Remote work, which was a necessity for many during the pandemic, is now commonplace. While it’s hard to beat the commute, criminals are paying close attention to this trend too. In this episode, a recent MBA graduate lands what feels like her dream job at a start-up that advocates for women’s empowerment. The company culture is great and the job is interesting. But when her paychecks never show up, she begins to suspect the work-from-home job is too good to be true.
[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:02] M: The next Monday when we had our Monday morning meeting, she basically said, "Hey guys, I'm sure you're all wondering, you know, where your money is." And so from there it was like, "Well it should be, it should be in your account by Friday." And then, you know, that turned into next week, and then that turned into it being there by Thanksgiving. And then it was like, "Okay, you should have it by December 1st ..."
[00:00:30] Bob: For decades American workers and employers had dabbled with the idea of telecommuting, working from home, but only a tiny fraction of workplaces really allowed it. Then the pandemic hit. The world was plunged into a real-time experiment in remote work, and despite an awful lot of ups and downs and zooming around, it appears working from home is now here to stay. McKinsey recently found that a stunning 58% of US workers had the chance to work from home at least one day a week in 2022, and virtually everyone offered the opportunity to do it, took it. Can't beat the commute, but criminals have paid close attention to this trend too. Work at home jobs have always been fraught with the potential for fraud, fake job listings, even fake companies are easy to create when the job is virtual. Meanwhile, people who are unemployed and job hunting are particularly vulnerable. So today we're going to talk about all the various work from home scams that have popped up during the past couple of years. First, we'll meet a woman who thought she found her dream job, advocating for women's empowerment until her paychecks never came. And then, we'll talk to an expert who will tell you just what job listings to avoid, and even what phrases to look for so you can protect yourself.
[00:01:58] Bob: When our story begins, if I understand correctly, you were a teacher, right?
[00:02:02] M: Yes, I was teaching high school...
[00:02:04] Bob: Oh my God, you were teaching high school.
[00:02:06] M: Yes. (chuckles)
[00:02:08] Bob: So...
[00:02:09] M: It is not for the faint of heart.
[00:02:11] Bob: This busy high school teacher, we'll call her “M” to protect her identity, also managed the school newspaper and who was going to school at night getting an MBA. When she finished her degree after four years in the classroom, she was ready to strike out in a new direction. And in the middle of the pandemic, her job search took a surprising turn.
[00:02:32] Bob: When you were musing about a new career, I mean I can hear in your voice, you're definitely not traditional corporate, but working from home is a whole other big leap. Had you ever imagined a work from home kind of job?
[00:02:46] M: No, honestly not at all. I've actually kind of always been somebody that enjoys being in a creative space, in kind of feeding off the energy of others, and working in a team, and that kind of thing. So the possibility of working from home presented something very, very different for me. But I also knew I had worked very briefly before I started teaching, 30 days in a cubicle for like this financial services company, and I absolutely hated it. Um, I was there, like I said, for 30 days, and on day 30 I was like I can't stay anymore. It was just like the, the idea of being like confined. You know, it was a nice sized cubicle, I guess. It was just...
[00:03:37] Bob: There's no such thing as a nice sized cubicle. (laugh)
[00:03:40] M: I know. I know, it's just like I can't get used to this.
[00:03:44] Bob: And so one day a friend told her about a job at a different kind of company, a start-up, that was working in an area near and dear to to her heart. Empowering women. And the job would let her work from home, a big bonus during the pandemic, so she didn't go back to school that fall, instead, she logged on to her new job.
[00:04:06] M: I felt like once this opportunity presented itself, because it was centered around, you know, women and things like that, I was very drawn to it, so it was the possibility of something new, as well as having like, you know, the impact that I mentioned to you was important to me. My role was Director of Strategic Partnerships, and so essentially the products that we have, like I said, were like career development um, programs and courses and things like that. We kind of use this term like career wellness, so we would kind of help, or we were supposed to help, young women who were transitioning out of college or even like mid-stage in their career, so we'd kind of give them like frameworks and activities to do to clearly articulate who they are and what value they bring, and kind of what they're aspiring to do in their careers. So my role was to kind of create partnerships with businesses um, and maybe work like for instance with their HR department to provide these resources, these career wellness resources for their employees. Or finding like colleges who had college career centers and providing them this as a resource for their students. And just looking for other organizations who were focused on developing young people, more specifically women, in their career. And so I was in charge of kind of building out what these programs would look like.
[00:05:45] Bob: She liked the job, and she liked her coworkers too.
[00:05:49] M: All of us, all of the employees, we were all young women in our, you know, mid-20s, you know, had been out of college maybe for like you know 2 or 3 years, something like that, so we all kind of had a very similar profile, so that mission, you know, very much resonated with us, 'cause we kind of saw ourselves in the mission.
