Piano teacher scams: Protect yourself against fake students, free pianos, celebrities and more

Scamming piano teachers must be a lucrative business. If it didn’t occasionally work, scammers would stop. And the emails and phishing are getting more difficult to spot every year.

Don’t be a victim of piano teacher scams! You don’t even owe scammers a polite response. Simply delete!

But there’s likely a tiny voice inside of you that worries–what if it’s not a scam? Would you risk turning away a potential real student? Would it be unprofessional to delete a message that might be real?

Here’s a laundry list of telltale signs. The only way to protect yourself from scams is to be informed.

1. The RCM email look-alike

This is a tricky scam to spot. The wording is very similar to the suggested wording in the contact section of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s teacher directory. Parents searching for a piano teacher through the RCM can send a pre-written message to potential teachers.

The RCM contact wording: “Hello. I’d like to learn more about signing up for music lessons with you. Could you please tell me how much lessons cost and how they are scheduled? Thank you.”

The scam email: “I’d like to learn more about signing up for Piano lessons with you. I need a Piano Teacher for my child. Could you please tell me your area of specification and how much lessons cost and how they are scheduled?

Thank you.
Shira Morehouse”

Because I wasn’t sure about this, I searched for the name on Facebook. There was a Shira Morehouse who lived somewhere in the United States. So, I did reply with a brief message.

“Hi, Shira, Thanks for contacting me about piano lessons! May I ask where you live?”

That’s when the plot thickened, with the scammer’s reply detailed in part two, as follows.

2. Child coming to “your city” for six months

The reply I received to the above exchange was your standard run-of-the-mill scam email script, one that piano teachers have been receiving for more than a decade:

The scam email: “Dear Rebekah,I have been searching for a tutor that would help me teach my son (Richard) during his stay in Canada. I found your advert and it is very okay to me since you specialize in the area, I’m seeking for him. My son will be coming to your city this coming week for a period of 6 months with his friend, I’ll like to know if you can help in taking him for the lesson? Just to keep him busy with his previous learning in school. Richard is 12 years old, So kindly let me know your charges per hour/lesson in order for me to arrange for his payment before he travels down to your city from New York.Please Reply back on:(1). Your charges per 1 hour (2 times a week for 1 Months):(2) Total Cost For 8 class/8 hours lessons in 1 month:(3). The Day and time you will be available to teach him during the week:I’ll be very happy to see you as my son’s tutor, concerning your years of Experience there is no problem about the lessons, my caregiver lives very close to the area.There’s no problem for the lesson at your place or online, my caregiver will be bringing him to your location for the lessons and you can teach him ,if that is OK by you. so, I’d like you to teach my son the best of you whenever he arrives for the lessons.I’ll like you to email me with your schedule for the lessons:Name on the cheques:Full Mailing Address with postal code: (where the cheque will be mailed)Home and Cell phone number:My financial department will be responsible for all his travel expenses and I would like to make payment before his arrival. They will be paying you advance payment in Canadian funds for the whole month.Awaiting your response.Thank you.”

This email has all of the hallmarks of a scam: Looking for two hour-long lessons per week, the child coming and staying in the piano teacher’s area for six months, wanting to pay for all of the lessons ahead of time in one lump sum (which would be quite a sum of money). It’s polite but riddled with grammatical and punctuation errors.

Here’s how they attempt to get money from you: The scammers will “send” you cheques or a transfer. Then, before the lessons take place, they’ll suddenly change their minds about needing the lessons. They’ll ask for a refund. Only, they’re hoping that you don’t notice that their money has never actually arrived and that you will “refund” them real money.

I replied as briefly as possible, with a satisfying kick about it being a scam.

“Hi, Sorry, my studio is full and I’m unable to teach a student on that timetable. Good luck with your search.

P.S. Most emails asking for piano lessons in this way are by people looking to make weird back and forth money transfers to scam piano teachers. I’d recommend not typing these kinds of questions if you are truly looking for piano lessons.”

How to avoid this scam: Never refund money.

3. Giving away a grand piano

The scam email: “I have a Steinway piano to give away. I can send you the pictures if you’re interested. Thanks”

There are several variations on this scam. Some claim to be giving away an estate piano or a “late husband’s” grand piano.

The scammers claim to value the piano and want a good home for it where it will be played and appreciated.

The email sometimes gives the make and model of the piano. For example, the email I received claimed to be giving away a Steinway piano. Some scammers say they want to give it to a piano teacher or a church.

Here’s how they attempt to get money from you: They’ll exchange emails back and forth, perhaps providing photos. The piano will be free, but you’ll have to pay to have it moved. Once they get your money to move it, you’ll never hear from them again.

How to avoid this scam: Before you ever put money into an instrument or into moving it, always–always–have a piano tuner look at it. If a piano tuner looks at a piano that you want to buy or take possession of for free, you will be assured that the piano does exist and that it’s in working order, playable and can be tuned.

Then to move the piano, hire movers through a reputable music store, not through the person giving it to you.

