The Nanny Scam
The ad sounded so appealing - perfect, actually. In the slow US economy of late 2010, and without having all of the sources of income that I have known for many years, I was looking for any legal stream of additional revenue I could find. That meant, among other things, that I periodically scoured Craigslist to see whether I could find anything of value there. No hoax, no shady dealing, no scam, please!
Right before Christmas I saw it - a local ad for a nanny, three days per week, only a few hours a day. Some parents were looking for a part-time nanny for their three-year-old. Three years old? That happened to be one of the ages I loved the best. Best of all, the three requested afternoons were the very ones I had free, if I made one rather minor adjustment to my schedule. The pay that was mentioned was also quite excellent, rather a bit higher than I expected, in fact. And that in itself raised a pale pink flag in my mind.
It has been so many years since I have paid anyone for child care, that I really didn't and don't know what the going rates are. But some light housekeeping was included in the ad's description. That could account for pay that was on the high side. The ad was well written (that was another plus), with only two slight bits of wording that my grammar-stickler side questioned. But I have enough education, training, and life experience to know that the best-educated people in the world do not always agree on the very best way to say something; and we all make mistakes when we are in a hurry, even when we proofread ourselves diligently.
A Pale Pink Flag
I decided to go for it. I sent off an e-mail to inquire about the job. But I did at least have the presence of mind to use an alternate e-mail address, one that does not automatically reveal my personal information. After all, the ad poster had also used a scrambled-letter sort of e-mail address. He, she, or they must think the same way: that is, it's better initially to be cautious; on Craigslist "you never know." My e-mail was brief and to-the-point. "I am interested in knowing whether you are still seeking a nanny for your three-year-old. I believe that I may have the experience and abilities you need, and I will be happy to send detailed information if I learn that the job is still open. Thank you." I didn't want to waste time sending information, if that was not necessary.
Almost immediately, and to my joy, I received a response. But what a letdown. The "pale pink" flag turned immediately into a column of red ones. First was the name the poster used for identifying himself: Charles Bronson from Texas. Now, I know that there are people all around the country and all around the world who have the same names as movie stars or other celebrities. I know of a Sandra Bullock, in fact - another one besides People magazine's 2010 Woman of the Year. And, it may be likely that there actually is a Charles Bronson (or even several) from Texas, where the reference to the often-western-movie star might possibly fit in with the state's culture more than it would in another state. Still, that just seemed to me to be the sort of name someone might easily pick because it "sounds" American. The name was also typed in a larger font than the rest of the e-mail. Odd.
As I read the rest of the response (obviously a stock/standard e-mail, ready to send to any takers), I noticed a huge number of language errors: capitalization errors (Son, i, i'm); a spelling error (equivelent); a British spelling from someone supposedly from Texas (neighbour); numerous instances of non-English word usage (busy with the works in front of me; taking care of him well being; so she can be able to start as soon as i'm through with the payment; I will like you to send me an email; what are your academics qualifications); and also numerous run-on sentences. For example: "Thank you for getting back to me , My name is Charles Bronson , I'm from Texas, right now i would be very busy with my seminar/workshop, as explained in my ad I need a nanny for my Son, his name is Josh and he is 3 yrs old, he is well behaved ,you will be taking care of him between the hours of 1 pm to 4pm." WHEW! That's just the beginning; there were too many to post! There were also numerous statements in the stock response that referred to information that had supposedly been shared previously.
The Biggest Red Flag
But the very biggest red flag, far more ominous than anything revealed by the language, was the writer's incredibly blasé attitude towards meeting the person who would supposedly care for his son. (Or "Son," I guess.) He wrote: "we may not be able to meet in person, because i'm a very busy person; my neighbour would be the one who will be bringing him to the location which we will agree together; And please do not hesitate to tell me a little more about yourself and your experience; Please you still will have to guarantee me of taking proper care of my boy; I will like you to send me an email with a brief summary of your nanny experience or your resume. As well as some references if any. I also have a small interview for you if you are interested in the position." The "small interview" was a series of six questions to be answered via e-mail.