[00:06:11] Bob: When she interviewed for the job, she clicked with the woman who would be her boss.
[00:06:16] M: The woman who started the company, she had written a book, and she, you know, told us that this book had become wildly successful and because the book had become so successful, she was now going to build like an entire enterprise based on the book. And so that was going to include, obviously the book itself, but then she was wanting to build out like merchandise that was associated with the book, so like t-shirts and stickers or candle, you know, things like that, and then building the programs because the book was kind of about her journey as a boss, and what things she used or kind of what metrics she used to track her success and document her success so that any role that she ever went into, she had a way to you know articulate her value to a company or, you know, show what her strengths were, that kind of thing.
[00:07:24] Bob: This former teacher didn't just leap blindly into this new role, she checked references.
[00:07:30] M: My friend from high school, she had worked with this woman for um, maybe at this point almost three years. So they had worked at another company together and then left that company and started a company, and they were still working together. So even though I hadn't known her personally, I felt that she had been vouched for by this friend of mine who I, you know, knew was trustworthy and credible. She was actually on the newspaper staff in high school, so we both kind of had like the same level of integrity of things I feel like when it came to our work and the people that we associated with. And so I very much trusted her once she kind of made that introduction. And then her boss, the one who hired me, we ended up having a few conversations um, via Zoom as well, so you know, I was able to see her and hear her voice and you know, of course we had a couple of like sessions where my friend was on as well, and so there was a, you know, opportunity for the three of us to get to talk, but again, I had never met her in person, so there was always that element to it, but because it was 2020, it was like nobody's in person, you know.
[00:08:45] Bob: So M starts in October, and well, like a lot of start-ups, there is some chaos at the beginning.
[00:08:53] M: I was there for a week, and then the following week I noticed on our Monday morning meeting that one of the girls that I had met last week wasn't on the call, and our boss, she was like, well, you know, so and so's not here today, and you know, she, we had to let her go, and um, so our team at first was a team of five, and within a week we had gone down to a team of four, which kind of felt weird in the beginning, so I was like, she was just here. And uh you know, and so and then you know, and then she wasn't. And so it was kind of weird, but she kind of told us that she had found out she was doing other work during work hours that was competing with what we were doing...
[00:09:44] Bob: And there are more sides of start-up chaos.
[00:09:48] M: It probably wasn't until middle of November. So I started in October, and then we were scheduled to get paid on the 1st and 15th of every month. And so on November 1st, I was, you know, supposed to get direct deposit into my account, and I realized that it hadn't come that day, and so I reached out to my boss, and I said, "Hey, I don't know if, you know, sometimes there's a wait for the first time, but I didn't get the payment for today." And she's like, "Oh yeah, you know, sometimes that happens. Let me send it to you via PayPal," which I was living with my sister at the time, and I told her, and she's like, "Hmm, that's kinda weird," but I didn't really think anything of it again, 'cause like, okay, they're a start-up. Sometimes start-ups have you know wonky things in place in the beginning.
[00:10:42] Bob: But the paycheck delays start to pile up.
[00:10:46] M: And so, November 15th came, and we didn't have any payment, and I think November 15th like fell on a Friday or something like that, because what happened is the next day whenever, or the next Monday when we had our Monday morning meeting, she basically said, "Hey guys, I'm sure you're all wondering, you know, where your money is." And so from there it was like, "Well it should be, it should be in your account by Friday." And then, you know, that turned into next week, and then that turned into it being there by Thanksgiving. And then it was like, "Okay, you should have it by December 1st," and you know, and so at this point, you know, we missed more than one paycheck and after I think maybe like the second or third paycheck, like we got to that, I was like, okay, you know, something is off.
[00:11:45] Bob: So M has now worked for a couple of months and hardly been paid anything. And she starts asking questions. The answers suggest there is more than ordinary start-up chaos going on.
[00:11:55] M: And then she started saying that she was sick, and that was delaying payment as well. But her story in the beginning was the very first story was, we just received a payment for a really large contract, so our bank accounts are frozen. And so, you know, she kept saying over as time kind of kept going on, she kept saying, well I'm working with our attorney to get the accounts unfrozen. You know, she was talking about this power of attorney, and then she talked about how her social got stolen, it was just all of these very bizarre stories, but it was like the stories were so bizarre, I was kind of like, well who would make something like this up?
[00:12:33] Bob: Then troublesome signs start to pile up.
