The vast majority of schools that pay to use ajarn.com in their search for teachers are decent law abiding citizens. They purchase credits in order to post job ads or view teacher resumes - and that is exactly what they do.
Many of these ajarn.com users choose to pay for their credits using a company credit card. Normally, everything associated with the transaction checks out. The credit card holder will be authorized to use that card. There will be a legitimate postal address at the top of any invoices. The employer will supply us with an office phone number in case we need to query something. It's just a normal day in the ajarn accounting department. But very occasionally, we receive a credit card payment that sets off all our alarm bells. And our gut feeling tells us that we have another teacher scammer in our midst.
You need to develop a sixth sense when you run an online business that takes credit card payments. It can often be hours before a bank flags up a credit card as stolen and in those few hours, the scammer can use their credits to view teacher resumes and dupe unsuspecting victims.
Today, we received a credit card payment at 6.09am. Someone recruiting for a company (or school) had downloaded and paid for 30 credits. This was potentially enough for the credit card holder to view 30 teacher resumes - a potential 30 scam victims.
The time of the transaction alone raised eyebrows. There aren't many Thailand based recruiters - unless they are chronic insomniacs or serial early birds - who would be getting down to the business of recruiting teachers at such an ungodly hour. Further inspection and analysis was definitely necessary.
Every detail filled in on the official ajarn invoice looked suspect. There was a contact phone number that was clearly nine digits plucked out of thin air. The office address was a PO box number in the USA and the company name was completely different to the name of the school (which to be fair is quite common) But frankly, the whole operation looked very dodgy indeed.
We felt that we had enough evidence to void the credit card transaction there and then but in these cases, we always like to go on the internet and do a bit more research. And sometimes it's amazing what you can dig up.
The bogus employer had supplied us with an e-mail address that included a website URL. One glance at the website and you' can see the potential scam beginning to take shape already. There is a nice photograph of a clearly well-funded institute but the website is packed with nothing but dummy text and the photos are poorly formatted. All that glitters is not gold. If you click on any of the menu links, all you get are more pages with more dummy text. And isn't one of those photos on the homepage a scene from ‘High School Musical'?
Hmmmm...........who are these people and do they have a history of scamming teachers? Time to go back to the internet.
Google the name of the school itself and even more interesting evidence came to light. On a travel china guide website, someone posed the question in their forum "Is this school, apparently based in Shanghai, for real?"
An American forum user logged in to respond.
"The school is a fraud and a scam. They set up a website to make it look legitimate but it isn't. They are also sending emails to solicit people to apply for various teaching jobs and ask your personal information, including a scan of your passport. I hope everyone is smart enough to figure this out. I believe the scammers are operating from China. The website for the school is fake and this place does not exist. Please beware!"
He sounds like he knows his onions. And even though someone from Nigeria logged in a week later and posted a message in very bad English to try and reassure everyone that the school is bona fide and in dire need of teachers - I know whose side my money is on.
We also managed to find a teacher job site with a job ad for this particular school on it. A quick read of the company profile tells you all you need to know.
"Dear Employee, We have confirm you CV from jobs site and below are The following sample of the positions that are currently available"
And if that wasn't enough to raise your suspicions, it's followed by;
"Our goal is to recruit and retain the most talented and motivated people in order to build the best school. We aim to do this by providing an inclusive working environment, promoting well being, treating people with respect, communicating with employees effectively, and offering attractive incentives and opportunities with knowledge, also ability to teach independently on all conventional aspects of all positions required"
Does that look like the work of an educated international school recruiter to you?
This is not the work of a particularly clever scammer. I know very little about what it takes to part someone from their money illegally, but I would have thought keeping an eye on the internet and then changing company names the moment you start getting bad press, would be an obvious thing to do.
So beware all you chalkies. It's a jungle out there. I'd like to think most of us would spot the scam coming a mile off but there are always teachers who will get sucked in. When you are desperate for work and there are family mouths to feed, your guard is often down. Who cares if the school requires a small deposit, a copy of your passport photo page and your bank account details? Who cares when there's a wonderful teaching opportunity at a brand new school just waiting there for you.
On a more serious note, the whole issue does raise questions about teaching websites where anyone can access your details free of charge. The ajarn resume database was once a free-for-all but we learned our lesson a long time ago. Not everyone is looking for a good teacher.
For more reading on teacher scams, here is a teacher scam article we put in the ajarn street section a couple of years ago.