A Letter to New Online Tutors
In the Beginning:
It had been a wonderful fall when I started my tutoring business just 3 months ago. I looked for advice online on how to build this business. I read everything I could find and watched tons of how to become an online tutor videos on how to get my online math tutoring going. My blog was the first to go up. I got a domain name. My basic website got up. A rough attempt at an introductory video got made and uploaded to YouTube. I was extremely excited and hard at work getting the pieces of my business together. I haven’t worked this hard since I had gotten my Master’s degree in Mathematics 20 years earlier.
But, this was all new to me. Every piece of my business I had never done before. So I took extra pride at how hard I worked to figure it all out and get it running at what felt like a very rapid pace. I worked all day and into most nights, not because I had to, but because I wanted to learn and learn and learn and put it into practice. I had taught high school and college for 30 years which turns out to be quite a different job than setting up the business. I had a salary. I didn’t have to look for students. Business was not a part of my academic home I lived in. With all that said, I knew I was a terrific teacher. I don’t say that easily. That’s not my M.O. My principals and deans I worked with told me I was a great teacher. My students told me I made math so easy to understand. So, I wasn’t worried about the actual tutoring. I had done a little of that throughout the years. I knew that if I could get parents and students to find me, I would win them over with my tutoring.
My brain was always thinking about how I would get new students because I had no word of mouth yet. I needed to be seen. I wasn’t afraid to guerrilla advertise anywhere locally or online. This started to work. I got students coming in about 2 weeks after starting my business. I kept my eye on marketing and building my online presence and worked an enormous number of hours. Every time I got a new client, I was overjoyed. Yes, I did it! The next student confirmed. Yes, it seemed like the universe was telling me. I worked so hard to land every student, so I rejoiced every time.
This was all really great, but the part I didn’t realize or pay enough attention to thinking about was that I was asking complete strangers to pay me their money for tutoring. Of course, I knew I was charging them. I used PayPal for online students or cash if it was in person. I thought that was all I really needed to do. But, I was sadly mistaken. To say it’s been a bad month is an understatement of epic proportions.
The Set Up and Scam:
As I was working so hard to bring in new students and talking to lots of parents, it would vary. Some parents were ready to start, just tell them the price and they checked out my website, filled out the registration, set up our first session and we were off and tutoring. Other parents wanted to know more. They needed to be convinced. So I would explain things and send them to my website to look around at my videos and about me. More times than not, that worked and we got going.
Locally I put out flyers, business cards, signs on my car, letters to all the counselors in all the high schools near me, every district had me on the tutoring list. Online I started using Facebook marketplace and groups like buy/sell/trade. Once I went online, the weird stuff started. Creepy men would contact me to “be their friend” or disguised as a man but really from another country, mostly Russian speaking. But, I knew I could block those people out and move on. Those red flags got put up very quickly in my budding marketing mind. But, I was there only for tutoring, so I could focus right back to that. In hindsight, I should have thought that if creepy guys could try to connect with me, creepy people could also be out to scam me. Unfortunately, I am a very trusting, optimistic person that tries to think the best of people. But, the scammers preyed on that “quality” of myself.
I had two different people posing as prospective parents contact me. Great, I thought, new clients? They were two different men asking for tutoring for their sons. Fine, nothing weird there. They didn’t ask me what I charged, they were ready to set up the tutoring. Multiple sessions a week and they would pay for the month in advance. This too is not necessarily a weird thing. Many well to do parents will pay whatever it takes to get their children an “A” in math. Paying ahead for a month, I had not run across yet as I was new at this. When someone contacts me, I always send them back a note to tell me more before I even tell them a price or to visit my website. So I did that with both of them. Each of them seemed to be in a great hurry to set up the sessions. But, at the same time they both gave me very elaborate stories of what was going on. One said that his wife had just died and the caregiver would be bringing the student. This didn’t set off a red flag for me because I had been tutoring a middle school boy who had just lost his dad and whose dad did work out of town during the week. The other parent wrote in very broken English using two different emails. The broken English didn’t bother me because there are many immigrants around my town. The different emails I figured were one for the husband and one for the wife and it was an Asian name. Both parents set up appointments and then on the day of the tutoring, called and canceled. But, they both said they would pay me for the missed session. Since I had an absence policy of 24 hours notice, I didn’t think anything was strange. But now, in hindsight, I could not get them to fill out my registration I had posted on my website. I asked them over and over again, but they both said they would bring the registration to the first session. Both then missed the session and the lack of registration should have been red flags. I missed them both.
