Category Archives: Employment Scams

$500/week to wrap your car in ads? Better think again.

I still haven’t encountered anything that contradicts this fraud prevention axiom:

“Cash this check then wire the money back to me” is a sure sign of a scam.

It’s a fairly easy pattern to spot when it comes to things like lottery scams, because the scammers almost literally use that exact wording. But there are other times where the “wire the money back to me” stage is a little more obscure.

One such case is the Car Wrap Advertising Scam. Below is a scan of an actual letter used to initiate this scheme after the would-be victim responded to a random email or text message offer. This letter came with a cashier’s check for $2,390.00 (click to enlarge):

In this case, they’re not directly saying “wire the money back to me,” but they are telling you to give it to someone else, in the form of setting up a payment to a “Decal Specialist.”

What happens when you contact this person? You’re instructed to wire the money from the check, which will eventually be returned as fraudulent, putting you on the hook for the cash you gave away. It’s the same pattern as a lottery scam, only with an additional step in between.

One reason this scam continues to work is that there are actual wrapped cars out there. We’ve all seen them. However, even in cases where these aren’t company-owned vehicles, legitimate car wrap advertisers share certain features:

  • They don’t randomly contact you out of the blue via text message or email
  • They don’t take everyone who applies; they’ll want to know how far you drive each day, where you drive, what kind of car you have, and your driving record
  • They’re not going to pay you $500 per week. About $1,000 per month seems to be the ceiling, and that’s for absolute ideal (for the advertiser) circumstances (i.e. you drive hundreds of miles per day in an area extremely densely-populated with people within the ad’s target demographic; I’m guessing your car has to meet certain visibility criteria as well, because I’ve mostly seen these ad wraps on lifted, customized 4×4 pickups)
  • You don’t pay them at any point, and you’re not responsible for passing along money to whomever applies the decals (“Hey stranger we’ve never met in person, here’s a few thousand dollars to give to someone else for us. We’ll just trust you to not keep it.”)

If you’re truly interested in turning your vehicle into a billboard, there are a few links to apparently legitimate agencies in this Penny Hoarder article. But before you act on anything online, be sure to do a lot of research first, and always get in writing what you are agreeing to do and how you will be compensated. If it’s too easy to get the gig, it’s probably a fraudulent offer.

What is a ‘Reshipping’ scam?

Last time, we looked into Money Mule scams and how they could potentially land you in legal trouble for being an unwitting accomplice to money laundering. This time, we’ll look at the ‘reshipping’ scheme, another type of work-at-home scam.

Reshipping scams work almost identically to money mule schemes, except that instead of receiving electronic deposits and making outgoing wire transfers, victims are lured into accepting shipments of goods (usually electronics), repackaging them, and sending them to someone else. The criminal organizations recruit through job websites and via unsolicited emails, and may set up legitimate-looking websites to give the appearance of an established company.

Where did the reshipped goods come from? When cybercriminals steal things like credit card information, they have to have a way to turn that available credit into cash. Creating fake cards and getting cash advances in-person isn’t practical, so consumer goods are purchased using the stolen payment information. These goods are laundered by way of reshipping schemes, then sold off into the black market around the world. The cash generated from this is subsequently laundered via money mule scams and other methods.

Just as with money mule schemes, just being a victim of reshipping fraud can get you into trouble because you’re the only domestic, easily traceable link in the chain.

The internet is great for job hunting, but you have to be wary of offers that seem a little too easy or where the bar seems to be set too low. Remember that the majority of work-at-home offers are not legitimate employment opportunities. Anyone instructing you to, “Take this item, then give it to these other people for me,” is trying to conceal the origins of whatever it is they’re asking you to touch, whether money or consumer goods. They want you as the only traceable step in the transaction, and they’ve got a reason for wanting it that way.

What is a ‘Money Mule’ scam?

Cybercriminals rake in a lot of cash from their activities (such as mystery shopper scams, lottery and romance scams, and identity theft), which creates a problem: for the most part, they can’t simply start using the funds for personal gain because financial institutions generally ask questions when dealing with amounts in the hundreds of thousands or millions. They need to launder the money to give the appearance of legitimate origins.

Enter the “money mule.”

Criminal organizations set up fraudulent businesses and recruit people with online work-at-home advertisements. These victims are hired under titles like “Transfer Agent” to act as intermediaries between non-existent business entities, supposedly to legally circumvent bureaucratic requirements, fees or taxes.

Anyone who responds to one of these offers will be instructed to open a new account, usually at a specific large bank. The victim receives incoming wire transfers in the $10,000 range, keeps a certain percentage, and then wires the rest (in chunks of around $3,000) to various (fraudulent) companies around the world. Repeat this for a few cycles between a few hundred victims, and the original source of the money becomes obscured.

