I almost fell victim to a job scam
I am in between jobs. Not happy about it, but there it is. Just a few days ago, I got an email with the subject line “JOB OFFER.” The sender was merely someone named Recruiting Officer.
The email claimed to have seen my resume published on Glassdoor.com. I do indeed have one published there and have been applying for jobs through there and a great deal of other places.
Several things should have tipped me off. First, that the email did not mention a specific job, nor did it list a job title. Second, the name of the company offering this job was not listed in the email. Third, the email was not well written; it was riddled with spelling, punctuation and formatting errors. The last sentence was strangely ungrammatical and lacked a period.
The email was written as if it were a response to a resume submission on my part, and at the time, I paid it no mind. Another really weird thing was that even though I was instructed to contact the so-called “interview manager” named Trish Birch, the only contact information I was given was a Gmail address. I would later discover that at least two other random Gmail addresses were included in the scam.
And to top it all off, I was instructed to download and install Google Hangouts, where the interview would be conducted. I went ahead and installed Google Hangouts on my laptop, my iPhone and my iPad. I was expecting to do a video interview with Ms. Birch, but it was just a little chat on Google Hangouts.
I began the chat by giving them the phony “verification number” they had assigned me in the original email. Only then did I discover the name of the purported company: Swedish HealthCare Ltd. After a brief introduction, the so-called recruitment officer then gave me a list of the available positions: Logistics, Data Entry, Clerical Admin, Administrative Clerk/Assistance, Customer Service, Receptionist and “financial.” I am not joking about that last part.
After asking me if I’ve ever done an online interview (I have, but only once), she gives me a paragraph describing the company. I later discovered that it was copied from the website of Swedish HealthCare (not limited, or “ltd”) http://www.swedishhealthcare.com. Then she goes on to claim that they are setting up many branches all across the US and “near your location.” She claims that they’re looking for sixteen new hires to work from home. That being said, she never actually listed the city in which this office was supposed to be opened. I, to my utter embarrassment, never asked. I did, however, ask when these new offices would be built. She told me three months.
So Ms. Birch then says she wants to know more about me. She explains that she is the new Interview-Manager of Swedish HealthCare Ltd, then asks for my name, age, sex and location. I (stupidly) give her the information, but I don’t divulge my exact address…yet.
The written English of this person begins to deteriorate badly, but I didn’t want to say or do anything for fear of being considered racist, bigoted or overly nationalist. This next part deals with my potential supervisor and that the company will provide training and a cell phone to interact with customers and staff. Suspicious, because I had never told her that I was interested in doing any customer service.
Then, a list of my duties and responsibilities:
1. Sorting out the post
2. Answering the phones
3. Ordering office stationary supplies
4. Greeting clients
7. Managing diaries
8. Provide back-up materials for callbacks
9. Route calls elsewhere as needed
10. Do phone surveys/inquiries as needed
11. Schedule meetings, set appointments and take care of meeting details.
All of the above sounds like the duties and responsibilities of a receptionist or office manager. All of that was fine with me, as I’ve done that kind of work before.
Then she outlines the daily procedure — tasks and assignments will be sent via IM and email, and I am to submit my work back to her at the end of the day via email. Something else I should have been suspicious about. She’s supposed to be an “Interivew-Manager” or recruiting officer. Her job is to find candidates and interview them. She wouldn’t be my supervisor. Why would I submit work to her?
So she then gives me the piece of information that makes my eyes go wide. Like, really wide. Training for the job is two weeks, and I get paid a whopping $15 per hour for training. WOW. But it gets better. Once I got out of training, I’d be working at $25 per hour, Monday through Friday, at 40 hours or less a week. Pay day, according to her, was every Friday. Later on she asked me if I wanted to be paid by the week or every two weeks. Keep an eye out for inconsistencies like this. I was too dazzled by the pay to notice.
