Please note: This is a guest writer contribution
I’m a recent college graduate who decided to make a middle age career change. I have many years of transferable skills and my mind is bulging with new insights and snippets of information I acquired over the course of my education. I am now in a foreign job market with outdated search skills and a broad range of talents. The process of securing a position has changed considerably over the past decade where resumes must be developed around keywords from job descriptions, and employers want specific job skills that are technology driven. There is a learning curve, but it is not insurmountable.
As a freelancer, I’ve made work contracts through various means over the years; texts, emails, Skype, and phone calls. I pride myself on being flexible and available for those who seek my talent; for those who I suspect are running the hamster wheel in the rat race of the modern business world. Congeniality, civility and rapid turn around are my key words. I’ve come across internet scams before, employment scams, purchasing scams, “your computer has a virus” scams so I have developed some savvy skills at picking out imposters who are detrimental to people who are reaching out in search of network assets and employment.
I recently experienced an attempt, that I must say, was fairly impressive. By impressive, I mean these scammers took considerable time to research the company they chose to exploit. They developed a job description that was well aligned with the job skills on my resume that is posted on multiple job boards. I’d like to share the details of this event and point out red flags to look for so that unsuspecting consumers do not get caught up and have to pay the consequences of being taken advantage of by dubious imposters.
Identifying Red Flags in Email Addresses
I received a text from someone, who I assumed was a recruiter. He referred me to the Director of Recruitment of a well-established international sales company. I was instructed to contact Nancyhire.firstname.lastname@example.org through Google Hangouts. The xxxxxx in the email was actually the name of the company the imposters were exploiting. I choose not to share the company’s name so that there can be no confusion that they were in any way complicit, but rather were victimized by these imposters as well. I was a bit surprised by the text, but I remembered agreeing to accept texts from at least one of the job boards my resume is on. My phone is constantly sending me notifications and texts from multiple sites.
Perhaps the text was the first red flag but the words were innocuous enough. However, the email address indicated something was probably amiss. Most companies, especially large international companies have their own domain and issue their employees email addresses that typically have the company name behind the @ sign and before the .com (or .org, .edu, .gov, etc.) For example, one of my company’s email addresses is dahne@dahneMedia.org. As far as the interview occurring on Google Hangouts, I’ve spoken to international clients on this platform before. In this instance it raised suspicions because the company the imposters were representing is a well-known, established corporation.
I stalled the interview for a few hours so that I could research the company. This is an imperative step in today’s job market. Interviewers want to know that a potential employee is engaged enough to understand the values and goals of the company. I also wanted to verify the name of the recruiter who contacted me. Here is what is important to remember: even though I suspected this was an employment scam, I was initially so hopeful that the red flags were because of my inexperience in seeking employment in today’s job market, that I chose to continue in the process.
Utilizing and Exploiting LinkedIn
The real recruiter who I will name Persona A was on LinkedIn. His job is a talent acquisition specialist for the company the scammers had hijacked. The “Interview Manager”, who I will name Persona B was indeed the Director of Recruitment of said company. I sent a connection request to Persona A immediately with a note thanking him for reaching out to me. Thankfully he accepted the connection and I was able to communicate the events and exploitation of the company as the scam progressed. Of note: Persona A confirmed that he had not reached out to me for an employment opportunity per my request. This validated my suspicions and I am eternally grateful for his involvement.
Obviously, LinkedIn is a wonderful platform for professional connections. A recent workshop I attended informed me that 70% of companies now hire off of LinkedIn, and if a resume makes it through the initial screening, a company will then review a potential employee’s LinkedIn profile. (Note to self: finish my LinkedIn profile). What I learned during the scamming process was that imposters phish through LinkedIn profiles and spend considerable time researching to make their fraudulence as believable as possible. These specific imposters hijacked the identities of a Talent Acquisition Specialist, the Director of Recruitment and the Chief Information Officer of the company they were exploiting to facilitate their scam. One must wonder why some people choose to use their talents and skills in such a nefarious way. This leads me to suspect that there are fake profiles on LinkedIn trolling around, seeking to replicate the identities of innocent members, but I have not researched the accuracy or percentage of such activity. It is sufficient to say, simply to beware of scam artists who exploit social media for their own endeavors.
I scheduled my interview late in the day with Persona B who represented herself as Nancyhire.email@example.com. Her introduction to me was professional and the presentation was grammatically correct. In reality, the introduction was blended plagiarized snippets of written work from Wikipedia, the company’s webpage “Who We Are,” a European job board with an “About Us” page for the company, but no available jobs, and a case study for a recent MBA project at Pesit Bangalore South Campus. This confirms my thoughts that plagiarism is rampant on the internet and many content writers merely litter the web with regurgitated content, akin to throwing trash out of a moving car window. (Be sure to return here for a link to a future article: The Proclivities of Click Bait Freelance Writers.)—coming soon.
The most obvious red flag was that Persona B’s profile picture was the company’s logo, not a picture of herself. It is reasonable to assume this is because the scammer attempted to reinforce the validity of their claim to identity, a psychological ploy to carry the victim deeper into the scam. The pleasant disposition that radiated from the smiling face of the real Director of Recruitment’s photo on LinkedIn did not align with the cold directives put forth by the imposter on Google Hangouts. This observation instigated a gut feeling of something amiss. Don’t dismiss gut feelings, especially if you otherwise feel comfortable in the situation.
The interview progressed with appropriate screening questions:
1) Are you currently employed?