Unlike the majority of scams, you may notice a difference here: in this case, the mule actually can make a profit. So why not look for a “Transfer Agent” job online and become a “victim,” make a quick couple hundred bucks and then get out?

Because, also unlike other scams, there can be legal consequences for the victim. In an effort to crack down on this type of activity, financial institutions are getting good at noticing suspicious wire transfer activity, and you could end up getting arrested when (not if) you get caught. Not worth it.

The key is to be very suspicious of any job opportunity that seems like it pays too much for the work required, shows up out of the blue (even if you’ve posted a resume on a job website), and steer clear of anything that involves receiving funds via wire, then disbursing those funds to others.

Counterfeit Check Scam Targets College Students (or: Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before)

College students have been targeted by an employment scam that’s going to start sounding familiar as soon as I begin to describe it.

Ads are placed on job websites for administrative positions, or emails are sent directly to students “recruiting” them for the jobs. You know…college…recruiters…there companies who need your talents so badly, they’re hiring these people called recruiters to find you before you find them. That’s the dream, right?

Anyway, students who respond to the ads are sent a cashier’s check…can you guess what’s coming yet? The victim is instructed to cash the check, then wire the funds to someone, presumably to pay for equipment or software.

Now let’s see if you can guess what happens next:

  1. The student receives equipment and software and begins a rewarding career that pays well;
  2. The student gets struck by lightning three times in one week;
  3. The student finds out the check was counterfeit, and since he already wired the money to someone else, is now out several thousand dollars.

The answer is C, but B is actually more likely than A.

Scams usually involve tricking a victim into willingly handing something over, be it money or personal information. Scammers try to invoke emotional responses in order to make potential victims bypass their logic. This is why scammers try to create urgency or incite fear, prey on those who are desperate, or (in this case) prey on a group of people, college students, who know they’re in a competitive scene where the supply is greater than the demand.

Scams like this are easy to avoid, simply by applying a single principle: never cash a check and then wire the funds to someone else. It’s one of those rules that works in dozens of scenarios.

Source: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2017/170118.aspx

Insane promises and the old envelope stuffing scam

One of the first rules in avoiding employment scams is to ignore every advertisement that makes insane promises when it comes to income, and nothing fits that description like the old Envelope Stuffing Scam.

I did a search on this topic on Google. The very first result was an advertisement for one of these very schemes. Here’s a screenshot:

getstuffed1

Why does anyone even bother going to college when they could be putting paper into envelopes? And it even says, “No catch. No scheme.” I mean, if they say they’re not a scam, they must not be, right? I mean, you can believe everything you read on the Internet, right?

The $5,000 is an insane enough claim, but look at the text of the ad. $10 per envelope? That’s an awful lot of money for not much work.

Look at it this way:

Time it takes to put something into an envelope: 10 seconds.
What they claim to pay you: $10/envelope.
What you’d be earning per minute: $60.
What you’d be earning per hour: $3,600.
What you’d be earning per week (40 hours): $144,000.
What you’d be earning per year: $7,488,000.
Jonathan Toews’ 2010-2011 salary: $6,500,000.

You’re making more than an NHL star, just by stuffing envelopes, plus you don’t have to get the spit repeatedly knocked out of you by large, fast men on ice skates. What’s not to love?

This is about all the proof you need that this is a scam. So what’s really going on here?

Apparently, if you try to get into the envelope stuffing business, you won’t end up stuffing a thing (except perhaps your pride). You pay the company up front (always a bad sign) to send you a “kit” (a word that almost never leads to good things when it comes to job offers). With this kit, you’re supposed to rope other people into the envelope stuffing business. It sounds an awful lot like a pyramid scheme to me.

Never just jump into a job offer without checking it out first. Aside from paying money for a job that turns out to be a sham, these shady companies aren’t above selling your personal information to other entities.

There are ways to earn money online; start by ignoring almost everything on the Internet

It’s easy to get bogged down in all the negatives when you’re writing article after article about scam and fraud prevention. “Here’s how not to get taken,” you tell people, and leave it at that.

However, the truth is that not everyone on the Internet is trying to steal from you.

Okay, most, but not everyone. The key is to be able to tell the difference.

I read a nice article from CBS News today (Work at Home and Make Money – REALLY!) that not only gives great tips on avoiding work-at-home scams, but actually offers suggestions of legitimate companies that can help you earn money from home. I’ve never really seen that before.

One of the things you’ll immediately notice is that none of these companies scream about anyone making $5,000 per week. In some cases, you have to have some pretty good knowledge of a topic, or even certification. In others, you’re basically selling your stuff on eBay (if it’s just old stuff) or Etsy (if it’s something vintage or handmade).

