From time to time (presumably because I have an academic address, or am listed on a university web site) I get an e-mail like this: "My son will be in your city next month for two weeks. He is interested in your subject. I would like to hire you to tutor him. What are your fees?" I assume it is some sort of scam, since it does not mention what my city is, or what the subject of the tutoring is.

Does anyone know what happens to the naive academic who responds to this?

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    As always, if the email contains any sort of link, DON'T CLICK IT.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:39
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    My department has gotten something like this - and myself personally about three times. Our IT has blocked the sender - I suggest your department do the same. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 21:02
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    I tutored privately 4-8 hours a week from 2008 to around 2012, and I often got emails that began "Hello, This is Mr. XXX, I was surfing for a private tutor for my son when I got your email address ...". I replied a few times to the first one, but it seemed to go nowhere (I wasn't looking to tutor someone so frequently as asked), and I never could figure out what they were getting out of it. After the second or third "Mr. XXX" (names varied), I usually just deleted them, but every now and then I'd have fun by sending some weird semi-nonsense reply to see what would happen. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 21:39
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    this got me thinking it would be nice to have a stack exchange just for scams. Then realised it would probably end up getting used for nefarious purposes. Don't have to make up scams anymore, just look at the clever ones other people came up with that got posted on scams stack exchange
    – Cruncher
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 19:50
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    @Cruncher: It's not a whole site, but there's money.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/scams.
    – ruakh
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 5:25

2 Answers 2


This is usually a version of a "babysitting scam", where some generous out-of-town person wants to pay you a royal ransom for some minor errand or babysitting someone you've never met. It goes a few different ways, but it's usually some version of asking for a quote of what it might cost, and then wanting to pay you in advance. They'll usually want to pay with some sketchy method like needing you to sign up for an account on some website (they'll try to steal personal/identity information or give you a virus to steal more info), or Western Union/Money Gram or PayPal.

They will then inevitably try some variety of overpaying you and asking for some bizarre method of returning them a portion of the over-payment, like "oh just send me a money order/check" or asking you to Western Union the money back to them (especially if they paid you by check or some other such method). The key is the money you return is non-refundable, but the method they paid you with can be stolen accounts/funding, or reclaimed/cancelled (bouncing a check or counterfeit check/money order). You end up with less than nothing, because the income is gone and your "refund" to them is gone too.

Sometimes they'll just ask for your banking information to "deposit the money with you", but they will need illegitimate info to do it like your bank account and login, or information that can be used to steal money from you (bank account and routing information that can be used for payments), etc. Sometimes there'll be some crazy reason.

They'll also often have variants where they are out of the country, have some weird imaginary legal issue they try to rope you into, claim they are in the military for similar reasons, etc. They could also try to deposit fake/stolen funds and then try to rope you into an accompanying scam where they try to shake you down as if you violated the law (they'll pretend to be investigators, police, or organized crime, depending on the situation/scammer).

Sometimes they want money, sometimes they just want to steal your personal information so they can steal from you or sell your identity to someone else.

I've seen the same base scam in business, where they instead want a quote for some large order, often with some urgency and willingness to pay a premium, or for hiring a consultant, etc. All the same base methods, just with a different 'hook' to get you in.

Just replying will only waste your time and ensure you get more emails as you'll likely get added to "known potential sucker" lists. The danger is getting drawn in to the web of lies they use to scam - some of which are stupidly obvious, and some of which are really quite clever and drawn out.

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    For an entertaining (and potentially effective) response to spam and scam emails, consider sending it to the sp@mlooper bot Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 21:12
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    +1, but to add that ending up to a potential sucker list will increase the likelihood of ending up as a victim to those more clever scams. Some scammer may actually take a look on you, instead of just having you in a spamming list. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 7:53
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    @RoseHartman: That bot is so obviously a bot that I have trouble believing that spammers actually were stupid enough to respond to it. However, here's a real human who takes time to personally respond to spam!.
    – user21820
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 8:06
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    Another version of that scam results in you actually getting paid, but refunding most of the money. Then it turns out you were paid from an account associated with drug trade or the like. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 12:03
  • @user21820 +1 for James!
    – KeyWeeUsr
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:36

It's a form of the advance fee scam. I handle the e-mail for a martial arts dojo and deal with that style of inquiry often. The scam is that they will be paying you via check and will "accidentally" pay you far too much. They then will ask that you kindly return the excess. What you don't know is that the first check will be bouncing and that because it's on a foreign bank it may take months for it to actually bounce. In the mean time they have already cashed your refund check and disappeared.

My answer to those people has always been is that "I would be delighted to teach their sons (or whoever they wrote about) but that I only deal in cash. Please have your driver bring the cash payment on the first visit. It will be $1000. Thank you." The scammers never respond back. At times I've been bored and don't ask for the cash right off. I instead string the scammer out a bit before dropping the hammer which is that their payment must be in cash. At that point they vanish.

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    What if u take the check, and stop all correspondence? :P
    – TCSGrad
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 1:00
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    @TCSGrad That'll leave you staring at a worthless piece of paper. Bouncing checks are not worth a dime.
    – e-sushi
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 1:11

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