2) Are you seeking for [sic] part time or full time job?
3) Why do you feel you can do Data entry?
4) How would you describe your work ethics?
5) What is your current typing speed?
6) On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your use of Ms [sic] Excel?
7) Do you prefer to work on your own or as part of a team?
8) Describe a situation when the workload was heavy,[sic] how you were able to complete it before the deadline that was given to you?
9) What milestone have you accomplished in your whole career that was remarkable and you would love to share?
10) What are your strengths and weakness [sic] and how does it affect your job performance?
Notice there are several grammatical issues I highlighted with [sic]. This interview was purportedly with a recruitment manager of an extremely successful corporation. These common grammatical errors are always a red flag when validating the situation. Few professional corporations would place a person with unprofessional business grammar in a managerial position. It is a good idea for anyone in the job market to brush up on basic grammar skills, particularly if they are seeking employment in any type of communication capacity. It lends to professional credibility and can cause lost opportunities if not perfected.
I responded appropriately to the interview questions and was told that I would receive a decision via email after Human Resources reviewed my responses. I was instructed to be available on Google Hangouts at 8am the following morning for training should I be offered the position.
The Training and the Bait
To be sure, I was up at 7AM the following morning and received an email with a job offer from the scammer at 7:58 instructing me to contact yet a third person, the supposed Chief Information Officer of the exploited company. He told me I had been assigned to him for evaluation and training assessment and that I must sign the acceptance letter and non-disclosure agreement, and return them for his review before we got started. These were standard forms but the obvious red flags included errors in the company’s logo, inconsistencies in their letterhead and no phone number to contact the company. What these forms did was provide demographic information to the scam artist: name, address, phone number and email. I wasn’t overly concerned about this because my resume is posted on multiple job boards and it contains all of this common information. This collection of demographic information was just the beginning and was possibly used as a means to measure my vulnerability. The information request got a bit more intrusive in the next step.
Let’s call this third person Persona C. After “reviewing” my signed agreement letter and non-disclosure statement, he emailed me a set of instructions as a test to assess my research ability and accuracy with data. He also emailed me a form titled “Start Up Fund Application Questionnaire” with this explanation:
Also, we leave no stone un-turned in seeing to it that state of the art equipment are [sic] used by our employees to handle the company’s daily routine will be in their home office location. XXXXCo has great milestone [sic] in ensuring the success of our dedicated team members by providing the best and nothing but the best available equipment’s [sic] to our employees.
To that regard, the management would be providing you with funds for you to set up a mini-office at home with state of the art equipment’s. [sic]
Our success is built upon our team of dedicated employees whose first priority is the success of our partners. That’s why we invest heavily in a work environment that encourages our people to achieve their full potential.
This spiel was followed by a request to complete the Start Up Fund Application Questionnaire presented below:
The following is your STARTUP FUND APPLICATION QUESTIONNAIRE.
I will forward your answers to the Financial Department to enable your
STARTUP CHECK to be approved and allocated to the financier for funding to meet your STARTUP CHECK and H.O.L (HOME OFFICE LOCATION) set
up at your registered location with ‘Xerox’ third party vendor installer agent.
What bank do you operate with?
How long have you been using their services?
How would you rate their customer service on a scale of 1 – 10?
Do you have an ATM/Debit/Credit card?
How many minutes away is your local ATM / Branch from you?
Provide your Full name, (Physical Home Address and Cellphone Number).
Your name will be written according to how you want it on the check that will be mailed to you.
Here is the introduction to the actual scam, and the second tier of data collection for the scammer. Until this point, I was expecting him to ask for my account and routing number to set up direct deposit pay. Instead he wanted to mail me a check.
Here is how this scam works:
- The company sends you a check to cover the cost of the office equipment and installation.
- The scammer then instructs you to deposit the check and wait for it to “clear.”
- You would be instructed to then withdraw the money and wire it to the installer so that he can purchase and install your home office equipment.
- The company check bounces, and in many cases, severely overdraws the bank account.
- The scammer is long gone with the wired cash and there is no way to trace or contact the imposter.
- There is no recourse for the victim who is responsible for the negative balance in their account.
- Although the bank employees may be sympathetic, they will not refund your money.
- You can notify the police, but they will tell you there is nothing they can do.
This was a rather unsophisticated digital scam. There were no bots, trackers or password readers introduced through viruses in the emails. Rather the social media platforms, targeted companies and scam victims were exploited. The perpetrators relied on information that is readily available on social media and the internet, manipulated to abuse the gullible nature of the unsuspecting victim who desperately wants the dream job the imposters portray. DON’T FALL FOR IT!
If you are a victim of a scam, it is a hard lesson learned. I hope this article saves someone from making this mistake. Although there is no recourse for recovery of the lost funds, it is important to report these scams to the proper authorities. In this case, the talent acquisition specialist who I reached out to took my concerns very seriously. I forwarded all the information to him so that his company could initiate its’ own investigation. I also contacted the job board where the scammer told me he viewed my resume. This was a state managed workforce exchange and they also took my complaint seriously. Their only recourse; however, was to shut down the bogus operators who had infiltrated their system. For additional sources to report internet scams please visit https://www.usa.gov/online-safety. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Also keep in mind that you can begin a business of your own by creating a website! A good example is something like a Fashion blog. If you have an interest in something like this, feel free to review this fashion blog and use it as an example.
This post was written as a guest contribution by Cheryl O. If you’re interested in connecting with her, please do so on her Linkedin Profile.