The day of the sessions came and went and so I checked my PayPal account to see if I was paid. I do this after every session. No payment was made by either person. So, I had free time and decided to look at my PayPal activity and make sure it matched what I had on my Excel Payment sheets. That’s where I saw that there was a payment made OUT of my PayPal account and to another person. I never used my PayPal to pay for anything, only to collect tutoring money. At this point I couldn’t breathe. I went to my checking account and every single cent of my money was gone. ALL the tutoring money I had worked so hard to get and earn was gone. Thousands of dollars and every cent in the world that I owned was gone in an instant. I contacted PayPal right away and they said that everything looked normal on their end. The account was password protected and was used to get into my PayPal account. Once in the account, there is no checking either direction to your bank or away from your bank. Money just gets sent. I spent two hours on the phone with them and I got absolutely nowhere. There was no fraud protection possible because they had used my password. So I went to my bank and told them the situation and asked why they wouldn’t have notified me if my account was being completely drained. They said it was a good faith thing and it was up to the customer how much they took out of the bank. Spending 3 hours with them and the fraud department, they would not budge. The money was gone and I wasn’t getting it back. So I went to the Sherriff’s precinct and reported the incident. I brought all the emails and text messages I had from both of them. The Sherriff said he would file a report but don’t expect anything to come of it. Later that day, the Sherriff called and said he had found those two names and numbers, one in Virginia and one in Mexico. Both turned out to be fake names.
I have been devastated ever since. No money, no way to pay bills or my mortgage or anything. I had put my heart and soul into building this online math tutoring business and it had all been shattered. Do I continue? Do I move forward? If I do, I obviously need to change the way I do business with strangers.
Here is what I know now, that didn’t even occur to me then.
After the initial conversation with prospective parents, I will have them go to my website and fill out the registration form. I will not be booking any tutoring until I get that form from them. The scammers would not do this no matter how hard I tried. Red Flags!
2. No more long, long interactions between parents and myself. If they are serious
about tutoring, they will go to the website and fill out the registration. If they don’t,
then it’s not meant to be. People scamming you don’t want to give you any
information on paper. The long interactions are a red flag that something is wrong.
In my case they were seeing if I was a trusting person and would keep talking with
them, all the while draining my bank account.
3. I have changed my password to PayPal and I will be changing it every week to protect
against anyone stealing my identity. All the parties involved believe this is how they
got to my money, by hacking my password and stealing my identity. I have to keep
using PayPal because I don’t want to deal with credit cards and bank accounts myself.
4. I have set up another bank account in an entirely different bank. This is the bank I
will use on PayPal. I will be moving my money from this account to my other bank
once a week. That way if I were to get hacked again, they would not be able to access
all my money, just what I had from that week.
5. If I have people who do not want to use PayPal and start an account, then I will not be
tutoring them. Neither of these people had PayPal accounts and I could not talk them
in to doing it, even though I have made videos on how to start a PayPal account. This
was one of the reasons that PayPal would not help me get my scammed money back.
I wish I had known all this before I started my business, because my brain just does not work like a criminals. It was so shocking I cried for 5 days straight. Not just about the money, but how stupid I was, how I didn’t see it coming, how embarrassing it is to even have to admit this. My soul was crushed.
But, I also know that while I may be a trusting, optimistic person, I am an extremely strong woman who has weathered some really hard storms before. I’m not going to let these two criminals kill my dream. I know that I have a passion for teaching and tutoring. I know it is my calling in my life. So, while my spiritual bruises are healing, I’ll continue to work on getting more students, more business, and more success.
I hope you will share this in places where people new to tutoring will find this in hopes that this does not happen to anyone else. If you found this blog helpful, please feel free to share it. My name is Terri Grigsby. I do online math tutoring and in-person tutoring in the Portland, Oregon area. I am accepting new students, check out my website at www.tagtutoring.com, look around, and book a tutoring session. If you have any questions, you can always contact me on my website or at firstname.lastname@example.org