Nobody is getting rich off these systems. If it’s fabulous wealth you’re after, you’re going to have to be a lot more inventive. But if your goal is simply to supplement your income, there might be something useful in the article.

BobBear anti-fraud site shutting down.

This is sort of a bummer—the website bobbear.co.uk is shutting down for good.

According to the message on the site, if someone made a serious offer, he might sell the site to them. Even so, I doubt this would be done as a non-commercial venture. Websites always lose the thread when the person with the original vision is no longer involved (look at the sad case of JumpTheShark.com, which I’m not even going to link to because it’s pathetic. That was a bad thing you did, TVGuide.com).

BobBear was dedicated to exposing money laundering and reshipping fraud websites. Often these sites were hard to spot, as they look like professional pages from legitimate companies.

However, they were anything but. People who applied for jobs would either end up reshipping stolen electronics between thieves or wiring stolen money between bank accounts.

There are still a few lessons to be learned from BobBear:

  1. You have to research companies before you apply for a job. Just because it has a website doesn’t mean it’s a real company.
  2. Poor grammar and spelling are warning signs, but an absence of bad English doesn’t prove a site is legitimate.
  3. There is no reason to hire someone to receive a shipment of goods, and then have them send it to someone else.
  4. There is no reason to hire someone to receive electronic payments, and then have them wire these to someone else.

Employment Scams: a perfect illustration of what to watch out for.

Quite some time ago, I posted an article about words that signify a probable scam.

This recent article from the Puget Sound Business Journal illustrates that concept beautifully.

In this story, the Better Business Bureau is slamming (yeah!) schemes called  “Search Profit System” and “Money Mastery,” both operated by the same company.

Both of those names contain red-flag words: “profit” and “money,” respectively. Right away, if you know what to watch for, you know you’re dealing with something that’s probably not legitimate. The fact that it’s a “work-at-home” program might also cause your “scam detector” to go haywire.

You’d be right, too. People who signed up for this program found themselves paying $1.95 for a starter packet, and then $49.95 every month for absolutely nothing. When they tried to cancel their accounts, they found it impossible to do.

However, if the names of the programs didn’t tip you off, this should: 

“Quit living paycheck to paycheck, get rid of debt, and have enough to retire when you want to. Pay off all of your debt including your mortgage in three to nine years.”

That’s a pretty hefty claim, isn’t it? It’s not exactly screaming, “Become a millionaire instantly!”—it’s a little more subtle than that—but it is promising an answer to all your problems.

Think about that first sentence. When was the last time you were hired for a legitimate job where the interviewer used the phrase, “quit living paycheck to paycheck?” It’s a weird thing to say when you’re advertising a job.

No, a phrase like that is designed to lure people who are desperate for money and have reached that “any port in a storm” point. However, if you pursue a claim like the ones being made by this advertisement, you’ll quickly learn one hard lesson: if there’s one thing worse than being broke, it’s being broke while getting charged $50 per month for absolutely nothing.

The Dangers of Online Job Searching: Money Laundering and Reshipping Schemes

I almost don’t even know where to begin because this topic is so large, and actually sort of frightening.

The quick version is that you have to be extremely careful with online job listings, even when they appear on a site like CareerBuilder or Monster, and even if you contact them first. You don’t want to inadvertently end up helping criminals launder money or goods.

I’ve written quite a few posts on avoiding Mystery Shopper scams over the past seven months, but there are other types of employment fraud that may not even steal your money, but can lead you into being the only traceable link in a money laundering chain.

Money laundering is a felony, in case you were wondering.

There are thousands of fake companies with fake websites, offering attractive sounding part-time work-at-home jobs. Often these jobs involve transferring payments between clients, or receiving shipments of goods and forwarding them to their final destination. What’s really happening is that you’re being used as a “mule.” The process works like this:

  1. After you’ve been hired, you give the company your bank account information and wait.
  2. A large deposit, usually a little under $10,000 will be wired into your account.
  3. You are instructed to withdraw these funds, minus your “fee,” and use Western Union or Moneygram to wire it to different places, usually in chunks of slightly less than $3,000.
  4. You get arrested and interrogated for your involvement in international money laundering.
  5. You might not ultimately end up in jail, but since you gave this “company” your personal information, you become a victim of identity theft later on.

The “reshipping” version of this scheme works this way:

  1. After you’ve been hired, you wait for a shipment to arrive.
  2. A shipment of electronics arrives with instructions to send it to a “client.”
  3. You do exactly that.
  4. You get arrested and interrogated for your involvement in international fraud, because those electronics were purchased with stolen credit card information.
  5. You might not ultimately end up in jail, but since you gave this “company” your personal information, you become a victim of identity theft later on.

So, you might not be the one being robbed of money in this case, but you’re definitely helping organized criminals (usually based in Eastern Europe) steal money and conceal the source of their funds.

