About Tutor Scams

Attention tutors! Please be aware of a scam that targets private tutors!

You may be contacted by a scammer who saw your announcement on this website, or on another website such as Craigslist. 

Red Flags

The initial email from a scammer may look like an ordinary inquiry from a parent.  Here is an example:  "My name is Fortini Davies, I got your contact on Berkeley Parents Network. I want to know if you can teach my 15 years old daughter Drawing & Painting. Get back to me if interested."

Once you respond, you'll see some of these red flags in the scammer's emails or texts. 

  1. They are arranging tutoring for their child but they themselves cannot meet with you.  These scams are typically run from overseas, so the scammer often provides a reason why they can't meet with you in person. They may say they will be traveling to the US for business and they are arranging in-person tutoring for their child ahead of time. Or they live in a foreign country but their child (or niece or nephew) will be visiting the US. They'll tell you the tutoring can take place at a library, or at the nanny's house, or any other place you choose.

  2. The tutoring will be short-term. They say they want to arrange tutoring for just a short amount of time, such as 4-6 weeks.  Typically they ask for sessions 2-3 times a week. Their goal is to create a bill that is large enough to be very attractive to the tutor. The short duration provides a plausible reason why they're paying all at once.

  3. They want to pay the entire fee in advance. They ask you to tell them your total fee and they will send you the money in advance, which typically is in the range of $500-$2000. They will not question the fee you propose - the more expensive you are, the better for the scam!

  4. They want to pay you with a check. They might say their attorney needs to cut the check, or that they are unfamiliar with online payment systems. They will send a cashier's check from a real bank, so your bank will quickly credit it to your account. However, it will take 1-2 weeks for the check to work its way through the financial system and be identified as counterfeit. 

  5. The agreement must be made quickly. The scammer will often provide a reason why you need to act quickly. They might say their attorney, who is sending you the check, will be on vacation next week. Or they are leaving in a few days and will be out of contact for a while. They may pester you (in a very polite way) for an immediate response.  You are already incentivized to act quickly because of the attractive lump sum. The scammer is in a hurry to get you to deposit his check.

  6. Poor grammar & punctuation. The scammers often use Anglo-sounding names to give the impression they are American or British, but their emails contain grammatical errors that a native English speaker would not make such as mixing up pronouns, random capitalization, or awkward wording such as telling you their son or daughter is "clean."

  7. Slip-ups with names & facts.  The student's name or gender might change within a single email, and even the scammer's name might be different on subsequent emails. Scammers send out huge volumes of emails, using fill-in-the-blank boilerplate for names, ages and tutor subjects. Sometimes they mix up what they've already told to which victim. This is often the tip-off that makes a tutor suspicious enough to do a little research.

How the Scam Works

  1. Once you and the scammer have agreed on the total amount, the scammer will send you a cashier's check for substantially more than the agreed-upon fee. For example: you told the scammer your total fee is $800 and he sends you a check for $1200. There will be a reason for the excess, such as the check includes the child's expenses while in the US.

  2. The scammer will tell you to deposit the cashier's check into your bank account, and once your bank has credited you with the check, he will "trust" you to send him the excess amount by wire, gift cards, Zelle, or other transfer methods that are not traceable. 

  3. After a day or two, your bank credits the cashier's check to your account. Thinking you have the cash in your account now, you withdraw the excess from your account and send it to the scammer.

  4. In a week or two, the scammer's check will be found to be counterfeit, and your bank will deduct the amount of the scammer's check from your account. You will be liable for the entire amount. There is no way to recover it.

This type of scam is called a Check Overpayment Scam. See About Check Overpayment Scams for details.

What to do if you receive email from a scammer

  1. Do not respond! If you've already replied, ignore further emails.
  2. If they sent you a check, tear it up.
  3. If they used a gmail address, report it to google using this page: https://support.google.com/mail/contact/abuse?hl=en
  4. If they tricked you into sending money, file a report with your local police department. This won't get your money back, but it creates a record so we all can know how often this happens.
  5. You can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission and other government offices on this page: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-report-fake-check-scams
  6. Don't take it personally. These scams are run out of countries that have few economic opportunities, so to the scammer, it's just a job. This is a job that can be done from home, there is little overhead, and the story the scammer tells has been carefully crafted to gain the confidence of unsuspecting people.  These scams are very widespread and have been around for decades. They target not only tutors but also childcare providers, job seekers, landlords, and any other situation where someone is offering a service or a product online. See Craigslist's Avoiding Scams for more examples of this and other scams.

Example of a Tutor Scam Email

From: John Conroy johnconroy001 [at] gmail.com
Subject: Re: Math and Science tutoring from a Berkeley PhD (oakland lake merritt / grand)


Hi, Thanks for your reply regarding my inquiry.Am John Conroy from UK,my 15 year old Son (Mike) will be coming to U.S for his holiday,and he is interested in having Algebra Maths / English Composition lesson during the holiday.He is a middle school student,very brilliant , sharp and smart little boy.He will be meting you for 1 hour lesson per day(3 times per week) either at you house or any nearest library(Morning or Afternoon).I got a good and responsible nanny that will relocate to your area to take proper care of him and also to always drive him down to the location of the lesson.So please Kindly get back to me the following: 1.Your charges per hour. 2.Total charges for 1 month that he will be taught one hour per day in 3 times a week. Please i may not get back to you on time through mail,this is due to the nature of my job.So mobile contact will be preferable.Waiting to read or hear from you soon. Thanks. John. T:+44 702 405 4527