Protect Yourself from Fake Job Scams
Do Your Due Diligence
Don't Get Taken
Have a healthy dose of skepticism when looking for online work or work-from-home jobs, or you may end up being the victim of a scam. I think it's best to have a healthy skepticism overall. I thought I was pretty smart and savvy about these things but reality proved differently. Here's the story of how I was almost taken and genuinely humbled.
On the Search...
Back when I was looking for work, the prospect of working from home was very attractive to me. I pictured myself scrounging around in pj's in the mornings and then hitting a cafe to tap a little bit on a laptop before heading to a bookstore or movie theatre and calling it a day. Ah, the good life, I imagined.
Now, if I could just find a job. I discovered flexjob -- a website devoted to listings of telecommuting, work-at-home, and online work -- and paid to join for a year. Obviously this place was for me! However, no matter how much I searched its listings, I was just not qualified enough for the really great stuff, and the rest of it just wouldn't make my rent. I soon returned to Craigslist and the Sunday paper for any opportunity for decent work I could find.
If you're currently unemployed in this economy, I know the feeling. I spent countless hours spiffing up my resume, looking for work, writing cover letters, following up on responses, shining in the occasional interviews, following up again, doing odd jobs, generally stressing about my income, and then starting the whole cycle again and again. That's what you go through when you're out of work.
That's why it makes me incredibly mad to remember the time I was almost duped by a fraudulent "employer" -- a scam artist, who had set out to con me right from the beginning!
Thank goodness I survived intact, and financially unscathed. Here's the story so you can protect yourself from these ne'er-do-wells.
It all starts with a little contact...
How Did You Get My Email Again??
When you're looking for work, you're used to seeing your email inbox cluttered with resumes, job postings, and responses from potential employers. Even when you're organized you can lose the connections between which jobs you've applied to and the weeks-later responses you get from employers. Sometimes you have to work to connect the dots, as in "Which Administrative Assistant job is this email talking about?" Employers can be vague and you have to stay on top of things to make sure you have a handle on your job hunt.
One day I received an email that was offering me a position as a Virtual Assistant. This sounded great to me! The email gave some information and included a weekly wage for working as this person's overseas admin. There were two things I remember about this email:
1. I could not easily connect it to a particular Craigslist posting, although I'm now fairly certain it was a response to my sending my resume for a rather vague posting.
2. After I expressed my interest, and the emailer wanted me to be "tested" or have my integrity and work ethic checked or "see how I did on my first job" or some such nonsense, by having me do a simple, first job for him.
There was something going on with the email exchanges, the wording in the emails, and what was requested of me that made me get a feeling. I don't know how to explain it other than some part of me knew something was amiss, but couldn't pin-point it. And since I couldn't pin-point it, I agreed to this first job, which I will now describe:
This "overseas businessman" was going to send me money in the form of a mailed check. I was to take that check to my bank and then wire transfer a large sum of it to a Western Union, via his instructions, keeping my share, which was my payment. In the end, the money was supposedly to be used for donation to orphans, or something like that. My part in all this was to receive the check and wire transfer the funds after depositing the check.
This is where the scam comes in. Here was this person trusting me by sending me money, and that made me feel there must be legitimacy in this whole operation.
Why I didn't think, "Why would this guy trust me?" and "Why would he send a check to a total stranger?" is beyond me. I suppose because I am trustworthy, I didn't think to question his integrity.
All the same, I had weird feelings about this.
What Went Down.
Soon after, I received a check. Now I was even more confused. Here was an actual check that I was to deposit and prove my trustworthiness and promptness to my so-called new employer.
The check made me feel better about the whole thing, I must admit, but there was still inside of me a lot of confusion. I guess I was wondering where the scam was, because at that time, I just didn't see it.
Luckily for me, I decided to check things out a little bit more.
I went to the bank!
And I stood outside of it completely uncertain, a muddle of emotions and worry. I wanted this to be totally legit, because I really liked the idea of being able to work at home and earning a livable wage. But I couldn't shake the feeling, somewhere in my subconscious, that something was array.
Luckily for me there was a policewoman standing outside of the bank! I decided to ask her some questions about this situation I'd gotten myself into, thinking maybe she could help.
