The Job Scam That Even You Could Fall For

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This might be the most sophisticated job scam I’ve ever seen. Thanks to a near-victim, you’ll get a rare chance to see a real pro almost pull off a nearly perfect digital caper.

You do things when you are job hunting that you wouldn’t normally do. You meet strangers. You share a lot of personal information with the world, on resumes and through job sites. You’re vulnerable. And most critically: You generally need money. It’s a scammer’s dream, and that’s why job-hunting scams are so persistent and prevalent.

Every chance I get, I try to explain that “smart” folks fall for scams all the time — and those at greatest risk are those who think they are too clever for criminals. This is one of those stories.

Josh Belzman is not just a tech savvy worker; he’s spent the better part of the last decade as a social media professional in Seattle. He’s been working in and around the internet’s cesspools for years.

Still, he recently went halfway down the aisle with a criminal offering the false hope of an exciting job in social media. Like all victims and near victims, he couldn’t stop blaming himself as he described the sequence to me— but I can see exactly why Josh danced with the devil.

Josh, 39, is job hunting, and he received an email from a woman named Morgan who said she worked for a big law firm and needed contract social media work for $39-$45 an hour. That kind of short-term gig is exactly what people like Josh need while they look for their next career step.

“I probably should have trusted my spidey sense and not engaged at all but you know how it goes when looking for work— your guard and confidence can drop,” he said.

Morgan asked for a Google hangout chat as a first step. Josh did his due diligence, and Googled her. Up came a LinkedIn profile that checked out. She had a long professional history in the Seattle area, including alleged stints as a ski instructor at nearby Snoqualmie Summit. It said she had worked at various law firms dating back to 2009. The firm (I won’t mention it) was real. So he jumped online, ready to answer her questions and ask a few.

Generally, con artists betray themselves during real-time interactions. They speak poor English, they show obvious lack of subject matter knowledge, and there are awkward delays. Morgan exhibited none of those. In fact, her questions for Josh were spot on. Here’s a partial list I pulled from a transcript of their chat.

“Could you give us an example of a limitation on a social platform that you have experienced? How did you overcome this?”

“Have you ever had to handle a Social Media crisis? If so, could you provide an example and how would you describe your work ethics?”

“How would you allocate our Social Media advertising budget and How do you evaluate new social platforms? How do you stay on top of the latest updates and innovations in Social Media?”

“Do you have your own blog? Do you currently write content for various Social Media platforms and why should we hire you?”

Josh answered each one deliberately. After each response, she replied, “good,” “very good,” and eventually “great.” All what you’d expect, or even hope for, during an interview.

Reading through the full transcript, you can see in retrospect that all these questions could have been cut and pasted from a script. In fact, I suspect the criminals somehow lifted them from an actual interview involving a social media position— perhaps they’d applied for a job themselves earlier just to understand what “marks” would expect.

Only once was there something more that might have tipped off Josh. When he, smartly, tried to interrupt and ask his own questions, Morgan’s reaction was a bit off.

Josh: Mind if I ask a few questions about the role?

Morgan: Sure when we done with this process so you can get all the details you need to know.

But that’s it. The rest of the interview went as you might expect. LinkedIn page and all. Until …

Morgan: How soon can you begin work if luckily chosen for the position, do you need any our Company benefits and what means of Payment would you prefer; Check Or Direct Deposit?

Morgan: What bank are you with for Direct deposit/Check so we can see if it tallies with our preferred banks and do you have any question before i move forward?

Josh: I’m not comfortable sharing banking info online.

(Morgan may not be on Hangouts right now. Your messages will be seen later.)

The “line” went immediately dead.

Fortunately, after an hour of “seduction” and with the lure of a $35-an-hour job, Josh did listen to his spidey sense and threw up a roadblock. And as soon as Morgan saw he wouldn’t play along, she “hung up” on him.

An hour or so wasted, but it could have been much worse.

“I should have never entertained this — the initial email was sketchy but I chalked that up to some office admin being asked to help find candidates,” he said. “Going back through I see very few comments in ‘her’ voice— just a lot of cut-and-paste questions and ‘OK good.’ Amazing the tricks your mind plays in you when you’re visualizing a certain situation.”

After the disconnect, Josh called the firm and was told no one by that name worked there.

I, however, did find someone with her name who had posted a resume that was similar. It’s likely the con artists assumed elements of her identity for the scam. I emailed her, and got no response. I also emailed the person who chatted with Josh and got no response.

“The initial email was unsolicited with that odd name but I saw the LinkedIn profile and I’ve had some of those mails come through (job sites),” Josh said. “The hangout thing raised eyebrows but I suspended some of that because I got caught up answering the questions.”