[00:12:36] M: The big turning point was whenever we started to notice that like our socials and website and things were starting to be deactivated. Because prior to that, she was like, "Well, because I'm sick, I'm going to have to furlough you guys," and she was like, "because of that, we can't have our business emails active," or something like that, and then all of our, you know, social channels, our website and all of these things just started kind of going dark. And then one of the girls on our team received a message from her parents, and it was basically like, "She's really sick right now, she won't be able to you know work or anything or take care of anything right now. We're going to deactivate her phone, so you won't be able to reach her. We really just want her to focus on healing," and that kind of thing. At this point I was telling the other girls like, something is wrong, like I definitely don't want to, you know, speak bad on somebody if they're actually ill, but I think that she's lying because, you know, she had told us that she had lupus, but then it was like she was having surgery on her kidney, and then her parents said, well she has cancer, and it was just like snowballing into like so many stories, like how are we supposed to keep up with this, and there's absolutely no way that this, you know, can be true.
[00:14:05] Bob: The team even went as far as calling the police.
[00:14:09] M: We started doing more investigating, finding out other things, talking to other people. Honestly, she just kind of fell off the face of the earth. We kept trying to find other phone numbers for her, other emails. We tried, I mean I went as far as she told us that she lived in Massachusetts, and she was living with her parents, and you know, a quick Google search, we found her parents' names and found out the address. So I went as far as to actually call the police in Massachusetts and asked them to do a wellness check, because, I was like, we, you know, we work with this, this is our boss. She said she had cancer, now she's fallen off the face of the earth. We just want to make sure that she's like alive. They did the wellness check, and they said nobody was there. Um, so we, and you know, we don't know if that was actually the case, if nobody just came to the door, or you know, whatever.
[00:15:04] Bob: And at that point, this former high school newspaper editor starts to investigate further, and she finds other former employees of her boss who have their own strange stories to tell.
[00:15:15] M: I just immediately put my journalism hat on and just started googling and researching away. And that's kind of how I was able to discover, you know, that she had done something similar to this before, and, you know, talked to other people that had worked with her, and I mean, it was just like the mention of her name had some people like, I don't want to talk about her. Or, oh my God, that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. And so, you know we really just started to recognize like how bad it actually was, like it wasn't just like, oh, she didn't really have the money or whatever, it was like, no, she just made this whole thing up.
[00:15:55] Bob: In the end, there was no women's empowerment program, no partnerships to manage, no job. M was lucky. She did get some of the salary owed to her; other coworkers got nothing, and they lost more than some unpaid wages.
[00:16:13] M: When we went to go file for unemployment, luckily, two out of three of us had had roles in the last year somewhere else, but the girl who had worked for the company or had worked with her, because she had never been paid properly, she couldn't file for unemployment. Unemployment basically say, you don't have a job on file with us. And so we all just kind of went into survival mode. We started trying to find other work, I mean because at this point the investigative part of this was exhausting to us because we had just kept finding out bad thing after bad thing, bizarre thing after bizarre thing, and so while, while we were all still trying to figure out how we're going to maintain our livelihood, because we hadn't been paid since November 1st, and at this point, it's January, and so you know, we're all at this point just looking for new jobs, applying for unemployment...
[00:17:03] Bob: And the boss, well she just seemed to vanish.
[00:17:07] M: I'll do a Google search or go on Instagram and see if maybe she like started another account or something like that, but at this point, she's actually in the wind. We haven't spoken to her, we don't, like none of the, like if you do a Google search, the only thing that you'll find is um, like things that were kind of associated with the company, but there's no indication that she worked anywhere else, or has a company, or you know, anything like that, so it's really kind of like she's a, a ghost.
[00:17:35] Bob: She's a ghost. A ghost who owes former employees a lot of money.
[00:17:42] Bob: What a story. How much does she, or did she owe you at this point?
[00:17:46] M: Close to about $13,000. About 13, yes, she ended up paying me, I'm the only person, a little more than half of that. And then of course I never got the, the rest of that. But we did all file cases with the Texas Workforce Commission, so that in the event that she does pop up somewhere, things like that, there is a record of her that she owes us, you know, this money. I don't think any of us at this point think we will ever receive that money, but um, you know, like I said, it is documented somewhere, so maybe one day we'll all get some surprise checks.
[00:18:26] Bob: Remember M had left teaching, so she hadn't only missed out on several months' wages, but she had wasted a lot of time. Time she could have spent looking for a real job. And looking back at it all, she thinks the remote work element was a big factor in the fraud.
[00:18:43] Bob: Do you think this would have happened if it weren't a work from home situation?
[00:18:47] M: Um... I don't think that it would have dragged out as long as it did. I don't think I would have gone from November to January without being paid, because of having direct access to her every day in the office, I just don't, like me knowing myself, I don't think that, I would have ever, you know, let that happen.
