China scams. We all know ’em. The legendary tea house ruse, the note-switching barman, the dodgy taxi driver… But there’s a whole dark world of employment skulduggery out there too, which can be far more damaging than getting forced into buying a rip-off painting from an “art student” outside the Forbidden City. Use the seven tips below and you’ll never fall victim to a job scam in China.
1) Research, research, research
The internet has spawned a hell of a lot of scams, but on the flip side, it’s the best way of uncovering them too. A simple Google (or Baidu) search on a company’s name should bring up plenty of information. Try prefacing the name with “scam” or “dodgy” to see if there is anything out there from disgruntled employees. If it’s an English school you’re applying to, ask around your friends and roommates to see if they know anyone who works there. Word of mouth is a great thing. Get as much detail as you can about complaints. Former employees are not always completely partial, or forthcoming about how and why they left the company. Some companies are good at one thing and not so good at another – there are well-liked visa companies whose recruitment departments get low marks and plenty of complaints. Knowledge is power, the more you know about the situation the better of you are.
2) Simple professionalism
If the company’s website doesn’t look quite right, or if they don’t have one at all, alarm bells should start to ring. Do they have permanent premises? Are their email addresses official company ones, or Hotmail? Any business worth its salt should at least have company email addresses. Make sure you meet your potential employer face to face, and visit their office. If it’s a room in a residential apartment somewhere, it probably isn’t legit.
3) If it looks like a con, it probably is one
Don’t be conned into believing that you deserve a massive salary for zero work. No offense, but if you’re not an experienced CEO, you’re not going to get the pay check and bonuses of a CEO. Many people are tricked into accepting jobs with guarantees of six figure sums and flashy business trips when they don’t even have a Bachelor’s degree. Back in the day, a European passport may have been a carte blanche to a beefy salary and perks, but not anymore.
Unfortunately, the influx of wannabe English teachers has spawned a legion of unscrupulous language schools that will rip employees off and trick them into signing contracts with little pay and huge hours. If you’re suspicious, shop around for average salaries offered by established English schools for your level, then compare and contrast. If they’re offering you 20,000 RMB a month while English First offers 13,000 for the same position, something ain’t right.
4) A fool and his money…
… as the saying goes, are soon parted. Don’t be a fool. Don’t wire money to anyone you haven’t met face to face, and completely trust. To be honest, it’s a better idea not to wire money to anyone, ever, unless it’s your mum. The same goes for your passport details (and, of course, your passport itself). You should never have to stump up any money – as the employee, you should be getting the money, not the employer. Never agree to pay up front for “training materials”. Recently I was offered some editing work by an unscrupulous web company who wanted me to pay them US$350 for a training manual. If I bought and read the document, they would guarantee me a steady flow of work. “Can’t you deduct the cost from my wages?” I asked. “No.” they replied. “Why not?” I asked. “Company policy.” Hmm.
5) Keep it legal
Hiring a lawyer to check through a contract may sound a bit extreme, but it could end up saving your skin, and a lot of money in the long run. Especially if your contract is solely in Chinese, getting a lawyer to look over it and explain it to you will put your mind at rest. And if your potential employer isn’t happy about you doing this, that’s a good sign that they shouldn’t be trusted anyway.
6) Don’t be pressured
A crooked company bent on scamming you may pressure you to sign a contract after the interview. Don’t do it. Legitimate companies will give you some time to think about their offer; dodgy ones won’t want to give you a chance to see their flaws.
7) Devious recruiters
It isn’t just underhanded employers you have to watch out for. Middlemen like agents and recruiters can scam too. Some recruiters don’t actually have any contacts with companies; they simply send emails out to their database and hope that someone bites, charging you commission in the process. Likewise, agents for acting and modelling jobs often skim off more than is fair when it comes to fees, leaving you with a paltry sum for your day’s work. This is where speaking Mandarin comes in useful. The more you know, the more you can go solo, without the help of an agent or recruiter.
So what can you do if you’ve already fallen for a scam? It depends on the nature of the ruse. If you’ve signed a contract, you’ll need to use a lawyer to get you out of it, and you could end up paying severance costs. If you’ve wired money, it’s very possible that you’ll never see it again.
Remember – forewarned is forearmed. Use these seven tips, and a degree of common sense, and you’ll avoid falling for job scams in China.
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