Tutor Scam Alert for Work-Seekers

Whether you plan to do some tutoring or need someone to tutor you, watch out for these tutor scam con tricks: Internet Scambusters #346

Tutor scams may be nothing more than a cunning way of trying to lure you into an advance payment con.

You received a forged check as an upfront payment, with a request to wire part of the cash to someone else.

But, as this week’s issue shows, there are also other cunning scams aimed both at would-be tutors or those seeking help with learning skills and finding work.

And now for the main feature…

Tutor Scam Alert for Work-Seekers

A recent email from streetwise Scambusters’ subscriber Scott about a tutor-help-wanted ad he answered in Craigslist put us on the trail of tutor scams for this week’s issue.

We weren’t surprised to uncover multiple variations of basically the same theme, along with a number of other, different tutoring scams — all aimed at taking money for nothing.

Scott told us his wife found an ad in the online classified ad service offering $50 an hour for tutoring a child in basic subjects — “a little rich, which set off my alarm bells,” he explained.

(Note: some legitimate tutors do charge $50 an hour or more in specific regions, but this was rare in Scott’s area.)

He responded, just to see what would happen, and received a reply from a person called “Edward John” claiming to be a Chicago contractor working in China, whose son, “James,” would be visiting the US for a vacation and, hopefully, extra tutoring.

If Scott could provide two hours of tutoring at his home or a nearby library, twice a week, for two weeks, he’d get $400, plus a little extra for text books.

Oh, and 13-year-old James would also have a “nanny” for his US trip who’d drop him off and collect him.

There was lots of other fluff to make the story more plausible but Scott already knew this was a “too-good-to-be-true” story, a tutoring scam.

What would have happened, had he followed through, is that he would have received an advance payment check for a lot more than $400, more likely for several thousand dollars, with a request that he take his own slice and send the rest by money wire to the “nanny.”

The “nanny” of course is the scammer, or an accomplice.

For this is nothing more than a classic advance payment scam, in which the victim deposits the check into his or her bank account.

The check turns out to be phony but usually not before the balance — in this case the nanny’s payment — has been withdrawn and wired, as cash, to an untraceable recipient.

The victim is then liable to the bank for this sum.

Thankfully, Scott was smart enough to see through the ruse. But hundreds more may not be — a quick Goggle search shows this tutor scam is currently in full swing.

Variations on the tutor scam

A variation occurs when, instead of responding to an ad, a would-be tutor advertises their services, online or in a print publication.

They receive a reply from a scammer spinning the same kind of tale as the one above.

In another case, a victim was actually told he would be flown out to the client’s current country of residence (Nigeria) for a full-time tutoring contract, but first he was asked to pay for the air tickets and other items to be shipped to him.

The scammer, who claimed to be Swedish, even sent a supposed photo of himself and his happy, blond Scandinavian family.

So, this type of tutor scam comes in many forms. The precise details may be different, like the name used by the scammer, or the education needs of the child — music and language tutoring are common variations — but the end game is always an advance fee scam.

Here’s a quick list of things to be on the lookout for with these potential tutor scams:

  • An overseas connection, with a visiting student and a high rate of pay.
  • A tutor job offer without the client ever having seen your resume.
  • A request for part of a submitted check payment to be remitted as a money wire.
  • Poor grammar and/or spelling in email messages.

When the tutoring need is genuine but the tutor gets no pay

Yes, believe it or not, there are people out there who want you to teach them everything you know, for free.

You advertise your service, or respond to an ad, take all the above steps to ensure it’s not an advance payment scam, and begin to coach your client.

Normally, this is by email, and you may even get a small payment upfront.

But in this type of tutor scam, the crook usually wants to either pay by results (which they inevitably dispute) or to pay when the tutoring is complete — at which point they disappear.

It’s a simple con trick — but one to be on the lookout for if you’re in the tutoring business.

Avoid this by:

  • Checking out the credentials of a would-be employer, including personal address and phone number.
  • Agreeing on staged payments, in advance, for each lesson.

When the tutor is the scammer

Sometimes, however, the boot’s on the other foot — the tutor turns out to be the scammer and the person seeking tutoring is the victim.

This is an advance fee of a sort but the victim is simply asked to pay first for the tutoring that never happens.

Obviously, it only works when distance learning is involved, usually via the Internet, and is generally a response to an individual ad from someone seeking help.

The scammer submits a bogus resume, asks for other information or to see samples of the individual’s work (to gain their confidence) then requests a 50% upfront payment.

Some tutoring scam artists do actually have full-blown websites and authentic sounding business names, offering personal coaching in a wide range of specialized subjects.

Again, they demand payment in advance, after which the victim hears nothing and is unable to contact the firm.

In a more sophisticated version of this scam, the so-called coaching organization may offer limited, low quality, materials and tutoring, or even material ripped off from legitimate service providers.

The real cheeky practitioners of this scam may even offer loans and credit terms to spread the cost over, say, six months, which victims may become legally responsible to pay, no matter how poor the service.

Cut the risk of being caught by this type of tutoring scam by:

  • Asking for and checking the tutor’s references/testimonials.
  • Check tutoring firms with state licensing authorities.
  • Not committing to financing agreements unless you have confirmed clearly what you will get for your money.

When the tutoring is the scam

The final type of tutoring scam happens when victims are forced into paying for coaching materials and services they don’t really want or need.

This often happens with bogus work-from-home projects.

People sign up for what, on the face of it, appears to be a low-cost, easy way of making money from home, only to be told later they have to be “trained” to do the job, which costs extra.

This training may or may not be valid (in the sense of supplying genuine materials and coaching) but may never enable the recipient to make enough money to offset the cost.

Some artful scammers claim they have contacts in a particular industry — information technology (IT) is a popular one — and that they can almost certainly find you a job when you’ve completed their expensive training.

Again, they may offer loans and easy payment schemes, and they may even provide genuine training, but you’ll have been misled about the potential for getting work.

These scammers are basically selling a form of tutoring or training under the guise of it leading to something else, but it rarely does.

Of course, there are also many genuine online colleges and tutors who can provide learning and skills in areas where you may well be able to find future employment.

Just beware of any promises of a job at the end. Carefully check out all claims and credentials. If it’s a scam, someone will likely have written about it online.

With all the tutor scams outlined in this article, it pays to be skeptical and scrutinize the detail. Like Scott.

And like the guy mentioned above who was offered the job teaching a Swedish family in Nigeria.

(A sharp-eyed acquaintance recognized that the photo the scammer sent him was actually a picture of Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and his family, filched off the Internet!)

We hope this issue will help you stay safe from all these different types of tutor scams.

That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!