[00:19:12] Bob: What happened to this former high school teacher turned remote worker, well unfortunately, it happens a lot. People looking for virtual work connect with companies online and have to take a leap of faith that they'll get paid. They have to share intimate details of their lives, where they've worked, personal financial information, a lot of the kinds of information we usually tell people not to share in other contexts. So to help you sort through this complicated work from home minefield, we have an expert here today to help us.
[00:19:45] Toni Frana: My name is Toni Frana, and my title at FlexJobs is Career Services Manager.
[00:19:51] Bob: And what is FlexJobs?
[00:19:53] Toni Frana: FlexJobs is a website that helps people find flexible and remote jobs. We’ve been around since 2007. Since that time, we’ve helped about 5 million job seekers, find uh legitimate uh professional jobs that offer some level of flexibility, which might be remote work, it might be part-time, it might be an alternative schedule where you can, you know, work on the weekends or late in the day.
[00:20:22] Bob: Why is it important that you make that legitimate distinction? What's difficult about finding legitimate flexible jobs?
[00:20:29] Toni Frana: I think that work at home jobs, or remote jobs is kind of the word that we’re using now, but work at home jobs have always been a target of scammers. And the scams that we’ve seen and that have been around for the pop up to take advantage of folks who are looking to do some type of work from home, to have flexibility, and to be able to have some control over their life, including their workdays.
[00:20:58] Bob: So what is it about remote work that makes it a target for criminals?
[00:21:02] Toni Frana: The vulnerability sort of comes in, in that it, these work from home job scams make things sound almost too good to be true. In fact, that’s one of the red flags, but it’s, it’s almost as if the job posting was written for you, or that’s how you read it, right? Like I want to work from home, I want to have a flexible schedule. I want to make a lot of money. And a lot of times these scams entice people because they say they do those three things. They let you work from home, they let you have flexibility, and they will pay you a lot of money to do a job that typically does not pay an extraordinary amount of money per hour or in a salary.
[00:21:43] Bob: Maybe this is obvious, but I feel like it's important to say; at least in the old world when you applied for a job you would walk up to a building and there would be a desk, and you'd interview with a human being, right. So online, since all of that is gone, it, it is easier to create a fake company, right?
[00:22:00] Toni Frana: Absolutely. And what we see with some of these scams is even, it might not even be a safe company, it might a copycat website of a current company. And they will show you, or give you the website address. It looks professional, it looks almost exactly the same of a real company website, and what might be different in the URL is where, is one letter or a punctuation, a period, you know, .com or, you know, it might be careers.com and in another website it might be um, companynamecareers.com, and it just is something that is a very small change that can really go unnoticed by the jobseekers, somebody who is looking for a job because they need and want money to pay, you know, to, to support themselves and their family. When you are doing all of this online, you know, you can even get emails from people pretending to be recruiters or pretending to offer jobs, and one of the red flags to look out for is an email address that isn’t company specific. Most companies will have their employees, have an email address that is their name or something at, you know, FlexJobs.com. If people notice that someone’s reaching out to them about a job that they want to hire them for right away, and their email address is something more generic like, you know, gmail.com, yahoo.com, hotmail.com, all of those can be legitimate email addresses, but typically somebody who’s hiring or working at a company will have a company specific email address. So yes, so this is online and we’re not going into a brick and mortar building to introduce ourselves and drop off our resume and cover letter, these are some other things that we need to look at and look for.
[00:23:49] Bob: And it can be even more targeted than that, right. The ad might even say you know, chance to work with animals for example. It's, it's all, it can be almost personalized for you, like the per--,
[00:23:57] Toni Frana: Yes.
[00:23:58] Bob: ...it's the perfect job. It reminds me of how some of these fake catfishing dating ads are, sound like the perfect person, right?
[00:24:05] Toni Frana: Yes, and it, the scammers that are out there doing this, you know, unfortunately get better and better, and it’s sometimes harder and harder to identify them you know, right away, and some people get really far into the process with a job, and it turns out it’s a scam. And you know, sometimes people lose money...
[00:24:26] Bob: While this is a great time to be a remote worker, the US economy has been an up and down cycle now for several years, and economic troubles create opportunity for criminals.
[00:24:38] Toni Frana: I think we see an increase in job scams or scams in particular when there are times of hardship, economic hardship and stressors, and over the last several few years, kind of collectively, we’ve all been in a state of a little bit of increased stress, and wondering what’s going to happen next. And people find ways to prey on that, unfortunately, and sometimes the people on the receiving end of that don’t pick up on it right away. So it’s good to get the information out there so we know what to look for, you know, to kind of take the power back into our own hands.
[00:25:12] Bob: Meanwhile, people have called The Great Resignation, workers quitting their jobs because they want to reach for better opportunities, well that's created opportunities for criminals too. That's what happened to our high school teacher.
