Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Job scam targets Marylanders

One of the five of us have been the target of a job scam.  Fortunately for you, the readers of this blog, that one of us was me, the one who does all the writing of our ideas for Five Drunk Rednecks.  Even more fortunate is I heeded good job seeking advice and applied for the job, sober, interviewed online, sober, talked with my online trainer, sober, and researched the company, sober.  I am fairly good at spotting Internet scams, but this one had me doubting for a couple of days...until the check came in.  I decided to post all of the details as a warning to job seekers and to detail how sophisticated scammers have become.  Let's start from the beginning.

The unemployment service runs a top notch job board, Maryland Workforce Exchange.  The board lists preferred employers, denoted with a gold star, as well as pulling jobs from various sources such as CareerBuilder and lots of other job boards.  Jobs pulled from other sources are listed without the gold star notation.  The preferred employer status means that the employer was verified by the unemployment office and has an account to post directly to the Maryland Workforce Exchange Board.

In the photo, you can see a snapshot of the jobs I looked at.  The job I applied for is listed second from the bottom, Administrative Support Assistant.  As you can see, the job is listed as a preferred employer.  (The other annotations you see tell you where the job listing came from.  PJB means private job board, CORP means a business' website, and GOVT means from a government posting.)  If you are registered with the Maryland Workforce Exchange, you can review the listing to see how professionally the job was presented.

Like any good job applicant, after I applied for the job, I researched the company posting the job, Brekford.  Fans of Five Drunk Rednecks might see the irony with the company I applied to for a job.  They are a security company, who own the speed and stop light cameras.  While the speed camera we reviewed in Cambridge is owned by Optotraffic, Brekford does own the ones in Salisbury and Baltimore.

The day after applying for the job, I received a message in my Maryland Workforce Exchange message center that I was scheduled for an online job interview with Brekford.  The interview was to be held through Yahoo! Messenger.  The first red flag popped up in my head.  What sort of company would conduct a job interview through an online messenger service, especially a security company that should know how easy it is for anyone to access a conversation?  I opened up a Yahoo! email account, providing false information (I don't trust the Internet) and downloaded Yahoo! Messenger.

The interview consisted of one question - a request for an email account to send me an application.  I gave them my newly created Yahoo! account.  Only in hindsight did I begin to wonder why, instead of having me go through Yahoo! Messenger, didn't they simply send me the application to my email on my résumé. 

The application was four pages long, two pages of essay questions (pg. 1 pictured above), and the last two pages describing the job, where I would be working (at home), benefits offered after 90 days of employment, my training pay for one week of online training ($8/hour), and my pay after training ($28.50/hour).  Another red flag popped up in my head.  The last two pages that described the job contained  a few of minor grammatical mistakes, including at least one incomplete sentence.  Finding one mistake in company correspondence is easily overlooked.  Finding more than one, when you're not even looking, raises the question of who the heck did they hire to write the application...a drunk, maybe?

The third red flag popped in my head when I was hired for the job the next day and was assigned an online supervisor.  By the job description, I would be handling sensitive information, specifically employee records and customer accounts.  Again, I had to wonder why any company, not to mention a security company, would hire someone "on the spot" without ever meeting the person nor conducting a background check.  

I had my doubts about the legitimacy of the job, but the application was on official company stationary (compare the logo on the application to the logo on the website) and no one asked for or hinted that they would need any personal information.  I called Brekford and left a message, since no one answered the phone, to verify my employment status.

Another red flag popped in my head when I talked to my online trainer, via Yahoo! Messenger, on the third day after being hired.  He sated my training pay would be $10/hour and my pay, after one week of training, would be $29/hour.  Within two days, without even "starting work", I got a pay raise.

He then asked me how I would like to get paid - direct deposit or check.  Since I knew direct deposit meant this person I never met would need my bank account information, I opted for a check.  He said that wouldn't be a problem.  I began to question why I thought this job might be a scam.  If it were a scam, surely he would've insisted on direct deposit so he could get my banking information.