Whence is the money being stolen? Usually, from businesses or public entities such as the Delray Beach Public Library whose networks have been compromised with malware (the link takes you to a fascinating rundown of a real-life example of this scheme).

So, how do you separate the legitimate job listings from the money laundering and reshipping schemes? It’s not super-easy, to tell you the truth. These criminals are very skilled at creating fake websites and credentials, and they use channels like CareerBuilder and Monster to hook potential mules. There are some things to keep in mind, though.

  1. Ignore any job offer in which you were contacted out of the blue. You’ve heard this one from me before.
  2. If you’ve got a resume up on a job search site, be extremely careful of any company that contacts you first. Take a few extra minutes to check out their website and carefully read the offer. If it has anything to do with “part-time work-at-home,” there’s about a 98% chance that it’s not something you should pursue.
  3. Don’t assume that having a website means a company is legitimate.
  4. Watch for poor English in the job listing or on the website. One dead giveaway is placing a definite article before a city (“We are based in the London”), which I hear is typical of Russian speakers who aren’t quite fluent in English. However, they also cut and paste from real websites, too—absence of this type of evidence is not an automatic green light for you.
  5. Just be extremely cynical about any company that claims to be in the shipping business.
  6. Also be extremely wary of jobs with titles like “Financial Agent,” Financial Manager,” or anything involving “processing payments.” Companies either process their own payments, or hire other companies (not individuals) to do it for them.
  7. Ask yourself this: why would an international corporation trust some random person out of the general public to receive payments or goods and forward them to their destination? What legitimate reason could they have for needing a middleman?
  8. Apply for jobs only with companies you’ve either heard of, or with companies with a verifiable web presence beyond just their own websites.
  9. Look up the company address on Google Maps, and look at the Street View. Compare it to the photo of the company’s headquarters on their website.
  10. Run a virus and spyware check after you’ve visited any website that ended up looking fishy. Just to check.

It’s hard to even come up with these guidelines, because some of these job listings are so similar to real ones. However, I think the first place I would start when checking out a company is to head over to bobbear.co.uk.

Bobbear is an excellent site (despite its funky “straight outta 1995” appearance), with a running list of over a thousand active and inactive websites from fake companies. Under the section titled “Active Frauds,” you can view screenshots of these fake websites and a rundown of all the warning signs that they are fraudulent. I wouldn’t click any links under “Undocumented, Verified Fraud Sites” though, because these lead to the actual sites (and you never know what kind of malware might be lurking).

As you can see, there are hundreds of active sites. Check out nine or ten on bobbear, though, and you’ll start to see patterns that will help you stay vigilant when you’re looking for a new career.

Mystery Shopper scams escalating.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), mystery shopper scams are seeing an increase in frequency.

Continued high unemployment rates are likely the root of this upswing—the longer people are out of work, the more likely they are to want to believe in a job opportunity, no matter how strongly all signs are pointing to “scam.”

Worse, it appears the scammers have become a little more patient: they’re not going in for the kill until they’ve earned your trust by sending you on what appears to be a legitimate secret shopper mission.

The victim in this case doesn’t get a cashier’s check right off the bat. First they are sent to a retail location (unspecified in the IC3 press release, but I’d bet you a dollar it’s usually Wal-Mart) with instructions to spend a certain amount of money and take notes on various aspects of their shopping experience. The victim does as told, and reports back to the “employer.”

For the second assignment, the victim is mailed a cashier’s check, which is to be (you guessed it) cashed and wired back to the scammers from the same retail location, with some kept by the victim as payment. The usual result follows: the victim cashes the check, wires most of it back, and finds out a few days later that it was counterfeit and they now owe their financial institution around $2,600.

No, the victim’s bank or credit union isn’t going to cover the fake check. Why should they? It’s not their fault the victim presented a phony check.

No, the bank or credit union from whom the fake check is drawn isn’t going to cover it, either. Why should they? They didn’t create the check. It was never drawn off a legitimate account in the first place. If someone made a fake box of checks with your name and account number on them, would you feel like you had to cover those checks? Of course not. Financial institutions feel the same way.

No, the person who ends up having to cover the check is the victim. If they’re lucky, they bank at a financial institution that puts a hold on cashier’s checks. If they’re even luckier, the teller asked them about the check and recognized it as a scam, and the check was never even deposited to begin with.

But if they’re unlucky, or if they manipulated the teller into releasing the funds right away, they’ll always end up wishing there had been a hold placed or an alert teller to dissuade them.

The problem with not having a source of income is that you generally can’t afford to lose $2,600. Most people can’t afford it when they are employed. Falling for one of these schemes will only make things worse. If you get letters or email offering jobs out of the blue, don’t trust those messages. Being almost broke is still better than being a couple thousand in the hole.