I remember that policewoman was pretty busy. While I was talking her she had to get away for a more important call, and she was edging away from me. But she was very clear. All she had to hear was "Moneygram" and "Western Union". And she told me "Don't do it." "No." She was brief but adamant. This was a scam.
Since she had to leave, I thanked her, but I was still confused. However, I was not about to put that nice check into my account now that I'd had that encounter. Instead I went home.
This time, at home, I did Google searches for "Western Union" scam, and "Moneygram scam", since it seemed all that cop had to hear was the words "Western Union" and wire-transfer and she was certain I had to get away from it.
That's when my little scam-education paid off.
Click the Pictures to Find Out More
A Google Search...
What would've happened to me (I'm now sure), had I gone blissfully into the bank and deposited the check, and then went to Western Union to wire the money, is that the check would have bounced... but the bank wouldn't have found that out until later, after the wire transfer had happened. Meaning that my own money would've been sent off to Mr. Con Artist and I would be in the hole to anyone else I paid a bill to when the money wasn't there in my account to cover it.
Silly Me, Craigslist Even Has a Scam Advisory
A Learning Experience
Now it seems so clear to me what would've happened. I have a hard time believing that I could be so dumb to not only give out my address to the guy, but actually head out to the bank, check in hand. I remember being very glad I had worked up the courage to ask the policewoman. I was a bit embarrassed at the time when I was talking to her, especially when I saw she was busy and had to go. It's always a bit embarrassing to admit you don't know something that seems to be common sense. Now I'm thanking her inside and I'm thanking myself too for stopping to ask her when I was confused instead of continuing on into the bank.
I just didn't know and because of that experience, I do now, and I can write this article to help others.
There were a couple of things I noticed about this scam that cause red flags to go up any time I encounter them these days.
For instance, besides my scam experience that I went through, today I received an email offering me a Personal Assistant job (see the first picture above). I haven't applied for any Personal Assistant job, and while my resume may still be out there, posted on other websites or still in some employers' HR department, I highly doubt this email is legit. The email is vague. No company is mentioned. It's very short, offering me a position and a weekly wage of $500 / week. There are too many obvious questions that aren't answered. Where did this person get my email? Why don't they make any reference to why they picked me? Why are they so vague in the first place? Why not describe the position? Why did they not explain why they wanted me for this position? I don't know anything about this person, this email came out of the blue, and yet this person is willing to offer me a supposedly legit job of $500 / week? Yeah, right. I immediately felt anger when I saw this email, because I know it's a scam. This person is waiting for me to respond as I once did before with some other scammer (or maybe even, the same one, who knows right?) so they can instruct me to deposit some money and send off a wire transfer, per their instructions.
By the way, in the period after I'd escaped from the first scammer, I got a few more emails that were laid out the exact same way as the one I'd almost fallen for. In these type of emails you will see clear grammar mistakes and misspellings -- another sign that this is a scam. In many cases I could not trace the initial contact I got from them to any specific job posting. There is an incredible amount of vagueness in the emails, except about the actual procedures of the first "job".
A legitimate posting for a Personal Assistant would be much more detailed, and would include an address or local location. These days someone wanting to outsource a Virtual Assistant would likely look to companies or websites that specialize in that and can offer a workforce in other countries that will take a lower pay than what most Westerners will.
If the scammers do provide an address, it's not going to be around the corner from you so you can check it out. It's going to be across the country. Your skepticism is good because there are too many ways for scammers to trick someone over the internet. It's very hard to verify their identity, their real name and email, their address, etc. Once the money is gone, how are you going to go after the con artist? They'll be long gone with your money and you'll be held responsible by the bank.
In the end, I'd imagine a real job opportunity would entail real work, not simply mixing your own bank account into the fray and putting your precious dollars at risk.
How Very Strange...
Go with your gut feeling and don't get taken! If you have unanswered questions, that's not a good thing. Go to the police, like I did, if you have a feeling something might be up. Even without knowing the full story on the scam, if it feels anything close to "too good to be true" there probably is a reason -- IT IS!!
I hope sharing my experience with this scam educates more people so those stupid con artist thieves will give up the game and stop preying on the vulnerabilities of people looking for legitimate work.