Can You Spot A Scam? is one of my regular sources for EFL news, and whenever I venture into the message boards (which is unfortunately not as frequently as I should), I come across even more useful stuff. Most recently I stumbled upon a link to a detailed post on how to spot a scam, based on one apparently concrete example from China.

I would frame this as a good example of a particular scam, rather than a guide to spotting each and every scam. The truth is, not all scams will look alike, and it is precisely that which makes them hard to spot. However, extrapolating from this case I identified a few things to look out for:

  • Inconsistencies within the ad itself (such as Mr. John Smith becoming Mr. Joe Smith near the end of the ad, or the same or similar ads posted with slightly different details)
  • Too-good-to-be-true claims (“live free in the best part of Shanghai!”)
  • Information that just don’t make sense (“the school’s area is 660,000 square meters” – this is more than the downtown area of the average city)
  • An abundance of vague terms (teacher’s duties are to “accept reasonable requests” and “finish tasks”)

The author warns that in China, a lot of problems seem to originate in the private language school industry, as opposed to the university or public school sector, and pointed out that many “scam schools” may also aim to profit by misleading students/clients (and not only teachers). They may not really care what teachers teach, they just want to sell classes and collect fees from clients once. For this reason, I think asking about the curriculum or academic support may also be useful in identifying a “scam school.”

What I especially liked about this example was that, while it uses a particular case as an example, it doesn’t presume to be exhaustive. Don’t let your guard down and assume that because a particular job ad passes some checklist of items, it’s fine. Use this case as an example of how to think critically about scams.