Online fraud or Internet fraud is an unfortunate reality that all of us who conduct any online transactions must be wary of. From email spam to phishing to extortion to payroll diversion, and the list goes on. The US FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported in its 2018 Annual Report that it received a total of 351,936 complaints with losses exceeding US$2.7 Billion. As such, online tutoring is no exception and has seen its fair share of scams. We at TutorOcean want to highlight two types of scams we see most prevalently perpetrated against both tutors and students who use online tutoring. We hope that this will help everyone be more aware and adjust their practices and behaviour to avoid falling victim to such nefarious activities.
Protecting against undelivered pre-paid services for online tutoring
In this case, the prospective student has found a tutor online who meets their needs (e.g. knowledgeable, responsive, flexible, and at the right price). The student contacts the tutor and discusses the details of how to proceed. The tutor asks for upfront payment of the sessions to be provided. The student agrees and sends the tutor the fees. Unfortunately, the tutor then does not show up for the sessions and “ghosts” the student. This can happen for any type of service but for online tutoring, the problem is compounded by the fact that likely the student does not know where the tutor lives and there is no damage to the credibility or reputation of the tutor. The most typical solution is not to pay upfront but that means the student may not get the services of a legitimate tutor who gauges has otherwise been cheated by non-paying customers in the past.
As such, for online tutoring (as with other services), the use of a trusted platform with reliable security and that provides an integrated payment system is key. A reputable platform such as TutorOcean will verify the tutors and also collect all their contact and payment information to avoid tutors or students from absconding and also to be able to adjust payments that were processed. Also, the online classroom is a very good tool to use for tutoring. At times, it may even be tempting for students and tutors to make contact through the platform but arrange independent payment schemes. This can work out well but the convenience (e.g. handling currency exchanges, taxes, etc.) and safety against fraud or mistakes should be taken into serious consideration.
Protecting against overpayment scams online
Some of us may have put various things or services for sale online such as on Kijiji or Craigslist, etc. It is often wonderful to receive immediate interest in our listings. Even better when the buyer tells you that they have sent the money as a cheque in the mail to ensure that they’re the ultimate buyer. Here is when the scammer has the seller or service provider on the hook. Then, the scammer will tell the seller that in their haste (or for some other reason – rounding error, misreading, etc), they have overpaid the agreed price in their cheque, sent by mail. They may even have provided you with an image of a non-negotiable cheque made out to you for the amount. The scammer will then urge you to send them a cheque for the difference. In the euphoria of getting the sale, some of us will do exactly that and fall for the scam. The scam is very simply that the cheque sent to the seller was never in the mail or in some cases is not even a valid cheque that will be honoured by any bank. For tutoring services, the “cheque” that’s in the mail is much easier to fabricate.
The sensible protection against such scams is not to send any requested refund until the alleged payment cheque has arrived and been cleared. Even better protection is to use a secured payment system on a trusted platform and not accept personal cheques from a non-traceable source.
On TutorOcean’s platform for online tutoring services, we have seen such cases of the above fraud. **These cases of fraud are not faults with any system security but rather targeting human behaviour.** We have resolved such cases on our platform by mediating communications between various parties that were involved, contacting law enforcement and relied on our control of the payment processing system. In today’s online world, most systems are built to be secure against “hard” security assault by hackers but scammers prey on the credulousness of human nature. To minimize this risk, be aware and use trusted online platforms run by reputable companies.
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