How Candidates and Schools Can Learn from Our Experience
by Dr. Linda M. Duevel,
Director of International School of Stavanger, Norway
the past several months, the International School of Stavanger,
Norway has been
with a new and unpleasant
phenomenon — being
internet pirates. We have
learned some things along the way that may be of use to
but equally importantly to international school teacher
do not seek sympathy by sharing the story, but rather seek
to alert other schools and candidates.
Schools may wish
to consider how they will react if the same thing happens.
The bad news for schools is while we are all vulnerable,
there are few safeguards. But the good news for candidates
by picking up some tips from what we have learned, they
can potentially protect themselves from falling into the
The scenario. . .
In February, 2011 the International School of
Stavanger started getting some e-mails from candidates applying
ESL and English teaching jobs. They referred to having seen
ads on various "ESL employment" web sites.
When I went onto one of these web sites,
sure enough there was a posting for an ESL job at our school
starting in May, 2011,
which would pay benefits including 1,800 Euro per month and suggesting
applicants write to an individual (who really does work here),
referring to her as the "Recruitment Manager." Of course,
the job was pure fiction. Probably the silliest part is the idea
that we would be paying a Euro-based salary. The Norwegian kroner
is the only currency we use for salary payments. (However, that
last piece of information is also what has led the police to
believe that this mischief had been accomplished not by a disgruntled
individual with a possible connection to the school, but was
probably was a “phishing” expedition.)
Things evolved when our innocent employee,
whose name was being used, started getting e-mail responses
from unwitting candidates
reacting to the long list of questions that she had supposedly
sent them to reply to. At least five fake e-mail addresses
had been established by the crooks. The candidates found our
real e-mail address by going onto our website after getting
suspicious and got in touch with the school. But too often
by the time they
did that, they had already sent in their personal information
to the fake e-mail addresses.
Another chilling point
was to see my own real e-mail address being used in correspondence.
you aware that from a “smart
phone” an e-mail can be sent by someone else that seemingly
is coming from your actual e-mail address? They
can send, but can’t be responded to—hence the need for the crooks
taking out a fake e-mail address and requesting the response
to come there. But it is a disquieting experience to see one’s
own e-mail address being manipulated for false pretenses.
The next surprise was to learn that our
entire website had been cloned. Our website address is www.isstavanger.no.
bought the domain name, www.isstavanger.org , then completely
copied our website making changes ONLY to the "Employment" section
where again, the fake jobs were listed. Whoever it was that
made the web site paid extra to have their personal details
shielded, so we have no
idea on which continent it originated.
The object of the pirates is to
extort money from unsuspecting candidates for the non-existent
jobs at our
school. After answering
the questions and sending in personal details including passport
copies, the candidates were requested first to send €900
for the first two months’ rent for the "accommodation" our
school would ostensibly provide--to be returned at "orientation" and
another €470 for a Visa Processing fee. (Remember--this
is to a school in a country that does not use the Euro as its
currency!) Once that money was received, then they would
ask for more, and then more, next for a “national medical card”,
next for a local “teaching certificate” and on and
on. We know of individuals in Ireland, England and Australia
who have sent in money. We know of candidates on every continent
except Antarctica who sent in personal documents including
university credentials and passport copies. One person called
and told us she has sent in €6,500! She told us her husband
had questioned her on whether the job could be a fake, but she
was quite sure it wasn’t as she had multiple Skype conversations
and an interview with me. The “other me” described
having a “problem” with the Skype reception and so “my” face
couldn’t be seen.
we know how many teachers have contacted us,
know how many others may be out there packing their bags to move
to Norway for “orientation” at the end of May,
July, or September — three orientation dates were offered.
We are aware that air tickets had been bought by several individuals
believing that they had a job here.
All the requests for money came along with
a fake “contract” with
my “signature" neither of which looked anything
like the real thing—but how would the candidate know
The money was to be sent to a Western
Union address in Spain. "Our
finance department in Norway is currently busy so they can't
accept payments from selected candidates at the moment. That
is why we have shifted that responsibility to our office in
Spain." Again—this sounds like an implausible answer,
but apparently there are enough people out there willing to
trust the answers to allow the pirates to earn a living. And,
if you go onto Western Union’s website, you can see just
how simple it is to become a Western Union agent yourself!
The result has been a
huge amount of time sending kindly responses to over 100 “candidates” who
contact us in a bewildered, confused and angry state at what
has happened when they figure out how to get in touch with
they haven't leveled those emotions at our school, they are understandably
upset with themselves for falling for the trick. I've
found myself responding to stressed out individuals who have
now sent along
a lot of their personal details and documents to an e-mail address
that has nothing to do with us. Not surprisingly, they are concerned
that they were duped and have the shadow of identity theft hanging
over their heads. And I can only respond to the ones who become
skeptical and find out that there may be a problem and get in
contact with us. We have no way of knowing how many others are
out there that we have not heard from—perhaps they will
walk through our door in late May, July or September when they
are supposed to arrive for “orientation.”
have traced the sources of the scam to 3 continents.
It used to be that the
internet scam e-mails we all have received were so implausible
that it was simple to just hit the delete
button. What I have learned through this process is the crooks
are getting more and more clever. Many of the “candidates” that
I have talked to are smart individuals who sincerely thought
they were applying for a real job. From my perspective, I can
see many red flags—but enough people applied to remind
me that what seems apparent is not always the case.
Should we have thought
to buy up the domains for ".com,
.net, .co.uk and .org" before? No—there are so many
combinations that it is a simple thing for someone dishonest
to easily come up with a plausible name for any school’s
website address. And opening fake e-mail and Skype addresses
is a very simple thing. I have suggested to schools that they
put a disclaimer on their website “Employment” page
warning applicants to beware of potential internet job scams.
