How to Avoid Sophisticated Online Scams
Be Careful, What Looks Good May Be Horrible
Lately I have been trying to look for jobs online that pay higher than my usual sources of online income. What I found out was that there are a lot of websites with false advertising, and I happened upon two of them.
The strategy of these websites is to have an American-looking website, or an impressive appearing website that shows how much money you can make if you work for them.
I was taken in by one of these websites. It turned out that once I got into the website, they gave me a second password. The first is to enter the "American" website, and the second is to enter the real website.
When I got into the real website, the fees were very much lower than advertised on their "American" website. Furthermore, the type of writing assignments that were listed were school papers for reports, theses, and such. I didn't know if this was a good idea. After all, students should be doing their own work.
I saw one paper that I thought I might try, but when I pressed it, another assignment was on the screen, about a topic I had no expertise in. Furthermore, I noticed that before doing the assignment I had to go to Zendesk to change the URL. The real site was located in the Ukraine, and for the sake of the student it had to look like it was from the US. This was all a bit much for me.
On top of everything else, this site had high penalties, higher than what you are paid. Penalties could range from $100 - $300 if the student got a failing grade. For obvious reasons, I decided not to mess with this group.
Online English Teacher
My second venture was quite an adventure, because I went deeper in this time. You see, this company, which is an English teaching online company, brings you along a trail where sweet things are dropped here and there, and then in the end you are duped.
I applied for this company because again, I came across an American-looking website that said teachers will earn $15/hour. For some reason, I never saw that website slide again, but recognized its name on a job site. And so, I applied. I was led to the company's Philippine branch.
The promises seemed good. We could set our own schedules, work part time from home, and make a lot of money. However, they never specified how much money we would make.
We had an orientation where the trainer was very patient and professional. After the orientation we were given partners to practice a teaching demo. When the demos were done, two teachers didn't make the cut. I was grateful to have passed.
Wolf or sheep?
Well told tall tales
After passing a second demo I had this class for starting teachers. Again, the teacher was very patient and professional. She also told us the hard stuff. We would be paid P50 ($2.82) per 25 minute session. For an hour, that would be P100, less than what a masseuse is paid in the Philippines, and far less than the $15 I saw in the Americanized slide that drew me there in the first place. Also, if you miss a class without reporting it, you are fined P250 (the equivalent of five working sessions, or 2.5 hours). If the student is absent you get half pay, or P25. Once you have booked a class, you can't cancel it or give it to another teacher. But the earlier you cancel it, the lower the fine. The lowest fine, for example, is if you cancel five days in advance. You will be fined P35 (more than what you get when a student is absent). After telling us all this, she said we now had to book slots for the next two weeks. Somehow I still thought things would work out. I was warned to take screenshots of everything I did so that I could defend myself if a client is absent, or if I am experiencing technical difficulties.
Your nose is showing
This is what happens once you are caught in the web of this site.
1. The trainers stop being patient to you and act more curt. If you have a concern, one strategy they use is to point you elsewhere. In one instance I went to my recruiter, then to their LS support. I was then referred to tech. I noticed while talking to tech that an email popped up about my complaint. Apparently the tech saw it too and told me to look up my mail. I told him I got two emails, one saying my complaint ticket has been forwarded (this was a ticket that the LS made for me) and another telling me to talk to tech support which I was currently doing.
2. In another instance I was talking again to LS support. The woman said she had to contact China regarding my issue. I said why? Are all Filipino teachers' records kept in China? They aren't kept in the Philippines? She said yes, they are kept in China. So I asked, "Then what does the Philippine office do? How do they protect the interests of their teachers?" I also asked for the name of the head of the Filipino office and his/her contact information which she refused to give. I said, "At least you can give me the name, it isn't confidential information." In the end, she digitally ended the conversation with me.
I think I was the lucky one. I was only there for a week when the horns came out. I had been teaching daily (not on weekends) from 7 - 11 pm. Suddenly I discovered that I had a P1,000 deduction for my hard work, which meant I would only get a little over P600 of what I was supposed to earn. The reason for the deduction was allegedly four absences. Four names were mentioned. I had screen shots to show I was present in the case of three, but there were technical difficulties. Their own tech support took care of me in three of the four cases. He should have been able to back me up on that. But this is a company that pays you very little and gets back as much as it can so it need not pay you at all, if they wish.
I produced screen shots of the supposed three absences to show I was there, but they were fixing my computer. As for the fourth instance, I do not ever recall the student having booked with me. I asked for a screenshot to show she booked with me, but they never gave me one.
What they probably didn't expect was that I had very high ratings from my students and in truth, I really enjoyed teaching them, although I will admit that the adults are lots easier to teach and more interesting.
After I pleaded my case with evidence to boot and screenshots of students who ranked me very highly, the strangest thing happened. I was promoted from starting teacher to newly qualified teacher (which mean't an increase of P4 per student). Also, my ranking went up from 94% to 99.2%. I guess they had to do this because I had the screenshots of my student ratings.
The Last Straw
Because of my alleged absences I was also blocked from teaching. They claim it was just for one day but on the third day I tried to test if I could open bookings but I could not. Clearly, this had now been reduced to a "he said she said" game which is pretty redonc in a professional company. On top of that, I was scheduled to teach a child within some five days. I asked them to stop booking me and to give the child to another teacher. I was told that I would then be marked absent and charged a P35 penalty.
For obvious reasons, my trust level of this company is low, and I am lucky to be moving forward. After all, I earned P1,600 pesos more or less in a week. But even if they promoted me, they are still deducting the full P1,000. I could see them booking me continuously so that they could penalize me enough to not have to pay me anything at all. Let me add that in this company everyone uses a pseudonym. I, myself was given a pseudonym. Safety from discovery can bring out the very worst in some people.
The last person I spoke to was a coach who warned me that I could get a penalty if I cancel a student that I never booked. I just told this coach that he could have all the money I worked so hard for and deserve to be paid for. I told him that if the money exceeds the penalty, Merry Christmas Jesus.
My advice to avoid scams:
Read the reviews so you are forewarned. More than content, I would say consider the number of reviews because content can be faked by a company but if they have so many dissatisfied former employees, that means they have gotten a lot of people very angry, and this is a pattern. In one forum I saw more than 500 comments about this company.
If there are financial penalties for any reason at all, it is a definite scam. Since my experience with this group, I have come across so many English online sites that do not impose penalties for absences, they simply don't pay you when you're absent, which sounds fair enough to me.
The good part
One thing I loved about the job were the students. I am really grateful for the high ratings they gave me within just five days. I'm also glad I took screenshots of my high student ratings because when I went back to my personal page, I noticed that fewer of these ratings were being shown. That's how they play their game. So, I am ending this with my positive reviews from my students. My pseudonym was Romana Go, but you can recognize me from my photo.
I added the last screenshot to show that my pseudonym was Romana Go, but you can see from the photo that it is me.