Updated: May 23, 2020
The other day on Instagram, I saw that a friend of mine had just received a great job opportunity. I was surprised. They were employed as a dog-sitter and told their followers they would be making great money. It seemed kinda weird because of the current circumstances but I was happy that they were employed. I knew that my friend had lost their two previous jobs and they were desperate for work. Like me, my friend loves making that coin lol. But after a few days they posted another picture on their story captioned – It was a scam :(
I have always been incredibly interested in the world of scammers. Before this post, especially at the beginning of the quarantine, I was learning all about the world of MLMs which had blown up now that everyone has been out of a job and wants to join a (quote) “incredible business opportunity.” So I decided to message my friend immediately. What happened?!
They told me that they were simply looking for work on an average website called PetSitter.com. There was a post from a couple that lived around 10 minutes away from them. It listed that the couple were moving relatively soon and were looking for someone close-by to dog-sit. My friend saw this as a perfect opportunity and messaged them right away. The two began messaging back and forth which seemed totally normal, if anything, my friend told me, the person they were speaking to called Naomi was extremely kind. But things began to unravel when the couple would only disclose their street name but NOT their full address. My friend’s mom (who lives with them now because of the quarantine) became suspicious. Then a check came in the mail for $2,480. My friend was shocked and texted Naomi immediately asking why the check was so big and if they should just send it back. But Naomi responded that indeed the amount was correct. THEN Naomi sent a list of extremely elaborate instructions for my friend to deposit the check into their bank account and then transfer $2,200 through CashApp to one of Naomi’s friends of her husband’s brothers’ contacts…???
With the influence of their parents, my friend ultimately said NO to whoever tf “Naomi” is and didn't cash the fraud check. But the worst part was that my friend was desperate. They were really excited about this job. Everything about the scam was very planned out and seemed legitimate for the most part. The job listing site was legit. The company on the check was legit. The emails took place over a long period of time and were very well written. The couple even sent pictures of their super adorable dog Jeff… which should’ve been a red flag because really whos mf dog is named Jeff but STILL.
The point IS we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Millions of people are out of work. People are desperate. Everyone is looking for an opportunity right now. Unfortunately, this is the perfect time for online scammers to work their magic… digging their claws into unsuspecting, hopeful, and trustworthy people.
Over the past few months I’ve heard of several stories of people being involved in these check frauds during the quarantine.
The article you are about to read is from a friend of mine who actually is a writer and they are incredible. Such a wonderful person inside and out. I reached out to them directly asking if they’d be interested in sharing their experience.
Here’s what happened to them–
I never thought I would be the victim of a scam. Admittedly, I am not the most cautious person in existence -- friends and family can attest to my spontaneous urges and poor planning -- but when it comes to online transactions, I am usually quite careful. I do not give away my bank account information to anyone, and I never open emails from unknown sources. I thought I had learned the methods of digital scrutiny. However, as the past month has taught me, even the most conscientious consumers can fall prey to a scammer’s schemes. Here’s how it happened. In early May, I created a profile on a freelancing platform called Upwork.com. This website allows for companies to reach out to creative professionals (such as myself) when they need someone for a specific gig, say: designing logos, writing blog posts, translations, editing, and more. I had heard positive reviews of Upwork from friends who used the website in the past, and so -- given my already bleak financial situation -- I figured it was worth a try. Within the first week of making my profile, I found a couple clients for quick proofreading gigs, but nothing of substantial profit. That is, until May 14th, when a man by the name of Joseph Jones sent me a personal message. He wrote, “We came across your resume and think you would be perfect for our job. I recruit for a renewable energy company based in Oregon. We are writing a 12,000 word grant proposal, and looking for 3 content writers to help out. If you are interested, please schedule an interview through Skype at the link below.” Now, looking back, I can already see the sketchiness, even from this first message. Why did he have to direct me to a separate link, rather than communicating through the safe, legitimate platform that Upwork provided? And what kind of a fake-sounding name is Joseph Jones? However, at the time, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Bear in mind that during May, I was already feeling financially desperate; I lost my job due to the pandemic, and California’s unemployment office had been impossible for me to navigate. I had no idea how I was going to keep paying rent in the coming months, so to me, any amount of money (no matter how strangely it was procured) felt like a godsend.