She rattled off a list of benefits and said that I’d be eligible for them after a month of being with the company. She never specified whether or not I’d have to be working full time consistently in order to qualify…maybe I should have known that, but it doesn’t hurt to let people know.
Then she goes into the training. At first, she said I’d have a week’s worth of training…then later on she said I’d have two weeks. The training would be done online using a computer and a phone. She then stated that I would be faxed or emailed paperwork and an “HR document” during training that I’d have to fill out, sign and email back. Yet she never asked me for a fax number.
Since both of my primary computers are Macs, I asked if whatever software they used would be Mac compatible. She told me that the company would provide me with all the necessary equipment. I was like, “okay.”
Then, according to her, we finally began the interview. She would ask me questions, and I’d have to answer them, punctuating every answer with the word DONE in all caps. She wanted me to be quick with my answers.
The questions were general, basic, and vague. None of the questions were terribly out of the ordinary, but they were such general questions that you could ask them of a McDonald’s applicant. She asked me which bank I used, to “see if it tallies with the company’s official salary payment account.” I should have known that that was suspicious. That question came after she asked me if I preferred payment via check or direct deposit. I prefer direct deposit, and told her so. I also told her the name of the bank I had an account with, but fortunately, I did NOT give out my routing number or account number. Not even I am that stupid. If she had asked for it during the interview, that would have been immediately suspicious to me.
After telling her which bank I had an account with, she told me that I’d be a good fit for the company, and that she’d forward my answers to the company’s board of directors for proper view and consideration. She told me to stay online, and that she’d give me the results.
The interview questions barely had anything to do with the job duties listed, nor did they have anything to do with the skills I would need to do the job, except for the one question about Microsoft Excel. Ten minutes later she gave me the results.
I had been approved to be a staff of Swedish HealthCare Ltd. Yes, she said “you have been approved to be a staff” of the company. Really? I should have smelled a rat right then and there. Such decisions never, EVER take a mere ten minutes, and no board of directors would sit around waiting to read a bunch of vague answers from an online interview! None of them would even bother with the recruitment process anyway?
So I was all elated to have been hired and stuff, and then she tells me that I’ll make $25.75 an hour, and that I’d receive my payment via direct deposit either weekly or bi-weekly.
She then tells me that the company will provide me with all the “mini office” equipment needed to begin the training and work. She then gives me the specs of a mid-range HP laptop that honestly looked copied and pasted from a website. Tacked on to the end of the specs is this: “and a time tracker software to enable you to calculate the amount of time you have worked per day…” You can get time tracking software at the App Store for not much money. In fact, I already have a time card app on my iPad.
Then here’s where it gets really, really weird. Yeah, lots of people work from home…some people use company-issued computers, and some use their own. However, a reputable company would simply either send you what you need or have you pick it up from a local office. Instead, she tells me that she will send me a check that I will need to use to purchase the hardware and software from one of their trusted vendors. I stupidly said “okay” and that I’d keep an eye out. She also tells me that I need to report on my PC and check my email daily so that I don’t miss anything important regarding the delivery of this check.
She tells me that once I get the check, I’ll need to deposit it into my bank account. I was to keep $150 of it as a sign up bonus, and use the rest to purchase the important software and computers from the “trusted vendor” they have been purchasing from for years. An interesting tidbit that I did not notice, and which, in hindsight, marks this as definite proof of a scam: Once the check is deposited, I’d have to go back to the bank and withdraw that money (she specifically instructed me to wait until the funds were available) and then get a money order because that’s the only form of payment the so-called vendor accepts. At the time, I totally glossed over that, and I really wish I hadn’t.
Then she asks me to regurgitate that information, to ensure that I understood correctly. I said yes. She asks me how I want my name to appear on the check, and I tell her.
This next part stood out as weird to me…she then tells me that she will forward my interview answers to the company’s board of directors for proper review and consideration. Um, hadn’t she already done that? I just let it slide.
Then she tells me that I need to email her my full name, address, home phone number and email address to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I stupidly send her the information. SIGH.
