not a good option.
In terms of https://www.esl101.com/– it is a constant battle to keep scammers off the site. When we first started, anyone could register as a school or recruiter and start contacting teachers. Scammers loved this – I now personally validate every school and recruiter that signs up before they can contact teachers. Secondly, when I first started the site, anyone could pay for a job and then it would be published automatically. I now publish jobs only after I personally validate them. The most recent problem arose because we used to have an automated algorithm that pulled job information from other sources around the interwebs and republish the jobs on ESL101. Mr. Adrian May and his sock puppet friends were pulled in from information from another site. Unfortunately many other ESL Job sites are not careful about who or what publishes jobs on their site – here is one such example where Mr. May’s fake job is still active: http://www.esljobfeed.com/esl-tesl-jobs/apply.php?job=200938. There are others where Mr. May’s job is still published.
I have since stopped aggregating jobs from other sources and personally validate all jobs before they are published on ESL101. I have further changes in the works. I am going to put a warning on the main job board page and on every individual job posting as well as every e-mail that gets sent from employers and recruiters to potential teachers.
I have further technological safeguards in place that I plan to implement, but I don’t want to go into too much detail in case Mr. May and his friends happen to be reading this. I will do this as soon as possible, but each change to the website costs time and money. Not that this is an excuse, but unfortunately I studied humanities, (and I use the word ‘studied’ loosely), not computer science as an undergraduate, so unfortunately I can’t make these changes on the website myself.
A few other points to remember:
- If a job seems to be too good to be true, it usually is. If the salary that a school offers you is double what a school in that country typically offers, question why, don’t just marvel at your good luck.
-Be aware of visa regulations. Most EU countries (France, Spain, Italy, most notably) cannot sponsor non EU citizens for teaching visas without extreme effort. If you are a recent graduate from a US university with no teaching license, be skeptical of a job offer at a private school in Italy, for example. For most Asian countries, including Korea, China and Japan, you must be a citizen of one of these seven countries: USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. If you are from India or Iran, for example, do not pay money for a job in China because you can’t get one there – it is a visa regulation based on citizenship, not a referendum on how good your English is or your teaching ability. Most countries have age restrictions for issuing a teaching visa. Some guy with a hotmail address did not magically circumvent the age limit for teaching visas in Qatar. If you are interested in teaching in a country - call that countries local embassy or consulate to find out what the visa requirements are for a teaching visa in that country and make sure you are eligible.
- Be skeptical. While I do my best to make ESL101 a safe space, at the end of the day, it is just another site on the internet – where there are bad people that do bad things.
-Be aware, use common sense, and DON’T SEND ANYONE MONEY. Not to a school, not to Cheerful Tourism and Travel Company, not to a landlord who needs a deposit. Just don’t do it.
Unfortunately if you have been scammed, you have very little recourse. The police in your home country are highly unlikely to pursue this type of on-line crime, although some countries do have a forum for reporting it. In Canada, for example the RCMP does have a link to report on line scams: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams-fraudes/rep-sig-eng.htm. Other countries have similar programs. The problem is most of these crimes originate in West Africa – outside the jurisdiction of the FBI, Scotland Yard, the RCMP, etc. I have never known the police in the countries where these crimes originate to do anything. If you come across a fake website, you can report it to the domain registrar authority to get it taken down – unless it is a .tk address.
If you have been scammed, check out http://www.419eater.com/ - take solace in scambaiters – people make a hobby of scamming scammers and publicly shaming them.
Photo Credit: Bryan Rosengrant: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rosengrant/
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