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Looking for Work Abroad? Don’t Fall for These Common Scams

Learn how to spot fake job opportunities abroad so you don’t lose money and/ or personal information.

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Learn how to spot fake job opportunities abroad so you don’t lose money and/ or personal information.

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Travelling is cool. It allows you to experience new cultures and ways of life other than yours. Whether you’re journeying overseas or just jaunting across land borders, there are always a lot of interesting novelties to take in and dainty mementos to collect. If you’ve been offered a job by an organization based abroad and it requires that you visit new lands, and perhaps, all expenses paid by the organization – well then, accept my congratulations.

And if you plan on going prospecting (online, of course), there are a few things you need to know to avoid falling victim to job scams, especially shady schemes and agencies promising gainful employment abroad. In your search for better economic opportunities, you must tread with caution and perform preliminary checks, else you may part with your hard-earned money before you smell a rat and realize you’ve been conned – which is often too little too late. 

As migration rates continue to increase, people’s quest for better career opportunities and standards of living overseas has also created an opportunity for scammers. With limited jobs available to cater to a rapidly increasing unemployed populace, many job seekers have fallen prey to the activities of the scammers. A lot of them pose as overseas recruitment agencies to defraud unsuspecting applicants.

For starters, be sure to do a background check on any recruitment agency before engaging them. Limit your search to trusted websites and be sure to verify every piece of information you see online before taking action. Don’t be impatient and naïve, better safe than sorry.

The rest of this article describes methods you can take to identify fake and fraudulent job recruiters and ways to avoid them.


Work abroad scams and ways to avoid them

The easiest way to get ripped off by an English-as-a-second-language (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 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 (domestic help)

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 ensuring your protection, for which they will reimburse you 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).

Scams in business & management

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 few 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 (very important), 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 service providers (such as Google, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.), be very wary of any “professional” email addresses ending in one of these generic domains. Any legitimate company has its own domain, and will therefore have emails addresses that reflect its specific name, for example, [email protected]

2. Check the address

Any organization that uses a P.O. box or other mailing address in place 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.

3. Check the protocol

Website 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 and employee reviews

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 negate 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, and don’t complete any hiring process 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 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 

  • 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.

8. If it seems too good to be true… 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 cliché, but they are overused for a reason; they are true!

To sum up, although there are legitimate work abroad opportunities out there, scammers are capitalizing on the high demand to work abroad, to con unsuspecting job seekers. You have to carry out research and perform rigorous checks while on the lookout for red flags that may indicate a scam. See ya!

Written by

Tobey C. Okafor

Internet Entrepreneur and Content Writer based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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