Then, oddly enough, she tells me to make sure I do not conduct any other online interview. I am told to join her online the following morning at 8 am. She then asks me if I have a mobile deposit application on my phone (I am guessing she meant “do you have an app that allows you to deposit a check via the phone’s camera), or do I want the check mailed to me. I am capable of depositing checks into my account using the cameras on my phone, but I do not tell her that. Instead, I inform her that I want the check mailed to me.
About ten minutes later, she informs me that the amount of the check that will be sent to me is $3890. WOW. I was like, “okay.”
Next morning, I am there at 8 am, logged on to Google Hangouts. She tells me that training will last for two weeks, and is divided into two parts. One part for each week. The first week is based on objective/research questions while the second week is hands-on training with all the crap I’m supposed to buy with their money.
Research training consisted of nothing more than answering the kind of questions you’d find on an application for Walmart or Target. Customer service oriented questions. Those are only applicable to like, the receptionist position, if anything. I still had no idea as to what my job title was, or the exact nature of my work beyond that list she gave me. None of this pertained to the other work I would supposedly be doing, like typing, research, etc.
She then gives me a tracking number for the check. It was apparently sent via USPS. She asks me to track the check. I do, and give her the details. She then lets me go, and I answer the questions and email them back to her.
Before we go, I ask if the check will include the address of the website I’ll be ordering the software from. She says no, that she’ll “get you a vendor for that.”
Cut to the next morning. I ask if I’ll be working on the weekends. She says no, but if that changes, she’ll let me know. I’m planning on visiting family this weekend, and wanted to ensure that the check got here before I left. That $150 bonus was gonna be my spending money.
The training consisted of nothing more than another set of customer-service oriented questions, except for one about finding mistakes on an assignment someone else had given me. She told me that it was due by 4 pm. I said okay, and got to work. It didn’t take me long to answer the questions. I let her know that I’m done, and she sends me another set. Still more customer-oriented questions, but they’re more for office work and not retail work. I answer those and send them off, and she says she’ll get back to me in a couple of hours.
Two hours came and went, and she never got back to me. So I just went about my business and the next day came. According to the USPS tracking page, the check was supposed to be delivered at 3 pm on August 17. The check never came.
I log on the next morning, and we begin our “training” again. Now she says that it will be delivered that morning, via FedEx. She gives me a tracking number. I track it and provide the details. She then gives me today’s training, of which consists of the second set of questions she gave me yesterday. I let her know, and she then tells me to write a 1,500 word essay on how I can help the company with my skills. I get to work on it. I let her know I’m working on it, and she reduces the word count to 500. I finish the essay by 9 am.
She tells me to keep an eye out for the check. We say goodbye and I go about my morning. Sometime between 11 and 11:30 am the check arrives. It is then that I have to tell my grandfather that I was “hired” by this company…I didn’t want to say anything because part of me thought it was way too good to be true, and I didn’t want him to get his hopes up. He brings the check up to my bedroom. I open it and it is indeed there. I wish I had taken a picture of it.
The so-called “recruiter” must have been obsessively tracking the check because as I am talking about it with my grandfather, my phone is going off. Once he goes back downstairs to work on the yard, I get back online with her, and she asks me to confirm the amount of the check. It was $3,980.09.
She tells me that I need to go to my bank and deposit the check. She claims that once deposited, the funds will be made available for withdrawal within 24 hours. She tells me to make sure to take a picture of the deposit slip and send it to her for their records. Then she asks me how long it will take me to deposit the check. I say about an hour.
This whole time I had been doing research online, trying to find a Swedish HealthCare Ltd. I find a couple of job listings on job search sites, but otherwise, nothing. I do see the Swedish HealthCare website, and I poke around, looking in the About Us section. I look at one of the job listings. Apparently, some of the text on the job listing was taken from their About Us page.
I then ask the recruitment officer if their company has a website. She gives me the following: www.swedishealthcare.com. Just as I suspected. I was hoping that it would make me feel better, but it doesn’t, because some things — well, many things just don’t add up.
