A Major Scam that Most Job Seekers Are Not Aware Of

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In another life I was a banker within a retail branch of a major American bank. Every so often I would be approached by customers who would find jobs at online career sites such as Craigslist and they would find out that it was a major scam. Of course I have already revealed the plot of this story: the job is a scam. For the sake of the situation, try to wear the unknowing victim’s shoes. Here is an example of the scam job posting that has screwed over a number of individuals:

We are searching for an intelligent and reliable operations coordinator / event steward. We have a small and friendly work environment and are searching for someone who is motivated, organized and outgoing with a flexible schedule allowing you to work events and a few weekends and evenings throughout the year. Also, your driver’s license must be current and you must have reliable transportation to run a few office errands.

Your job daily job responsibilities include: 

  • Taking down and setting up event space, such as removing all of the furniture in a room, vacuuming and resetting the room
  • Maintaining a high standard of sanitation and cleanliness during the event including tables, chairs, walkways, Linen, walls and carpets
  • Assisting with making coffee and tea or refilling the water during an event
  • Tracking UPS orders for receiving
  • Light office work
  • Packaging orders for shipping while logging incoming shipments, placing them in inventory, locating orders and ordering supplies

This sounds like a pretty standard job posting for an administrator or office manager. If you are low on money and desperate for work, you would definitely apply for this legitimate-seeming position. You send off an email with attached resume and are lucky enough to hear back from them promptly. You have a phone interview with them and the management tells you that you sound like the ideal candidate for the position so they have an upcoming event for you to coordinate. These scam artists may even call you to ensure you are who you say you are. That is rather ironic but confirms the so-called legitimacy of the job.

Shortly after, they mail you the details of the event and a check for $5,000. They provide further instructions that you must deposit the check and purchase a laptop or whatever equipment is necessary to ensure you are prepared for the event. Additional instructions say to mail $3,000 of that check to the event speaker. The scammers further tell you that they want to ensure they can trust you to provide more work in the future. Of course you accept since they are giving you money with no risk and this is where the bottom falls out.

Naturally you feel uncertain about depositing the check but do it anyway and wait a week until it clears. Several days after the deposit, you see the money is in your account. Of course you are now thinking that this is a legitimate company with a legitimate job. You then send the money to the event speaker as instructed. Several days pass and you notice that your account is -$3,000. This is due to the fact that the check was created from a small bank in a tiny town. The time it took to verify the check was actually longer than the time funds were available in your account. This is due to the standard practice that all checks need to be verified by both banks.

This is often difficult to accomplish since it may be difficult to contact the clearing department at the small bank. Meanwhile, the larger banks maintain their own fund policies. Some banks choose to make duns available earlier which improves customer satisfaction. Also, due to the Expedited Funds Availability Act, banks are restricted to the amount of time they can hold funds. This also allows for the situation whereby you deposit a check and, although it appears to clear, the money can be pulled out of your account several days later. This is all based on the way in which the clearing system works within banks.

There are certain tells within this story that can, hopefully, help you determine if there is a scam at work. First, the fact that the scammers said, “we need be able to prove we can trust you so here is $5,000” is not a typical practice for reputable companies. Second, sending money back to someone after it has been deposited in your bank account is a major red flag. Third, no legitimate company is going to hand a new employee thousands of dollars to purchase equipment so they can do their job. Even at tiny companies, there is a small amount of red tape that must be signed off on by multiple individuals. Finally, there was never any real background check. Instead, the scam artists simply called to verify the identity of the victim. Professional positions often require a background check before they hand over $5,000.

Unfortunately, thousands of scams like this are operated everyday with hardworking individuals being the victims and losing a large chunk of money that they cannot afford to lose. These scams are extremely difficult to detect because they sound like regular job postings. Even the follow-up call is a fairly professional activity. There are a few minor holes in the overall job posting as listed above. However, these scam artists pray on those who desperately need money. It’s the ultimate misdirection. As the victim is so focused on finding a reliable job to get back on-track, they do not notice the multiple subtle cues that are occurring. It is safe to assume that an individual with an existing job who is simply looking to change positions would detect that something isn’t right about this situation.

The moral of the story is that anytime you must forward money using a check, it is always a scam. You must always be careful when dealing with money, even when it comes to what seems to be a legitimate job posting.

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