4. Scammer posing as a piano group president

The scam email: You’ll receive an email that appears to be from the piano group president’s email address. For example, there have been emails that appear to have been sent from Laura Gray, president of the CFMTA (the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Associations).

The emails look very official, but there is often a small typo or grammatical error. The emails almost always refer to needing someone’s help right away, but say that the president cannot be reached by phone. The scammers are looking for money.

How to avoid this scam: The CFMTA and ORMTA (Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association) will never contact their members to ask for urgent assistance or money. Neither will branch presidents. Never send money.

Double-check, not by replying to the email, but by starting a new email and directly contacting the person you know.

5. Scammer posing as a photographer

The scam email: “Hope you are having an amazing Summer! I am going to be training an associate to join my studio September 10th-15th and I am currently looking for the following models:

“We are looking for all ages, Piano or guitar teacher with a studio for part time modelling. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. Work as part-time modelling modules anywhere in Canada could earn $2,000 a day with no registration fees required,No Experience Needed, No Restrictions..

“If you don’t have a studio you can also apply, we can book any nearest studio for the shoot. Model must have any of the required instruments for the photo shoot.

“What you will get: 15 or more edited images created by my associate photographer under my guidance. ($2,000+ paid shoot)

“Photos will be emailed to you 2 weeks after the session. Shoots would run 10am-1pm So must be available within this time frame.

“Unfortunately this is not open to my past clients – I am hoping for different faces for her portfolio not to confuse potential clients!

“If this doesn’t apply to you feel free to forward this to your friends who would be a good fit! Please reply back on which you are available and a recent photo of yourself and let know if you have a studio or not.

Warmest Regards,
Shira Morehouse
C.E.O Greenberg Photography®”

I googled Greenberg Photography. It does exist, so it’s very difficult to tell if this is real or a scam.

Sensing a scam, I replied, “Where is your photo studio located?

My suspicions were confirmed when I didn’t hear back from them. But it wasn’t until I began collecting my images for this blog post that I saw that the evidence of the scam was in front of me all along.

The name of the person contacting me as a photographer was Shira Morehouse, the very same lady who is the mother of Richard, the young lad who was planning on coming to my city for six months for twice-weekly hour-long piano lessons:

Clearly scammers leave tracks of their scams in every email. If it seems ‘off’, likely it is.

6. Scams through texts and Messenger

Sometimes you may be contacted by scammers through text or Facebook messenger.

You may get a text from an unknown phone number by someone looking for piano lessons. It may seem real.

You may think that everyone with a Facebook account is a real person but this is not the case. Facebook is rife with scammers with fake profiles.

Piano teacher and composer Andrew Harbridge was contacted on Facebook Messenger by someone posing as pianist Lang Lang, who was asking Andrew to connect on a WhatsApp account.

How to avoid these scams: These may be more difficult to detect.

In the case of getting a scam message through text, Google is your friend. Type the phone number into google and you’ll get your answer.

Go with your gut. Before answering, do a little research. Ask on Facebook if anyone else has been contacted by the celebrity or person.

When in doubt

When in doubt, ask on social media. If other teachers have received the same message from a person with the same name, you’ll know it’s a scam. Facebook groups offer a wealth of support in this area.

Answer with one sentence with a pointed question. A short answer will save you time and energy dealing with someone who is only attempting to scam you.

Asking where they live or their address is effective. If you never hear back, you’ll know it’s a scam. If they give a location, google their name and address. If they are a real person, there will be evidence online about them.

One of the reasons piano teacher scams work is because it’s tempting to believe that we could get something amazing for free. We fall into the trap of wanting a beautiful free piano or wanting a large sum of money transferred to us all at once. Or, believing that we could be selected to model for photographs. Scammers play on our desire to get something easily or be flattered, like being contacted by Lang Lang.

Keep your head clear and realize that nothing’s free. It’s okay to work for what you get. Keep your money safe and sound and don’t lose it to the person offering something fake that’s too good to be true.


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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤

Rebekah Maxner, composer, blogger, piano teacher. Follow my blog for great tips!

Video of the Week

The Sleepover (Late Elementary, Level 2). Here’s a piano thriller that tells the story of a creepy sleepover. Explores storytelling with dynamics, accents, shaping two-note slurs and hand-over-hand movement across the keyboard. Available as a studio-licensed eSheet: The Sleepover eSheet!

Listen to The Sleepover on YouTube!
Listen to a sound clip of London Bridge is Gettin’ Down!

2 thoughts on “Piano teacher scams: Protect yourself against fake students, free pianos, celebrities and more

Add yours

  1. Thank you for sharing this article! I have received numerous e-mail scams and I do wonder how they get my e-mail. I simply block the sender and report to Google as spam. They are a bit persistent in changing their e-mails though. My colleague unfortunately fell for the scam and zelled money. We contacted MTNA and they posted something on their website.

    Like

    1. It certainly is perplexing on how spammers find so many piano teacher email addresses! How unfortunate for your colleague! I’m hoping teachers will reach out more frequently in Facebook groups to double-check when emails make “too-good-to-be-true” offers.

      Like

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