He went on to say that the company would be sending me a check to cover expenses to set up my home office with state-of-the-art equipment the company requires to be used when performing the job.  "Here comes the scam," I thought.  He asked me where I banked and I asked him why he would need to know that.  He responded with a curt, "I didn't ask for your bank account, did I?  I just want to make sure your bank is on the list our bank can deal with."

His short, defensive reply, raised another red flag in my head.  I have never heard of a "compatibility" issue between banks.  I gave him the name of a bank that I have no dealings with.

Yesterday, I came home from my real job and a FedEx package was waiting for me at the door.  It contained what appeared to be a cashier's check in the amount of $2,100.  It was sent from Connecticut by a Crystal Hughes, but there was no company name on the FedEx label and, as you can see in the picture, no company name on the check.  At first, I had no clue what this check was for.  After a few minutes, it dawned on me.  It must be the check my online trainer said Brekford would send me.

Sure enough, I opened my Yahoo! email and there were two emails from my trainer: one contained my first assignment, a test to see how well I could read financial statements posted to the Securities and Exchange Commission website, and the second informing me that the check was sent and I should have it.  The email also instructed me to deposit it at my bank's ATM and email a copy of the deposit slip.  Now I knew I was being reeled in on a scam.  The deposit slip would contain my banking information.  I decided I would wait until the next day to take the check to the bank and see if they could tell if it were a real check or not. 

Before leaving for the bank, today, I signed onto Yahoo! Messenger.  Sure enough, my trainer was online as was the initial hiring contact, undoubtedly hiring new applicants.  My trainer initiated the conversation with cordiality and then asked if I had deposited the check.  Without raising any red flags in his head, I simply answered that no, I hadn't, but was getting ready to head to town to deposit it.  He responded that when I get it deposited to send him a copy of the deposit slip, but be sure to black out any account information.

His request caught me off guard.  I thought for sure he was after the deposit slip for the account information.  I was still convinced, however, that I was dealing with a scammer.  No company is going to send a twenty-one hundred dollar check to someone they just hired, hired without ever meeting with nor doing a background check on.  Because I didn't want to blow a chance at a legitimate job if I were wrong on my assumptions, I told him I would comply and should get back from town after lunch time.

Brekford never did return my call from five days earlier, so, before leaving, I called them again.  I got the same recorded message.  I called again, but this time, I opted for the sales department.  One thing I know is someone will always answer the sales phone because that's money.

Sure enough, I talked to a real person who informed me that a couple of other people had called about the job, but it was a scam.  Someone stole their logo to make the job application look official, but Brekford had no job openings and, even if they did, they don't hire through online messaging. 

I thanked her and then asked, "Are you sure because that was a good job I sure would like to have."  She laughed and said, "No, we're not hiring and, if I were you, I'd take that check to your local police and file a report." 

I went to town and talked to my veterans contact at the unemployment office about the scam, just to alert them in case anyone else inquired about the job.  I then went to the police station and filed a complaint.  They made copies of everything, gave me a report number, and then told me to file a report with the FBI because, most likely, the scam would be under their jurisdiction.  I then went to my real bank and asked them if they thought the check was real.  The manager said it looked real, with the watermarks and everything, so she ran it through their check scanner.  The scanner couldn't read my check.  She explained that, given all the details of how I received the check, it is either a forged check or it is a good check, but one that would bounce in a few days, long after I made the required purchases thinking the money was in the bank.  Either way, I would be out twenty-one hundred bucks, and the scammer would be twenty-one hundred bucks richer for a couple of days work, a few minutes each day.

The old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true", is sound advice to follow.  Two others of Five Drunk Rednecks admitted that if they had applied for the job, they would've deposited the check because it looked real to them and they would've purchased the state-of-the-art equipment to get started on the job right away.  They would never have suspected a job scam. 

Since this is a real job scam, please share with anyone you know who is looking for a job.  While I admit I have given a lengthy explanation, hopefully it is detailed enough to prevent someone from falling for the scam.  I hate to think about how many unemployed persons fell for the scam and lost twenty-one hundred bucks they didn't have and couldn't afford to lose. 

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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