How to spot and deal with popular scam strategies in ELT

Common ELT scams and red flags: how to spot

Common ELT scams and red flags: how to spot


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies

As far as we believe, the most crucial thing in English teaching is embracing professionalism, creativity, and support. 

However, as in every sphere, there is another side to fraud, misleading information, and unfair business practices, which we will warn you about in this article. 

How do we spot unfair businesses and services in  ELT? Stay with us and get the answer!

Who is a "good" teacher?


Difficulties start from the process of managing your work.

Many students have unrealistic expectations due to some popular online narratives and their inability to conclude whether such narratives are fake information. 

Moreover, teachers who only start their journey in ELT may also become victims of such narratives: they start comparing themselves with other “professionals,” follow clients’ unrealistic requests, or are too shy to discuss the money matter honestly. 

Let’s talk about each situation in more detail.

From A1 to B1 in a month

Have you ever met students who want to become fluent in 30 days and expect you to have a magical set of recommendations that can be quickly followed and are supposed to have instant results? I am sure everybody has.

True, every teacher obtains a set of techniques and the knowledge of methodology to help the student proceed with the studying quicker than on their own. 

However, it’s impossible to reach from A2 to B2 in a month, and everybody who denies that is either a scammer or a seller whose priority is making you buy their product while using your urgent need for help for their benefit. 

For more information, check out our article on how much time you need to learn English, where we mention CERF classification, a set of requirements that a language learner must fulfill to prove their proficiency at a certain level, and a fact that to move from level to level you need to spend from 70 hours (moving from A1 to A2) to 1200 hours (from C1 to C2).

How much time does studying English take?

Here is a table of requirements that a student has to fulfill to move from level to level: 

DifficultyLevelTimeLearned Abilities
BeginnerA170 hoursgreetings, introductions, and fundamental phrases
A2180–200 hoursunderstanding common terms, exchanging basic ideas, and discussing basic critical issues
IntermediateB1350–400 hoursunderstanding the travel-related vocabulary, communicating aims, goals, timetables, and activities briefly and accurately
B2500–600 hourstaking part in discussions with ease, producing coherent sentences, supporting an argument, reading much more difficult and different texts, writing in a range of genres, and having an outstanding reading ability
AdvancedC1700–800 hourscan communicate freely and spontaneously with others, comprehend even longer  and more complex texts and subtext, and apply English in a variety of ways
C21000–1200 hoursunderstand the vast majority of what one reads and hears in English, be able to clearly articulate documents and conversations, recall the main points of debates, and effectively use linguistic nuance in everyday discussion

Now, it’s only a matter of Maths. Imagine that  the student needs to move from A2 to B2. 

According to the CERF classification, which defines all the requirements and is the basis of every studying process, you must spend approximately 1115 hours studying English. If you are promised to reach such a result in a month, you have to manage to fit these hours into a four-week schedule. 

After an easy manipulation of numbers, we see that the task is clearly impossible. 

But what about scams? How is this marketing myth implemented into the ELT? 

Firstly, you may meet the students who want to study “quickly.” Sure, you may propose an intense schedule to them; however, many people are not ready to work as much and as  hard. They are often victims of the myth that a teacher must know a particular trick to make studying quicker.

 If you face such a situation, you need to reduce the student’s expectations. 

Make sure that the student doesn’t underestimate the difficulties and challenges of learning a language, particularly the degree of commitment that awaits each student after they have decided to begin. Set realistic and achievable goals to avoid disappointment. 

Secondly, the company you apply to might spread such a myth as part of their marketing strategy.

If it is your case, consider looking for another place of employment so as not to end up guilty when the promised month reaches its end.

Dos and Don'ts of ESL teaching

1-hour-a-week challenge

Another widespread problem is a “busy student.” These students want to make insane progress by having one  lesson a week. 

Moreover, such students often fail to complete their homework because they are “too busy for that.”

This situation needs to be clarified immediately by showing the  CERF requirements and explaining that the assignment is necessary for better progress. 

It is easy to do if you work with individual students. 

However, it’s harder to manage such a situation when you are an employee of a client-oriented company whose priority is to make the student happy and carefree. You may work for a company where teachers work with the students for one hour a week and are still expected to show great results.

If it is your case, consider changing the workplace and looking for a client- and goal-oriented company.

Too expensive

Money is always a tricky question. However, it would be best to value your time and effort rather than settle for a salary that doesn’t correspond to your skills. 

Any lesson’s price includes:

Moreover, a low salary makes you work more and conduct a greater  amount of lessons, which makes you more and more exhausted. 

Sure, it’s pretty hard to explain to the students, but they need to know that they pay for more than a couple of hours of your time.

As for the employers who do not value your efforts and professionalism, the solution is simple: you must find a better position

Some employers may even be manipulative when it comes to raising salaries.

If you find yourself in a place where you constantly overwork, do someone else’s job without agreement (SMM, methodological support, manager, etc.), if your employer compares your conditions to other people’s in a business, lowers your self-esteem or uses any manipulative strategies instead of having a decent talk with you, you’d better leave.

You are dealing with scammers.

Kickstart your ELT career with our course!

Boost your ELT performance


We have discussed the importance of being certified and getting proper qualifications. And it’s unsurprising why so many teachers decide to give it a go and enroll in various certification programs. 

However, are you always sure your chosen company doesn’t consist of fraudsters who only take your money and waste your time? Let us go over some of the most common warning signs that you might be a victim of a scam. 

Too good to be true

Only a few businesses frequently offer fantastic career chances or unreasonably short-term training. 

