4 Common Work Abroad Scams & 10 Ways to Avoid Them

by Laura Jelich

Working abroad is pretty much the dream. After all, there isn’t a much better situation than getting paid to live abroad! However, it is unfortunately becoming increasingly easy and common for scammers to take advantage of eager, unsuspecting applicants. Before throwing your money into a dead end opportunity, or falling victim to identity theft, do your research and keep an eye out for the following four most common work abroad scams:

Young girl in Myanmar with paint on her face
You want to make a difference teaching abroad - so do your research and avoid getting scammed before you step in the classroom! 

Scams in ESL Teaching

The easiest way to get ripped off by an ESL teach abroad scam is by not doing your research. Before you even think about applying, research the standard work conditions in your country of choice and make yourself very familiar with the the typical opportunities available. What are the average benefits and compensation, job descriptions, qualifying requirements, commitment duration, etc.?

Not only will doing your research help you find the position that best fits your needs, wants, and abilities, but it will make it easy to spot suspicious outliers and promises that are too good to be true. If the country standard requires you to be TEFL certified with a minimum amount of teaching hours, that one job that overlooks your blatant lack of experience is probably a scam. Likewise, if a seemingly standard teaching position offers quadruple what the other guys pay, you might want to walk away.

Scams as an Au Pair

Similar to ESL teaching jobs abroad (and really any job abroad), it is important to do your research and understand the status quo when applying for work as an Au Pair. Fake Au Pair families will often reach out with urgent or demanding messages explaining why their family needs your help, offer well beyond average compensation, request copies of sensitive personal information, refuse Skype or phone conversations, and at some point, will prematurely ask for money to help cover costs or ensure your commitment to them.

Scammers typically reach out via email, Facebook, or other portals outside the communication form provided by the Au Pair agency to avoid tracing and allow for easily erasing communication trails (though they may contact you appropriately initially via an Au Pair agency).

Typical red flags include:

  • Checks from the host family that will “prove” their seriousness, before they ultimately cancel your services for some tragic reason and request that you return the money, only to cancel the initial checks upon receiving your compensation money.
  • Using a trusted “travel agent” they recommend to ensure your protection, for which they will reimburse you for upon your arrival (spoiler alert: they won’t, and you won’t hear from them again).
  • Similarly, using and paying the family “lawyer” to process your paperwork.
  • Emails requesting your account validation, which are generally from an agency copycat with slightly different contact info.
  • American host families that do NOT hold a J-1 visa sponsor (which is the national requirement).
Girl giving a child a piggy back ride
Watch out for fake families looking to scam au pairs

Scams in Business & Management

Unless you are the next Steve Jobs, chances are overseas corporations are not lining up to hire you on the spot. When it comes to business/management jobs abroad, recruitment scams are the most common strategy used by identity thieves.

Be wary of incoming emails that pose as human resource recruiters who reach out requesting personal information right off the bat in response to applicant interest via job boards or other general job forums. Not only should you expect a lengthy process including a face-to-face interview prior to handing out any information above and beyond the usual resume, cover letter, and references, but a social security number is not absolutely necessary to do a background check.

Scams in Hospitality

Similar to business/management scams, receiving an email from a hospitality recruiter who has seemingly mysteriously heard about your interest in their available position is almost always a scam. Typically, hospitality scams will offer the job with very little questions asked, only that you pay for the visa fees upfront. Any hospitality job that doesn’t insist on an interview, requests copies of personal and/or financial information, and requires upfront payment is not legitimate.

Do your research (is it clear yet how important this is?), and be suspicious of any offer that is above and beyond the expected salary and perks.

General Scam-Spotting Tips

1. Check the email.

Because there are a plethora of free email providers (such as Google, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.), be vary wary of any “professional” email addresses ending in one of these generic domains. Any legitimate company has their own domain, and will therefore have emails addresses that reflect their specific name, for example: name@companyname.com

2. Check the address.

Any organization that uses a P.O. box or other mailing address inplace of a permanent physical address should immediately raise a red flag. Scammers typically work remotely or from home, so in an effort to avoid detection or suspicion, they will provide an address that cannot be tracked to a physical location.

Empty hotel room
Hospitality scams also offer jobs no-questions-asked, except for your personal information and payment for visa fees upfront.

3. Check the protocol.

Websites URLs that use “http” or a simple “www” are not necessarily secure and should be perceived with caution, especially when it comes to inputting personal information or wiring money. Https is much more legitimate and secure. Http literally stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, while HTTPS is HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure.

4. Ask for references.

If available, always read reviews by those who have worked for the business or utilized the hiring service in question. Additionally, ask hiring services for names of employers and employees alike who have utilized their services. Scam artists will make excuses that suggest a breach of privacy or negating the necessity of the middle man (them), but legitimate companies should be more than happy to brag about their success stories.

5. Always interview.

I can’t think of a single respectable organization that would hire an applicant to represent their brand, product, or service without insisting on any kind of interview. Most legitimate businesses will be eager to fully and personally introduce themselves and the mission, vision, and values of their company. Be extremely skeptical of any instant-hire offers or act-fast ploys, as they are likely a scam. Always insist on talking to a human, don’t complete any hiring process strictly via email interaction.

6. Avoid upfront payment.

Never pay any type of initial fee for a hiring service, or any fee prior to being hired for that matter. Services that require upfront fees and offer vague promises of job prospects are generally just money holes that will result in no legitimate leads and will most likely stop all communication upon receiving the payment.

7. Use a reputable search engine.

Using a pre-existing, reputable search engine, such as GoAbroad.com (hint, hint), can take the guesswork out of finding a legitimate program and make finding a position that much smoother and more efficient in the process. Similarly, if you do find a potential placement via your own searching devices, take a few seconds to type the organization name into Google to see what pops up about them when you aren’t researching them directly on their own website.

8. Use common sense.

Be wary of postings that require too much personal information, want to seal the deal quickly, are unwilling to give a written contract, have spelling and grammar mistakes, and offer only vague and sketchy job descriptions. Never send cash in the mail, be skeptical of money orders, and read contracts thoroughly. Pay attention to red flags.

Coworkers brainstorming in conference room
If it seems like a job that’s too good to be true, you’d be wise to scout reviews and try to connect with former employees

9. Cross-check scammer databases.

If you notice any red flags, always cross-check the organization in question with scammer databases created for just such occasions. Some examples include the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

10. If it seems to good to be true…

...it probably is. Sorry, but that is life. While there are undoubtedly incredible opportunities out there available to those who seek them out, nothing worth having ever comes easy. I know, yet another cliche, but they are overused for a reason; they are true!

To sum it up

All of the above can be pretty neatly summed up by simply saying: do your research, think critically, and don’t overlook anything if you want to avoid making a major mistake in your job search. Know what to expect, and you won’t fall into the trap of big promises and fake, but seemingly reasonable requests for money.