[00:25:27] Bob: Well one thing that did touch me about her situation was she was unhappy at a sort of traditional job, and this, this job kind of lured her into the FlexJobs' universe, and so she gave up security in order to take this job.
[00:25:43] Toni Frana: Oh sure, yeah, uh-hmm.
[00:25:44] Bob: Yeah, so we're living in this time of people, lots of people are actively pondering, is there another way to live? And that makes for the pool of victims to be even larger I would think.
[00:25:53] Toni Frana: Absolutely. It goes back to you know, what I was saying before. When there is a time of economic hardship or shift or change, there are people whose goal is to prey on those who are most affected by it. And that is scary. And during, you know, what we’ve seen over the course of The Great Resignation, I think a lot of people who haven’t had the opportunity to have a flexible job or work remotely before, you know, many more people, millions of people were working remotely overnight, right. And you sort of get the sense of oh, well this is a, an easier way for me to balance everything that I have going on in my life. I’m still productive at work, I still am able to, you know, meet my goals for my company, and also, I don’t have a two-hour commute. And so people, scammers, if you will, have found ways to, to use your word, lure people into the promise of flexible, remote work with an exorbitant amount of money, or you know, ability to move up quickly in the ranks at the organization.
[00:27:03] Bob: There are plenty of different flavors of scams that victimize would-be remote workers.
[00:27:08] Bob: I think it's not that uncommon that someone goes a month or two down the road with a company that ends up you know having their checks bounce. You never get paid. You, you must hear from people who use your service who end up in that situation, right?
[00:27:22] Toni Frana: Yes, that situation or also what might happen is a company will hire you, you’ll get started working, and they will tell you that you have a technology reimbursement coming, you know, so you take care of your home office needs, and maybe you purchase a computer, and you get all of your equipment set up, and then the reimbursement never comes. So in that case, you know, not only are you working and maybe not getting paid, you've also put out some money with the promise of getting a reimbursement for that. Or, I actually worked with a client uh once who was pretty far in, in the process and had, had started working, and she was asked to provide all of her financial information, you know, too early in the process. But at the time she really needed the job, and she provided all of her information, and they claimed it was for direct deposit, right, but the way they got the information it was a way for them to sort of take her, her routing number, her checking account information, and sort of, you know, do what they wanted to do in her bank account.
[00:28:28] Bob: As we've already heard, when a job seeker is victimized by criminals, the victims lose much more than just a few paychecks.
[00:28:37] Toni Frana: The emotional toll that this takes when you are, you know, a victim of a scam, is something that takes a while to, you know, recover from. It’s hard. I mean you; you want to work and find a meaningful way to make a living and support yourself and your family, and, and this kind of stuff is just, you know, can be devastating and it certainly takes time uh to recover from. And that's hard, but I, it happens to thousands of people, so I think it’s so good that we’re talking about this so that it’s out there and people know, you know, the different things that can affect you.
[00:29:16] Bob: And you know, to put a blunt point on it, you know you're working because you have to pay rent and you have to eat, and if you waste time for weeks or months on a job that ultimately doesn't pay you, you've really set yourself back.
[00:29:30] Toni Frana: Absolutely, and there's no way to recover that income or that time. And by the way, when you’ve been working and, and not getting paid in her case, you’ve also not been looking for your next job because you are focusing your efforts on your new job and doing a good job there to perform; it just is awful. You know, there’s not another word, I don’t think. Um, it’s, it’s just really hard, and then to start over, a job search is hard enough, and then to have an experience like this, and then be right back in it and try to, you know, trust the process and trust the organizations that you’re working with to find your next legitimate job, it can take a toll. It can definitely take a toll.
[00:30:13] Bob: One thing about job hunting that I... always strikes me during these conversations, are people like me give this trite advice about how to avoid scams, you know, don't give out personal information, don't talk to strangers, don't do all these things, right. When you're hunting for a job, you have to do all these things. You have to put personal information on your resume. You, you probably have to provide financial information, people are going to look up your credit report, all these sorts of things, so I feel like we don't talk enough about what a disadvantage job hunters are in this world where scammers have the advantage, because you are forced to share so much about yourself, right?
