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How to Avoid Sophisticated Online Scams

Updated on September 24, 2017
grand old lady profile image

Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

Be Careful, What Looks Good May Be Horrible

A website will offer you huge fees for your work. Be wary, walking into them is like going through a tunnel until you get trapped.
A website will offer you huge fees for your work. Be wary, walking into them is like going through a tunnel until you get trapped. | Source

False advertising

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?

Source

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

Source

Caught

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.

Lucky one

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.

Move on

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.

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.

Me

This is the original photo which they used in the last slide above. They just added a collar to it.
This is the original photo which they used in the last slide above. They just added a collar to it.

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    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Dianna, thank you for dropping by. Yes, it's amazing how sophisticated online scams can be and even worse, how they flourish. Thankfully, I have been given a list of other online teaching sites that don't impose penalties, you are simply not paid if you don't show up for a class, which is how I believe it should be. In due time, I can foresee labor laws coming into existence that will be imposed on online businesses. The internet grows and changes so quickly, but it may evolve somehow as it becomes a growing source of work.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 months ago

      So sorry for your unfortunate experience, Mona. We must constantly be aware of scams online and elsewhere.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Mary, wonderful to hear from you:). It's surprising to hear how many people have encountered online scams. I hope you write about your experiences. It would be nice to know what are the new tricks of scammers so that others could be forewarned. Especially, since a lot of people just wanna do honest work and then they are trapped into something like this.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      That's a shame that didn't work out. There seem to be so many scammers out there.

      I too have looked into other online sites, it is a minefield to find a legit one.

      Sorry, it didn't work out well for you.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Jo, lovely to see you here again:). Actually teaching doesn't pay much (in the classroom) and you end up doing a lot of work with lesson plans, grading papers, etc. The good thing about this experience is that it reminded me that I am a good teacher and my students loved me. I really enjoyed the teaching part, so I want to look for teaching jobs that don't have financial penalties for any reason under the sun. I think the penalty system is where the abuse comes in, and I think should be a red flag to everyone.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 months ago from Philippines

      Yes, the scams are so sophisticated and sadly, the victims are honest people who seek honest work.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 2 months ago from Tennessee

      Too bad you can't find a real job teaching since you seem to be good at it and your students appreciated your services.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      We have to be aware of such scams. Newbies are not the only ones getting scammed even the experienced onliners.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Nadine, yes, malware does bring out the worst of things. But let me say that I discovered these websites when I had no malware. They are prospering and give this wonderful impression of being forthright and true. You can still google them and see what comes out. I'm even thinking of considering more of these jobs to see what red flags we should look out for. Thank you for visiting and for commenting. Lovely touching base with you today:)

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      What a story about how people get drawn in by scam websites. There are many websites that promise all kind of financial abundance. I discovered them when I was infected by malware. Thanks for sharing.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      You are a wise man, Mr. Bill. Yes, it's better to just avoid all of them, but some are quite sophisticated at drawing you in, having this team spirit and once you are trapped, suddenly getting really strict. So I'm grateful that at least I got something out of this experience, I got to write about it, hahaha.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information, my friend. I avoid them all, quite frankly. I only publish my stories and hang out with friends online...other than that I avoid all.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      Absolutely true, Ms. Dora. I think the Chinese fall for it because they don't speak English so if a person can speak a bit of English and basically follows the book, they can get by. Wonderful to see you here, Ms. Dora:).

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 months ago from The Caribbean

      Look at all the hoops these scam artists jump through to do their dirty deeds! I am also wondering how they scam the students. Thanks for sharing to have us warned!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      Hello my lovely cuzzin:). Yes, bolt while you still can. You should go for the best because your English is perfect, no accent, and you have been a teacher all your life. You would be a dream catch for 51talk, but they won't appreciate you unless they can exploit you. There are better online English teaching options out there.

    • profile image

      Mally Comendador 3 months ago

      Hi Mona!

      Gosh! Boy was I glad to come across the article that you just posted in fb plus this write up. After this unthinkable experience of yours and that of Abby...I must say I will retract my application with them. I am scheduled for an interview tomorrow yet. Impeccable timing!!! I quit before it gets started. lol

      What do you expect from China?

      Thanks cuz!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      Hello FlourishAnyway, wonderful to hear from you:). Yes, it is a disservice on both sides, and the winner is the company. But money isn't everything. I believe if you run a company it should be run with a conscience.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      Wonderful to hear from you, Eric. What I dislike is that they can do anything they want and get away with it. They can give you a student or not give you any students at all. They can choose during disputes to ignore your side because it benefits them. The thing is, Filipinos speak better English than Chinese, so even if they speak ungrammatically they are still capable of teaching their students. It is more beneficial to the company financially to hire these people than to hire Filipinos who are native english speakers and who would deserve to be promoted very quickly. I am not complaining about their hiring Filipinos who have their own grammar issues, I am grateful they can get jobs because it helps them. But whether they hire native English Filipino speakers or Filipinos with grammar problems, they should be treated fairly and not be exploited.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 months ago from USA

      What a terrible disservice to both student and teacher.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wow what a story. I really do not like this history tracking concept.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      These scam sites have redefined the term "bottom level dwellers". At 51talk they find it more profitable to not promote people and to just get newbies with little experience because they, too will eventually design. In this way they keep their overhead down (because we are home based) and keep salaries low and penalties high. It's all about money but I hope that there will be businesses with a conscience and I look forward to finding one such site.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      Yes there are tons of websites that scam writers and I had been scammed twice, BBW and BMF, hate those sites, wasted my time and effort writing there. Thanks for your tips