We have been gratified that some of the providers, including
Skype, immediately shut down the fake accounts when we notified
them, but new ones can easily be opened. And a number of the "ESL
employment" websites have not heeded our requests to remove
the fake advertisements.
We have been very pleased at how quickly
and how seriously the police and the internet watchdog groups
advice to our school.
But unfortunately, there is not a great deal they can do to stop
the problem. In our case, we have traced the sources of the scam
to three different continents. While the amount of money sent
in to “our Spanish office” is a sizable loss to the “candidates,” in
the world of internet crime, the amounts are small enough that
the police can’t use their already overloaded resources
to track them down. In each of the cases where we know people
have sent money in, they reported back to us that when they approached
their local police the response was basically, “You sent
personal documents and money to an internet scam. We are sorry,
but we can’t help you beyond suggesting that you not do
Why our school? I don't
know, and I doubt that we are the only school being singled
out. It has been suggested that we might
have been a target because our school is fortunate to enjoy a
good reputation and exists in a country that is known for being
a great place to live. But in reality, we will probably never
know why we were “lucky” enough to become a target.
I have suggested to
fellow school heads that if their school notices that it suddenly
starts getting applicants for non-existent
jobs, rather than just deleting the e-mails, they might do some
investigation. After several months of hearing from many “candidates” the
number has now quieted down to just a few each week. That is
good for us, but just means that the criminals will migrate onto
another school where they can set up another scam and try to
soak more money out of more unsuspecting applicants.
It is not my aim to
malign the reputation of all “ESL” websites—I
am sure there are many that provide an excellent service in linking
schools with candidates. But we found that once a fake ad was
posted on one site, it seemed to magically multiply and be replicated
on many other sites. I would like to suggest to those individuals
running those sites that they do a better job in checking the
validity of the openings that are posted, but I also recognize
that this is easier said than done.
are some specific suggestions I have for candidates
your own independent research with a much more critical eye.
Anyone who had done an internet search on our school’s
name would have come up with our real website, not the fake one
the crooks were providing. Just copying a website address that
is listed in an e-mail doesn’t give a candidate any reliability.
How hard it is to type a school’s name on a Google search?
have all become too trusting that what we read online has an
to reality. Pay attention to red flags.
If an e-mail from a potential “employer” states, “DO
NOT CALL THE SCHOOL,” in all caps, (as it did in our case),
don’t be afraid to question that. The “candidates” who
ignored that directive and tracked down our phone number off
our real website, (or from any of the many other sources where
our school’s details are listed), are also the candidates
who saved themselves the aggravation of losing money or identity
pay their employees—they don’t ask their
potential employees to send them money! And schools certainly
don’t ask potential employees to send money to a Western
Union postbox in another country! (And I don’t mean to
malign the reputation of Western Union—I view them as a
victim in this scam as well.)
is a great and handy tool for both schools and candidates to
really, how can you be sure that the person
you are talking to is the genuine head of the school? Or for
that matter, for the head to know the person they are interviewing
is who they say they are? It has probably happened to all of
us at one time that a Skype conversation was conducted without
a visual of the other person being available. But rather than
accepting that in a job interview, perhaps the wiser thing to
do is to suggest that the technology gets rebooted and start
fresh. (And by the way, the “other Linda Duevel” apparently
described herself as being a Norwegian citizen who was married
to a British citizen. “She” speaks quite good non-native
English, with only a trace of an accent. It wouldn’t have
taken Sherlock Holmes to find out that none of those three points
the case of the scam with our school, the crooks lifted the
name of an innocent
actual office employee from our website,
presumably to make it all appear more credible. A phone call
to the school to verify the validity of the posted job is a wise
move to consider. It is not an imposition to the school—or,
if it is, do you really want to contemplate working for that
school? The switchboard operator or receptionist who answers
the phone in virtually any international school will be able
to tell you if the school has jobs posted—or can connect
you to someone who can verify that fact.
recommend taking a look at a press release on the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation website: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/Pages/email-scams.aspx
They were also plagued by similar scams and have some very useful
suggestions on this press release.
very reticent about sending personal documents via the internet.
Be absolutely certain that the individual you are corresponding
with is indeed representing the school.
it is not my intention to give the impression that the only way
to get a good job at a good school is to attend a job
fair, it is worth mentioning that they do provide an antidote
to this issue. Another way to look at it is to encourage candidates
to check in with any of the recruiting fair organizers or any
of the multitude of membership organizations that most international
schools are connected with. If you are having trouble tracking
down telephone and real website details, they, or their online
membership directories, will be able to assist you.
you have found yourself the victim of internet fraud,
be afraid to share that information. There is strength in numbers.
I’m sharing this information because I want to see that
no one else—candidate or school—gets victimized.
Your story could assist someone else as well.
our case, the fake contracts copied graphic details from our
real website to make
the documents appear more official.
Our real contracts don’t look anything like what was
sent. If you find yourself holding a contract that looks graphically
very similar to a potentially cloned website, be very suspicious.
the old adage: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably
is. Be wary!
While we can't do much more here in Stavanger than what we have
been doing, whatever can be done to keep other schools and
unwitting candidates from being victimized, I believe, will
be in the best interest of all connected with international
education. If our experience here at the International School
of Stavanger helps someone avoid the same issues, I will be
Beware and good luck to all of us in avoiding this exceedingly
nasty distraction from our real jobs working with teaching and
Dr. Linda M. Duevel, Director, International School of
ISR wishes to thank
Dr. Duevel for creating this article on such short notice
and for contributing
the safety and well being of all of us involved in International