"Please do not hesitate to tell me a little more about yourself and your experience" - please do not hesitate ?? a little more about yourself?? Well, duh! Don't hesitate? That's a polite invitation. If I were the parent, I would more likely demand pertinent information, and a whole lot more than just "a little more." Sheesh! "Please you still will have to guarantee me of taking proper care of my boy" -- ummm, errr, Mr. Bronson, exactly how does this guarantee work? Will it be okay if I put it in writing? "I guarantee that I will take proper care of Josh Bronson." How's that? Or maybe it would be legitimate if I sign it before a notary public?
The last question of the "interview" was "Do you have any criminal records?" I was tempted to mention Neil Diamond and the BeeGees, although the writer might not understand the pun, living in a post-LP world. I also chortled quite a bit initially to think anyone would ask the question about criminality so blatantly. But then I remembered a favorite book, The Gift of Fear , and the author's recommendation to be precisely that forthright in asking the important questions of a potential childcare-giver in a personal interview, because the person's response could be quite informative. The key difference (to me) was that Dr. de Becker recommended the question in a face-to-face situation. In an e-mail interview it could certainly prove to be incredibly easy to cover up one's reaction to the question.
Finally, before his signature, the writer included this: "I want you to send me your full name and your contact address, and your phone number." Oh yes, I'll bet you do. How about if we take a few more steps before I do that, Mr. Charles Bronson?
A Must-Have Book in Today's World
There was really no question in my mind that the ad for a nanny position was not on the up-and-up. Still, I live in an area where there are many residents from abroad, and I know that there are many different customs around the world with regards to childcare. The very slim possibility that this might be a legitimate posting from someone who knows little about US customs allowed me to consider proceeding one step further. But then, with so many red flags facing me, it was out of the question that I was still seriously interested in the position. It seemed almost certain that in some way or another it was a scam - but how? I sent off another e-mail to the new e-mail address that had been provided:
Dear "Charles Bronson":Regards, ---
The ad did sound quite attractive. I love children, I am very well educated, and I would welcome some additional income.
But your lack of interest in meeting with someone who will provide care for your son raises a major red flag for me. I cannot imagine anyone willing to do what you propose. I cannot imagine any parent who would permit a proxy to "hand over" their precious little child to someone else whom they (the parents) have never met and whom they are willing to pay $250/week.
Until I am convinced otherwise, I am regarding this ad and offer as a scam, and I will report it to Craigslist as such. If you can show me that I am mistaken in that understanding, I will be willing to correspond with you further about this position.
I was relieved, when I flagged the ad with Craigslist, to receive a message that let me know they do not automatically kick someone or an ad out if there are only a few flags; much as is true with HubPages, the flag simply alerts them to the necessity to have someone personally review the ad and to see whether others respond similarly.
More to the Story
But my follow-up e-mail and flagging with Craigslist were not to be the end of the story. Much to my surprise, I saw another e-mail from my buddy Charles Bronson. I wondered whether there might be some words of explanation or justification of his previous communication. You can imagine my greater surprise to read that I have been hired for the position that I had flagged! Hah!
This e-mail used a much larger font and was even more full of mistakes than the previous one - or, at least, full of mistakes and assumptions about information that had supposedly been sent previously. As ludicrous as the first message was, the second one caused me to laugh out loud again and again. It began "Thanks for the information provided and the availability that you will be taking care of my son for the period of our stay." Ahhh, Chuck old pal, I didn't say I was available. Is that what you thought I meant when I wrote you that I was flagging the ad with Craigslist? yeah, right. Did you even read my e-mail? I suppose not. My guess is that the second e-mail goes out automatically to anyone who replies to the first one.
A picture of a man and a little boy was included at the bottom of the e-mail. Nice touch - I wonder who it actually is? In great, sub-par English detail, the e-mail described little Josh and the things he enjoys doing, the animals he likes, his preferred leisure-time activities, his favorite snacks, and especially the fact (emphasized a couple of times) that he has no allergies. Well, thank goodness for that!
