How to spot common ESL job scams

How to spot common ESL job scams

The English as a Second Language market has long been vulnerable to and often a victim of job-related scamming. There are far too many tales of job seekers being stung by fraudulent “recruiters” or “employers”. In some cases, potential ESL instructors have lost ten or even fifteen thousand dollars... I don’t mean to scare you - this is just the harsh reality of a massive worldwide industry; there are bound to be a few bad apples the rest of us need to steer clear of. To put this in perspective, about 100,000 English teaching positions will open in the next year. In a sea of job postings this large, it’s easy to see how a handful may not be the most trustworthy employment opportunities.

This article is all about identifying and avoiding the bad apples, specifically common ESL job scams. There are definitely things you can do, from being aware of telltale signs to taking a couple extra steps to ensure you’re in good hands with any potential overseas employer, in order to keep yourself from being taken advantage of. If you refer to the list below while you conduct your search for an awesome position teaching English overseas, you’ll greatly reduce the chances of being scammed. Let’s start with one that might seem obvious, but is a vital piece to the puzzle of keeping your money in your bank account:

They ask you to send money.

Like I mentioned, this one might seem obvious. But when an ask for money comes several days or weeks into seemingly legitimate conversation about an exciting potential employment opportunity in a country you really want to visit, it might not be so obvious. On top of this, if you’ve never taught abroad or traveled to the destination in the past, it could be easy to assume that it’s completely normal to encounter paywalls along the way (it’s not).

Often, fraudulent requests for payment have to do with third parties, like travel or insurance agencies, or come from schools that don’t exist or that are posing as a legitimate school. These payment demands often include sending money via Western Union, bank/wire transfer or other online money transfer services.

All reputable ESL schools will require their English teachers to hold a form of ESL instruction certificate. The OISE University of Toronto TEFL certification is an example of one such credential. And of course, these courses do cost money. You’ll likely already have your TEFL certification by the time you’re applying for positions overseas, but in the event you do not and your potential employer has a suggested course for you, make sure you do your homework and ensure you’re not wiring money away for a course you’ll never end up completing. A course affiliated with a reputable university is a strong indicator that the course is legitimate.

They involve third parties.

I mentioned third parties above, but here’s a reiteration (this is important): Recruiting and hiring processes in the international ESL market may very well involve several different contacts at various organizations, but just beware that fake and imposter schools do often use “travel agents” or “insurance agents” as the recipients of scam payments.

They have a poor (or non-existent) reputation.

Applying only to reputable schools without an online history of  scam stories is key. The most efficient way to be connected with reputable ESL schools is to apply to schools through a trusted recruitment and/or job posting platform, like Teach Away, that you know partners only with schools and education organizations that will not scam you. This way, you need only to personally vet the recruitment company, not every single school they’re hiring for, although looking into the ones you’re seriously considering is still strongly recommended.

When consulting public reviews on social media or other review channels to determine the reputation of a school, education organization, or recruiting company, be sure to look out for false reviews. If a fake school scammer is doing a thorough job and has made sure all their bases are covered, they’ll do all they can to make sure their fake school looks like a real one - complete with reviews.

Their email address isn’t attached to the school’s domain.

A handy way to pick out potentially shady contacts when communicating via email about potential employment is to keep an eye out for email addresses that don’t contain the school’s domain name. Here are a few ways it can happen and things to look for:

  • Someone is trying to imposter a school representative by corresponding with you from a Gmail, Live, Yahoo, or other familiar email address. In this case, their address might be something like instead of This isn’t a definitive indicator of an imposter, but it is something to take note of and look out for during your job search.
  • Someone is trying to imposter a school representative by intending to slip a close-to, but not quite right, domain name by you. In this case, their address might be something like instead of

Tip: After your first email interaction with a school rep and if you’re ever introduced to a new contact at a school, simply copy and paste the domain name portion (that’s the part after the @ symbol) into your browser to check out their website. If the website doesn’t exist, if it’s different from the school’s legitimate website, or if it looks like the site exists just to hold space, you could be dealing with a scam artist.

They use poor spelling or grammar.

Like the strange email address hint, poor spelling and grammar isn’t necessarily a dead giveaway, but rather something to note when you see it - more so when you spot it in certain places. For example, if you’re exchanging emails with someone overseas whose first language might not be English, you shouldn’t expect their messages to be flawless.  But, errors in job postings and on “school” websites should be cause for concern. Poor spelling and grammar in these places shows lacking professionalism, education and care. Take special note and be extra cautious of schools or recruiters using ALL CAPITALS AND LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!

The opportunity seems too good to be true

Don’t get me wrong. There are some incredible ESL job opportunities out there for aspiring English teachers, but it’s a competitive job marketplace, so even though some schools may offer better salaries, benefits, and other perks than others, there usually won’t be schools offering double or triple the pay of similar schools in similar regions for the same position.

If a job posting boasts an opportunity that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be especially careful with these - definitely don’t engage in any sort of transaction and do your research with the utmost diligence.

There’s never been an ESL job market like there is today - and you can expect it to keep growing at an incredible rate through 2020. There are thousands and thousands of job openings for TEFL-qualified English teachers and more efficient online tools than ever before to communicate the details of these positions to candidates like you. Just keep in mind with such a hectic job market and with easy-to-use job posting options, scamming is easier, too.

When seeking your ESL job, use your resources to your advantage - do your homework and most importantly, be aware that scammers are out there.

Ready to find the right job for you at a reputable school? Check out Teach Away’s ESL job board.


Thanks for this , I got scammed just like this but I’m hoping my payment is cancelled and I get my money back
Hello , very informative posting. Thanks

I have a question if you could probably answer . What about the scan jobs in China , I have had three mails saying that they find me the right candidate because I have many years of experience and even in two emails they even attached school brochure PDF .what do you reckon.

Muktesh Rohela
I would advise teachers to always ask for an email address of a foreign teacher already working at the school and then arrange to talk to them on Skype/Zoom etc. If there is a reluctance on the part of the employer to provide this then walk away. It doesn’t eliminate every dodgy employer but it certainly tips the balance in your favour.
stephen cairns
What do you know about a site called Teach Abroad? They have many ESL positions worldwide. They charge $120 for six months. I applied to about 33 openings, mostly in Europe. I got about seven responses from school officials/people in the countries. I have followed up with the various schools recently but have not heard from any of the schools. Is this a fraud or what?
David Fuhriman
Hi Brett,

Your posting on How To Spot ESL Job Scams was helpful and clear.
Best wishes,

Luke Lundemo

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