Make sure to thoroughly read all the terms and conditions and ask further questions before signing up for anything or moving abroad to avoid ending up in a scenario where you don’t get what you were promised. 

Additionally, don’t hesitate to say no if the idea seems too good to be true. It’s never too late!

Find great job opportunities abroad!

Also, if you are promised any of these things, chances are you may be ripped off:

  • The living conditions of a place where you are going to live as an international student/intern are unbelievably good (ask for more real-time images and don’t trust what you see right away); 
  • The salary is too high for the role you are recommended to take after completing the course (you will likely be required to work much more);
  • Too little time is spent on the course. Therefore, if the company claims that the course would be shorter, quicker, or “more productive,” those claims are untrue or only partially accurate. Everything requires time, especially studying.

Pay for everything

It is essential to make it clear what you are purchasing.

Is it all for a course? Do you need to buy any materials? Afterward, will you be given a certificate or have to pay for it? Does the cost include the effort of the personal agent, whose responsibility it is to find you a job or help you with any questions? 

Decide what is most appropriate for you by asking, and avoid letting others take advantage of you by charging you for your lack of knowledge.

And remember, nobody has to pay a fee to apply for a job. 

Why should you, as a respectable professional whom  various companies may only dream of having as a part of their team, pay? Don’t fall for it because you feel like you lack experience or qualifications for certain positions. 

Well, maybe, but is it an excuse to charge the potential employee? I don’t think so. 

A visa is another important question.

When it comes to the visa, which you might require after finishing the course and landing a job abroad, there should be an upfront discussion about who will handle the paperwork and how it will be handled during enrollment.

Looking for a chance to earn extra cash?

No proofs

Companies that refuse to share customer feedback shouldn’t be trusted. 

Reputable businesses regularly and gladly, or at least occasionally, post about their successes on social media platforms or websites

What about the institution you are enrolling in? Can you find their website? Can you find anyone working there on LinkedIn or who has already found a better position thanks to this establishment? Can you reach any people who can genuinely recommend this place? Where is this company situated? Is it a respectable and unsuspicious location that is easy to find and come around to? 

Try to answer these questions and make your decision. 

Sharing your data

Under no circumstances may you disclose any of your personal information. 

Sharing your personal information is not a part of any enrollment process. What is more, never believe executives who constantly claim to be experiencing technical difficulties and request remote access to your computer under the excuse of showing something to you. They cannot possibly need it for your advantage.

Digital literacy matters!

“Helping hand”

Nowadays, so-called “agents,” “personal managers,” or “personal assistants” are a common fraud technique.

They either contact you during the entire application process until you pay the fee, then disappear as soon as they have what they want, or they take a significant portion of your paycheck for “helping” either during the studying process itself or at the new location (this could happen if you decide to look for a position after the course). 

Unreliable businesses may use “agents” in various other ways.

Ultimately, you should deepen into what this individual is doing and why. 

Don’t be shy to do it, and refuse the unwanted help if you feel like you don’t need any. It is true that some companies provide clients with personal assistance, and there is nothing wrong with this type of service. Just make sure you know whether you are supposed to pay for that.  

Communication with employers

Sometimes, though, it’s pretty hard to see the scammer before you become part of the team

However, if you start noticing these red flags at any point in your work with your employer, it might be a sign that you are dealing with scammers. 

A big turnover

People are coming and leaving all the time. Your position has been occupied three times a year, but no one seems to stay too long. Is it a coincidence?

A significant turnover is never an accident. It means that the employer didn’t meet the expectations of the number of people.

Why? It’s an excellent question. 

Be ready for the job interview!

Pay no effort

Sure, if you are a great specialist, interviews are never a challenge or a struggle. 

However, have you ever found yourself in a place where the interview could be more challenging? The company representatives don’t ask about your prior experience too much; they don’t care about your education or even ask about teaching certification. 

Well, you have to know that it’s not good at all.

Chances are they are hiring anybody because the conditions are so poor that no respectable professional would agree.

Be careful, and don’t be too happy if the interview is too easy and short. You might have talked to a scammer! 

Strange ways of attracting new students

We all know that ads often go wild nowadays. However, every business that sells services should present them to their customers first and foremost.

If your potential employer makes iPhone giveaways, promises you some photoshoots in addition to the course you are supposed to purchase, etc., it looks cringy and suspicious rather than reliable and serious. 

There are many ways to attract the attention of eager English learners, so look for a company that knows them. 


There are specific pros and cons to working as a self-employed ESL teacher

One of the possible problems that many ESL teachers can’t stand is looking for new students on their own and doing a lot of managing work instead of teaching itself. That is why some join companies, schools, courses, etc

This way, you may get less money but won’t do one more piece of work simultaneously. 

However, if you are still looking for students on your own, advertising yourself, and being a part of the team at the same time, you need to leave. The company you are with  doesn’t do its  job.

No approved curriculum 

Last but not least, it’s not OK if the school doesn’t provide you with certain standards, directions, and approved materials.

Working in an educational establishment means following specific requirements

Of course, you may add your bits of creativity and use your materials as some additional practice; however, don’t let scammers use your intellectual property for their own benefit and give you nothing in return.

More effective tips on working with adults


To sum up, there are plenty of ways you may face some red flags or even become a victim of a scam. 

There are no general rules on how to avoid such situations; however, remember to listen to your gut feeling, treat yourself as a professional, and demand the respect that any professional deserves.

Agents that help you while enrolling in certain training courses are always helpful.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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