If I actually had sent my resume or information about my nanny experience or any other personal data, and if I were completely naïve and trusting, the e-mail might actually have tugged at my heart a little. Charles wants me to "take care of Josh like your own beloved child." He wrote further:
"I know you are being paid for this but to me is a favour you are doing me by wanting to take care of him and showing him care, love and happiness as i don't want him to lack all. As I've explained to you earlier in my previous email he means everything to me, I want you to know that have reviewed your proposal and reread your application sent to me, and to be honest am highly impressed. And i want you to know that am hiring you right away."
I am speechless. I am stunned.
The Scam Revealed
Then, finally, clarification: "As i will be trusting you with my son, first i will need you to do just this for him first." Okay, so here it comes now. Here is what the scam is all about. Charles tells me that he will start paying me right away. (For what? For sending him a couple of e-mails, one of which accused him of perpetrating a scam?) He will mail the payment as a check to me, even though he will not be around this month at all. (Okay, so he's not going to be around, but what about little Josh? Will the neighbor bring him over to the place that we agree upon and hand him over to a complete stranger?) For some odd reason, he plans to make the check for an amount that includes some bills and other things Josh will be needing. I am to cash it and deduct my portion, then send the balance to the neighbor.
Once again: yeah, right. Why doesn't he just send the money to the neighbor? Is the neighbor not being paid? Couldn't he pay the neighbor for these expenses anyway? Or, why not ask me to purchase the items needed? That would make more sense than the scenario he describes. Obviously, clearly, blatantly, this is nothing more or less than any other scam, sometimes known as the cashier's check scam or by a similar name. The poor person who actually follows through with the instructions will find in a few weeks' time (after still no signs of Josh or Charles or the neighbor) that the check was a fraud and that they have sent off some money that never actually was in their own account, and that they sent it to some stranger who cannot be tracked down. Only now, the money they paid to the neighbor has been taken from their own funds (if there were any) or has created multiple bank fees for overdrafts. Okay - I wondered about how the scam would work: asked and answered. No more e-mails from me, Person.
Charles asks again for my personal information, address ("no P.O. Box" - how clever!), telephone numbers, etc. And again he signs with "his" full name and, for the first time, his phone number. Of course I Google it and, to no surprise at all, see that the number is listed on a website with the note "nanny scam in Yakima, Washington." Well, Charles surely does get around, doesn't he?
Interestingly enough, the number actually is based in Texas. I wonder whom it belongs to? And there actually are several Charles Bronsons in Texas, but not definitely at the aforementioned telephone number. I wonder if my Charles knows any of the real ones? I wonder whether those real ones know how their name is being abused and misused? I wonder if anyone has bit on this particular scam? Let's hope you haven't yet; let's hope you have read this article first. Good Luck!
A Reader's Contribution:
A reader named Martha contributed her own experience with a similar scam. The name was different (no Charles Bronson this time), and there were a few other different details. "David Romms" wrote:
I got your contact from a UK website that is affiliated to some nanny sites in USA. ... I am a lecturer in NETWORKING here in the UK.I will be coming over to the united states for 4 years for my PHD program. My major is Global Area Network. .... I am going to give you your own personal car and a driver to take yourself and the kids around but if you know how to drive then there will be no need for a driver .
This fellow is more detailed about the specific tasks to be accomplished than my "employer-to-be" was. And he also sent an e-mail "interview" of 27 questions, asking for information ranging from work history and allergies to experience and disabilities. Whew! Martha received another e-mail, much like mine - she got the job! Narf, narf! This time, "David" explained the pay scale.
The pay will be 20dollars/her .The reason why i will be paying this is because we pay our nanny here 14pounds and when i made the conversion to dollars ,it falls around 20dollars . Just let me know if you are okay with this or if there is need for adjustment. ... I will need you to help me rent a van that would come pick us up at the airport on the 16th April 2011 due to number of luggage that we will be bringing to the states and 400dollars will be made available for this by my financier and you will not need to use your personal money for this errand
Martha wrote: I was not completely sure that It was a scam. ... Then I remembered that when asked if I had any references, I just said yes, I didn't even provide them. So if they were still deciding [between applicants], wouldn't references be a factor???
It's just sickening how people try to scam people in need of employment like this...WOW.