Tips for Avoiding Scammers

So what should you do? The big one: Always trust your gut. I pretty much never talk to anyone who falls for these things who doesn’t say they had a queasy feeling in their stomach at some point.

Also, do what Josh did. Say it out loud: “I’m not comfortable with that.” It’s a handy phrase. A real person will react with an apology to that, like “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” A con artist, or a bad person, will push you instead. Or hang up.

Finally, be realistic. If you are out of work, you are vulnerable. No matter how smart and put together you think you are. Know that going in. You’ll be more likely to hit the pause button if things go south, and generally, hitting pause is enough to scare off bad guys.

Here’s a handy list of ways to spot “Work at Home” scams. And if you think you’ve already fallen prey to an identity theft scam, it’s a good idea to keep an close eye on your credit. New accounts you don’t recognize on your credit reports or a sudden drop in credit scores are signs that fraud is afoot. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) You can find more steps to take if you are an identity theft victim here.

Image: PeopleImages

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The Top Scams of 2015

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Scams cost consumers more than $1 million this year, according to a roundup of reports by the Better Business Bureau. Since that figure only accounts for incidents reported to the BBB, actual losses may be even greater. The good news is 85% of consumers who reported these scams realized what was going on before it was too late.

Then again, the best defense against scams is to know the signs. Most scams on the BBB’s list happened over the phone and involved asking consumers to pay for something they shouldn’t, such as winning a sweepstakes. Here are the 10 most common scams reported to the BBB this year.

1. Back Taxes

Reports this year: 2,413
Percentage of all reports: 24%

Someone claiming to be from the IRS calls saying you owe back taxes and must pay immediately. They may demand payment by money transfer or prepaid debit card. The first sign it’s a scam? The IRS never calls.

2. Debt Collection Scammers

Reports this year: 835
Percentage of reports: 8.3%

Here, someone calls saying you have an unpaid debt and could face wage garnishment, lawsuits or jail time. But even legitimate debt collectors can’t make threats. If you have debts in collection, know your rights so you can deal with the issue. (Here are a few tips for spotting a debt collection scammer.)

3. Sweepstakes, Prizes & Gifts

Reports this year: 811
Percentage of reports: 8%

Someone calls, emails or writes to say you’ve won a prize and need to pay delivery fees. But winning a contest you didn’t enter should be a red flag, and you shouldn’t pay for something you’ve won, the BBB says.

4. Tech Support Calls

Reports this year: 608
Percentage of reports: 6%

Someone calls to say they’ve detected a virus on your computer. They request remote access, perhaps for a fee, when all they want is to look through your data.

5. Government Grants

Reports this year: 574
Percentage of reports: 5.7%

You receive a phone call saying you’ve won a government grant and need to pay processing fees. Of course, the victim wires the money only to never receive the grant.

6. Advanced Fee Loans

Reports this year: 388
Percentage of reports: 3.8%

While researching loans online, you come across an ad and click for more info. After sending the application, someone calls or emails to say you’ve been approved — that is, if you send money. Not only do you lose the money (and the loan), you’ve just given a thief your personal info, exposing yourself to identity theft. A criminal can use that info to open new accounts in your name. You can spot these new accounts by monitoring your credit. You can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and you can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com to spot signs of this type of fraud.

7. Credit Cards

Reports this year: 306
Percentage of all reports: 3%

Someone posing as your credit card issuer calls to say you qualify for lower interest rates, you just need to “confirm your account details” and then that info is used to perpetrate fraud.

8. Work-From-Home Scams

Reports this year: 261
Percentage of all reports: 2.6%

You find a job online that lets you earn lots of money from home. Sound too good to be true? It is. Research whoever you work with, because your info could be stolen. You could send your resumé only to never hear back, or worse, get involved in a bad business.

9. Fake Checks/Money Orders

Reports this year: 242
Percentage of all reports: 2.4%

Someone sends a check or money order for more than he owes, and asks you to pay back the difference. By the time you’ve sent payment, the first check has bounced.

10. Lottery ‘Winnings’

Reports this year: 241
Percentage of all reports: 2.4%

A phone call, letter or email says you’ve won a lottery, but need to pay taxes in order to receive the lump sum.

Things to Remember

Common sense will help you avoid losing money or having your identity stolen. But never be too careful: Don’t share personal info. with strangers, especially if they contact you first, and research everyone you do business with. Fraud and identity theft not only cost money, they can damage your credit. Make a habit of reviewing your credit scores for signs of fraud, which you can do for free every 30 days on Credit.com.

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Image: iStock

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