[00:30:51] Toni Frana: Absolutely. And one of the things that I think becomes, it’s doesn’t rise to the top of a jobseeker to deal with is to do some due diligence on the job that you are looking for and the people who are contacting you for jobs, right, because you’re really busy, you know, tailoring your resume and writing cover letters and networking and submitting those applications. But really, you know, looking for the company name, the job title, and the word scam, just doing a google search with those three terms can really return some enlightening results from either the Better Business Bureau or the FTC. It will help identify if there have been job scams out there for that particular role that you’re looking for. It's why it’s really important to make sure where you are finding your role online at a website, that you use a reputable job search service that is taking care of some of this for you, and vetting those jobs, and prescreening those jobs. You know as a jobseeker, when you get a job offer, you will be asked to provide personal information. You have to fill out, especially if you’re an employee in the United States, you fill out 1099 forms, you fill out tax forms, all of that is normal and legitimate. But that happens after you’ve got the job offer, or on your first day. Any type of information, Social Security number, that type of information when it’s asked for in the first contact or very early on in the job search process, is definitely a red flag. And so, you know, being mindful of the data that we’re giving out to people as you say, when you’re a jobseeker you’re putting your information out there, you know, just being aware and making sure you’re doing some due diligence so that you are comfortable and confident that who you are giving this information to is the right person for the particular job you’re looking for, and you know it is a legitimate opportunity.
[00:32:53] Bob: And the advice we give is, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. But people who are looking for a job, they really, really want these things to be true, right, you might, you might have been looking for a couple of months and finally you get this really enticing offer, and, and you're just really inclined to believe it, because that's what you want.
[00:33:09] Toni Frana: Yes, and, and that's where they get us. Because you’re tired. It is hard to find a job. You know, you put your information out there, and you apply to jobs, and oftentimes you might not even hear back from an employer when you submit an application, and so when somebody from an organization starts to engage with you, it’s easy to get excited and to get your hopes up that this might be the right fit. It is hard to be in that position. And that’s why, you know, this information and just trusting your gut, right, when you get into a situation where everything about the opportunity seems too good to be true, if you can force yourself to take a step back, and all of the information that you have and that you know from previous work experiences and how you’ve landed at a job, and the process that you went through, really just take a step back before you say yes to anything, can save you a lot of struggle and heartache if you get further and further along in, inside a scam.
[00:34:21] So, Toni, what are the red flags that consumers should looks for when hunting for remote work?
[00:34:27] Toni Frana: So there are plenty of them. I've mentioned this already asking, or the job is paying you a lot of money for not a lot of work, or any sort of rags to riches story that showcases, you know, high-flying lifestyles like overnight you could have, you know, thousands of dollars a month for doing, you know, two hours of work. A job posting that has grammatical or spelling errors is a telltale sign of, you know, a job scam. We talked about email addresses already, and any upfront expenses. We talked about the technology stipends and, and reimbursements there. If a job compensation is based on how many people you recruit, that is a sign of a scam as well. That’s just when you’re reading the job online, right, the job posting. There are signs of scams in the interview, um, you know, the interviewer might not be interested in the answers that you’re giving when he or she asks you questions. Um, they’re not interested in what you’re going to bring to the table. Instead, they offer you the job immediately, and they express an urgency to accept. That is not typical of a legitimate job offer. Typically you have time to review the offer at least 24 hours, sometimes you can ask for more, so that is definitely a sign, a sign of a scam.
[00:35:54] Bob: You might remember that our high school teacher got her first paycheck via PayPal. I asked Toni if that was a bad sign.
[00:36:02] Toni Frana: They are, you know, but I will say um, in regard to PayPal, I had a remote job once before, and I was a 1099, and I was paid via PayPal. And I will say that when that first was established with me, I was concerned, because I had never had that before. But it was legitimate. We were an organization, you know, I worked there for almost two years, and so I think with 1099 or freelance type work, you may see that companies will, you know, pay via PayPal or another outlet. So that’s not necessarily in--, indicative of a scam. However, it is indicative that you need to do some more due diligence, right, and figure out um, before you go any further, is this, you know, legitimate. You know, who can you talk to. Are there people on LinkedIn who work at the organization. How long have they been there? Maybe somebody would be willing to talk to you a little bit about what it’s like to work at the organization. So are there, there are some things that you can do. When you express concern or your question their boss, and then there’s some sort of threat about you asking questions, you know, certainly that type of behavior, I think too can be, can be a red flag.
[00:37:19] Bob: You bring up a really important point which is now in the 1099 world with the P2P systems, well there's all sorts of third party payrolls systems. All of this is more complicated than I think it used to be and, and there are thousands of ways to work for a company that are legitimate that makes it even harder for people to sort through what might be a red flag and what isn't, I think.
[00:37:41] Toni Frana: Absolutely. And I, I wish there was, you know, an easy button for, for us to, you know have a, a streamlined process to make sure that, you know, this freelance opportunity, or this gig job, and this way that they, the third party pay system is legitimate, I think the important thing here is as a jobseeker, as a person who is looking for work, the due diligence and the research component to this is really critical. I think, again, if you can identify other people who maybe have had experiences or worked through opportunities if it’s a freelance position with an organization that you are looking at or interested in or in conversations with, you know, can be really helpful. Um, and again, as I said, sometimes just a simple online search with the word scam attached to the search criteria can reveal scams if they're out there. And that doesn’t take very long, but it’s well worth the time and effort to do it because of what you might uncover, and it can save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run.