For the next hour, she harangues me about heading to the bank to deposit the check. I don’t drive, and my grandfather is out in the yard, so I wait for him to finish and shower, of which takes an hour and a half.
Then we set out. My grandfather, upon seeing the check, told me that he thinks it’s a scam. A big part of me thinks so too, but I am still stupidly hopeful. We both agree that depositing it into either of my existing bank accounts is a very bad idea. THANK GOD I didn’t use my bank’s app to deposit the check!!!
So as I said, we head out. I choose one of the big, national banks in town. I take the check inside and tell them I want to open a new bank account. I sit down with a nice girl who, shockingly enough, is shorter than me (I am really short, and it’s embarrassing).
She knows right off the bat that I have a fraudulent check. Not only that, another bank employee comes in and tells me the same thing. I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank God they had stopped me before things had gotten really bad. Before I had stupidly put that check in a brand new bank account.
He explained to me that what would happen is that they’d have me put it in the bank, then, after a period of time, withdraw the money. After that, the check would bounce, and I’d have a massive negative balance on the account that I’d be responsible for. This all corresponds with what the recruitment officer had told me. In all likelihood, this “vendor” that only takes money orders would have been the scammer, who, under the guise of ordering computers and software, would have run off with the money and had told me a zillion excuses when the software and hardware didn’t turn up. AND I’d have been responsible for an overdrawn account!
I want to thank the expertise of those people at the bank for nipping this in the bud. They had told me that this happened a *lot*. I am now sitting in a Books-A-Million (I love bookstores, but I love coffee shops even more — both are great places to write), bummed that there is no $150 bonus or the fabulous $25 per hour, but a little wiser now.
Why did I fall for it? The bit about Glassdoor.com drew me in. I have applied for a LOT of jobs on that site, and I figured that it was a response from the many submissions that I made, and that I’d find it in my history later. Turns out that it wasn’t there. I also knew that online jobs weren’t so unusual, and that even online job interviews wasn’t so unusual. However, the last one I did — well, the only one I did, was only part of the process. The recruiter for that one had said that they’d get back to me for an in person interview if they liked me (and they did, but I didn’t get the job).
So, what did I learn from this?
1. Read the email carefully. If you don’t remember applying for the job, don’t be afraid to ask how they got your information, and how they were led to your resume.
2. If they do not use official company email addresses for correspondence, don’t bother. It probably isn’t legit. Most communication via email will occur through their official emails, NOT some random Gmail address. Any additional accounts — Google Hangouts, Yahoo Messenger, etc. will usually have their real names attached and will may be included on their business card or in their email signature. Or they may provide it to you, but I highly doubt they’ll give you this information until you are actually hired.
3. Ask for a specific job title, and for the duties and responsibilities of that job. If they offer multiple job titles, ask for the details of all of them, let them know which one you want to be considered for, and ask them which one they have in mind for you. Once interview is done, ask again.
4. Their initial communication wth you should contain information about the company, including, at the very least, a website address. Ask up front if this information is not available.
5. It is suspicious if they do not provide a phone number for you to call. Most recruiters will want to call you during the process.
6. Training should consist of far more than a series of basic questions. I cannot believe I let them fool me with that. I’ve done company provided training. It wasn’t that quick and easy.
7. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is!!!
I didn’t give her my bank account info, such as the routing number (although she might be able to get that, given that I gave her the name of my bank) and account number. I also certainly didn’t give her my social security number. So far, I haven’t lost any money.
The bank kept the check and reported it as fraudulent, along with taking my information. Hopefully nobody else will be scammed. I also sent an email to Swedish HealthCare (who have NO offices in the US, by the way), letting them know that someone is using their company name to scam innocent people.
Now, I’m gonna go keep looking for jobs.
Screenshots from my Google Hangouts chat with this scammer are here: http://imgur.com/a/8fBTZ