[00:38:51] Bob: Okay, Toni, what are the most common job listings that turn out to be scams?
[00:38:56] Toni Frana: So the number one scam that we see at FlexJobs is data entry. You know, these are jobs that are easy, I, I suppose, I don’t like to say the word easy for scammers, but, but really, they can be, because what they can do in the scam, description of the job is promise a lot of money for a job that doesn’t require very much experience, right. So it would be a great way to get started with remote work. It might be a great way to get started at, as an entry level worker, somebody who maybe has just graduated from high school or college, and so there are a lot of data entry scams out there. Data entry jobs very, very rarely pay an exorbitant amount of money. It’s pretty, it's a pretty typical pay rate. So that’s something that you want to look out for. The second most common scam that we see, believe it or not, are pyramid marketing schemes which don’t involve a product. It just involves the exchange of money and, again, sort of recruiting people to do what you are doing. So that’s something to be wary of, and I, those have been around for a really long time. Job scammers will also set up a scam for wire transfers, and sometimes this seems, you know, kind of convoluted in my mind, like how could this be a job, but wire transfer scams move money quickly from one account to another. And so these transactions are very difficult to reverse, making it, you know, almost impossible to recover any of the lost funds, and this could be again, if we’re talking about the employee giving um, bank account information to the employer at a time when it’s too soon and they can take that money and, and run. We talked um, a little bit about unsolicited job offers or urgent job offers. So sometimes a jobseeker will get an email or a message on email, in a digital, a social platform that says, “We have a job for you. We need you to take this job. You are the perfect person for this.” This is a job that is not sought out by the jobseeker but does offer immediate employment. There’s also this, you know, kind of category of shipping or assembling products. And those um, are scams as well. Sometimes people will get a reshipping job, they’re called, or postal forwarding. These are work at home jobs that involve packing and repacking products and forwarding the package to customers outside of the United States. The catch is that the packaging of the product, they are stolen goods that have been shipped to the quote-unquote employee, and then the employee is taking those stolen goods, unbeknownst to them, and shipping them to people outside of the US. I mentioned craft products. So there, there are companies out there that um, will ask you to help assemble um, gift baskets or crafts uh, to send to customers. Usually they’re asked to pay an enrollment fee, and you have to purchase all of the supplies and materials from the organization. The company promises to pay you back for each package that you send. Usually what happens in this type of scam is the company will say the package that you made did not meet your standards, it does not look like the sample finished product that we provided to you, and you won’t get paid for it. And so you’ve lost all of that money. Those are the, the main scams that we’ve seen. You mentioned catfishing earlier. This is also out there for, for a job scam. You know, you click on a specific link or you’re giving detailed personal and financial information. Someone is trying to collect as much information as they can for you to use maliciously. One of the things that we’ve been seeing, or I read about recently is a new scam where a recruiter will contact you, and you’ll be in conversation with them, and they will say, let’s move this conversation to Telegram, uh which is an app that encrypts all of the information there, and, and once you give that information through that app, the, the scammer has it and can use it to your disadvantage, and their, you know, advantage.
[00:43:26] Bob: Toni even has a list of keywords that are red flags for job seekers.
[00:43:32] Toni Frana: Things like, quick money, unlimited earning potential, free work from home jobs, investment opportunities and seminars, a part-time job with fulltime pay, and envelope stuffing. So these are some keywords that should be red flags or cause a little bit of alarm when you’re reading the job posting and really require you to do some additional research. These are telltale signs that the job could be a scam.
[00:44:09] Bob: When I asked our former high school teacher what she learned from her experience, what kind of advice she has for other job seekers, she has a lot to say. Her boss, the one who ended up not paying the employees, was pretty good at getting people excited about the opportunity she offered, maybe too good.
[00:44:29] Bob: It sounds more like she was just throwing some buzzwords out there knowing that they would...
[00:44:32] M: Yes.
[00:44:33] Bob: ...catch people, right; empowerment, women, Black Lives Matter.
[00:44:35] M: Yes.
[00:44:36] Bob: Yeah.
[00:44:36] M: Yes. Yes. I think she definitely capitalized on an unprecedented time, but also, we were three minority women who were all, we're all like first generation kind of college students, things like that. I do think she was very strategic in the way that she structured things and let things play out.
[00:45:00] Bob: M's advice focused mainly on doing due diligence before taking a job, but due diligence can be a lot harder than it sounds.
[00:45:08] M: I really thought that I had done my due diligence, so you know, of course I always ask questions, go through the process of like digital validation, does a company have, do they have a website, do they have, you know, corresponding like social media channels? Do they have Google reviews? Especially when it comes to small businesses or start-ups, you know, looking at if there's like a report from the Better Business Bureau, and then I think probably the biggest takeaway though is to trust your intuition. If something seems off, even if it might not be completely, there's a reason that a part of me feels like that. And so not silencing that, but doing more to investigate why it is that you feel that way. Because I think a lot of times, you know, like I said, I do feel like I did kind of all the right things in the beginning, especially like looking over their financials and things like that, I, I felt like I was doing all the things that you're supposed to do, but once I was in this situation, I ignored a lot of those gut feelings that I had because right, I had done all of the things in the beginning, so I was thinking, okay, then what's wrong? I kind of, you know, she checked all the boxes here. So I think that's kind of the biggest takeaway and the biggest thing that I would, you know, encourage people to do is to trust their instincts and, you know, not ignore those gut feelings because oftentimes, and scientifically it's been proven that your body often responds to external elements before like you logically can. And so that level of self-awareness, mentally and physically, to know that something is agitating your spirit, is something that I've, I've worked really hard to, like I said, fine tune, but also trust more.
[00:47:05] Bob: And learning to trust herself more, well that turned out to be a silver-lining from the whole experience.
[00:47:13] M: I've dealt with a lot of like shame and embarrassment, and like feelings of inadequacy and things like that just because I thought like man, I'm this MBA student, like how did she get me? You know, like I should have known better, or you know, and especially like right out of grad school, this is the move that I made? Like it very much felt like I had not set the stage right for the next era of my career and you know, professionalism. So yeah, there was definitely a level of you know shame to it that I, I had to overcome. I think now I do feel more confident in telling the story in the sense that I just don't want it to ever be the case for someone else. And also, recognizing too, especially during that time period in 2020, you know, recognizing that I probably was not the only one.
[00:48:08] Bob: Oh no.
[00:48:09] M: And of course, I...
[00:48:10] Bob: There's so many of these stories, yeah, yeah.
[00:48:12] M: Hm-hmm, hm-hmm, so and then I had also spoken to a mentor of mine who was a professor at the university I went to as well, and he kind of, you know, talked to me about a, a start-up that he had been a part of, and how things fell through and he said, "Be very glad that this happened early in your career, because now you know your radar is going to be so sharpened and so fine-tuned, you will never let anything like this happen to you again." And I think he's right. I feel like I have very much fine-tuned my ability to call out things or recognize when things might be a little off. And to a certain extent, I might be a little, you know, overcritical at some--, sometimes but I, you know, it definitely helped me feel more confident to speak up about things and not you know let things get drawn out, because that, like your intuition and your gut, a lot of times they are telling you things before your logical mind is. And so kind of training myself to listen to those things, and I will also say, it really helped me develop a new appreciation for my background in journalism, because just the way, you know, that I researched and asked questions, and was talking to people, it kind of like lit that area up for me again. But uh yeah, I think that, you know, there's definitely a complex amount of emotions to the situation, but you know, like I said, it was something that I've worked to overcome, and also am becoming more confident when it comes to speaking about it.
[00:49:55] Bob: The experience also made her more confident in the idea of setting out her own shingle and building the life she really wants. M works for herself now and she loves it.
[00:50:07] M: So I got very lucky in that in that sense, and had I not been in this situation, this is probably not the route I would have taken, because had I not taken that role, I would have just been looking for another corporate role. So, you know, in hindsight I'm grateful in a weird way for the experience because now I'm in a position where I do have more financial freedom, but I also own my time, because I'm an entrepreneur. So I'm, you know, in control of my schedule and in charge of the type of work and clients that I take. So I, I do love having that autonomy, and I think part of me was actually also a little scared to go back into an organization right, because I'm like, I don't know if they'll, if they'll operate or there's a team dynamic, or all these things will be, you know, what I want it to be. So yeah, I've been lucky in the sense that I've still been able to maintain my own business and my own clients, and yeah, and, and still be pretty successful. So in a way it was a weird experience that kind of propelled me into what I'm doing now.
[00:51:10] Bob: So after all this you have be BYOB, you are your own boss.
[00:51:15] M: Yes.
[00:51:17] Bob: How about that.
[00:51:18] M: Yes, I am actually my own boss, and um, I, I wouldn't have it any other way.
[00:51:29] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
How to listen and subscribe to AARP's podcasts
Are you new to podcasts? Learn how to subscribe to AARP Podcasts on any device.