So, that evening, I messaged Joseph Jones on Skype. He replied the following morning with a 2-page “interview questionnaire” that he asked me to fill out with paragraph-long answers, and send back within the hour. It contained many of the typical job-interview questions: How do you stay focused while working from home? How would you describe your writing style? How do you manage conflict resolution with a demanding client? What is the biggest challenge you have faced during a writing or editing assignment? I answered the questions fastidiously, seeing this task as proof of his legitimacy. Joseph Jones said his company was called Avangrid Renewables, and when I checked the website, it looked real and professional, too (it is indeed in Oregon, at a real address, with a social media presence and whole staff listed online). In retrospect, I recognize that a scammer could have chosen any random company to pretend to represent. But at the time, I chose not to doubt it. When I sent back my questionnaire, Joseph replied only a couple hours later, saying that I was hired. He said the company was still looking for 2 more content writers, and my work would officially start in a couple days. Until then, he said, we should proceed with the “processing of new computer equipment.” “You will need a new computer for this assignment, with tracking and anti-virus software so that you can communicate with the other new hires and our corporate office in Oregon. Of course, that will all be paid for by company credit,” he wrote to me. “What is your bank?” This was the first message that made me halt, a strange fear developing in my chest. It seemed wrong, improper, for this stranger to suddenly offer me a new computer. I had never even talked to this man on the phone -- only through Skype messages -- so why should I trust him? I walked away from the computer for about an hour, contemplating things, and when I got back, saw I had a missed call from Joseph Jones. I tried to call him back, but he did not pick up. “No need to call,” he wrote. “I just need to know what bank to direct your check to.” “Wells Fargo,” I wrote back. It seemed innocent enough for him to simply know my bank name -- I promised myself I would not give any information beyond that. I took a deep breath, and then a moment later, I saw photos of the front and back of a check appear in my in-box. “This is for mobile deposit only,” he wrote. “Also, I should have asked earlier, but how are you doing with the whole pandemic? I hope you and your family are alright. We’re offering $100 bonus to our employees to help them recuperate during this time.” For some reason, this odd, unrequested kindness made me suddenly want to trust him. I have always been an optimist, and in this case, I think it was to my detriment. I chose to believe that this person was good-natured -- even generous -- despite all the signs that pointed to suspicion. I chose to be trusting, and that is where I made a mistake. Because in this world -- especially now that so many of us are struggling -- you cannot assume the best in people.
But I digress. Anyways: for better or worse, I trusted Joseph Jones, and thus I deposited the check in my account. It was for $2,400 -- a wildly large amount for me to receive at once. Prior to this deposit, my Wells Fargo account had been at only $85.
The following morning, I woke up to three missed called from Mr. Jones. When I messaged him back, he (of course) did not want to talk on the phone; he simply wanted me to confirm that the money was in my account, so we could proceed with “processing the equipment.” He instructed me to Apple Pay $2,300 (the whole amount he had given me, minus my “coronavirus bonus”) to a person named Elizabeth Lee. I questioned this, and he replied sternly that this was classic protocol, and Elizabeth would be able to mail me the computer equipment. Without it, I could not work. I felt fearful and pressured, so I went along with whatever this man said; I felt like I owed him something, so it would be selfish and wrong for me not to comply. At first, my bank would not process the $2,300 money transfer -- it was too much for me to send to a specific person; it was deemed (accurately!) a suspicious transaction. So, Jospeh instructed me to split the payment: $1,000 through Apple Pay, $500 through Zelle, then $800 through Paypal. He asked me to send screenshots of each to confirm that I had done it. And - I did. One after the other, I sent out these payments to people I had never met, submitting to this man’s requests. I can’t help but feel so embarrassed, recounting this story, seeing how obvious the red flags were from the start. But - how could I have known that the $2,400 in my account were not real? For all I knew, at that moment, even though I was sending out hundreds and thousands of dollars to random people, I was still -- at least -- keeping $100 for myself. And I thought, if this man is able to so casually send me a $2.4K check, he must be wealthy enough to pay me well for my writing in the future. He had agreed, before all this silly money-movement-work, that my writing would earn me $300 for every 2,000 words. That was a good price, to me; a reasonable income; something that would save me from my near-bankrupcy. So even though everything about this arrangement was odd, I clung onto my sliver of hope in Joseph Jones’ trustworthiness.
Of course, I was wrong. By a weird stroke of luck, the same day that I was communicating with Joseph Jones (Friday, May 15th), I had a phone appointment with my therapist. So, in between his barrage of messages (Have you sent the payments yet? Do you have the confirmation screenshots? Elizabeth says she has not received the whole sum.), I stepped away from my computer to call her. The situation was weighing heavily on my mind, so I told her what happened, and she very quickly said: “Lily, you need to call your bank. This is a scam.” That was the wake-up call I needed. After hanging up with my therapist, I called Wells Fargo and told them everything that had transpired in the past 24 hours: the deposited check, the Paypal and Zelle transactions, the sketchy behavior of Joseph Jones. The customer service representative was empathetic, but ultimately gave me this sad piece of news: “It does sound like this is a fake check. The funds appeared in your account on a good faith basis. But it hasn’t been officially cleared yet, and once it is, if the check turns out to be fraudulent, you'll be the one liable.” I couldn’t believe this. I was the victim of a scam, but I would be the one at fault? What about Jospeh fucking Jones? Where’s his punishment? The customer service lady explained that these people are practiced, skilled scammers, and thus - they know how to protect their identities. They know how to be untraceable. If I can find a way to get in touch with him and convict him, by all means, but it’s likely a lost cause. She also said that any funds I had sent through a “cash movement” service like Paypal, Zelle, or Apple Pay was a lost cause, too. “It’s gone,” she said, gravely, like she was proclaiming a death to me. “I’m sorry.”
Sure enough, three days later, I woke up to a notice from Wells Fargo: Your bank has reached a negative balance. -$2,215.00
----- It’s been over a week now since this happened, and to be honest, I still haven’t completely wrapped my mind around things. I feel ashamed of how easily I believed in a stranger on the internet, how willingly I acquiesced to his requests. But the thing is, you always think you’ll know how to handle situations like this until they arise. Scammers are smart. They prey upon your vulnerabilities, your fears, your sympathies. My story is not a unique one; in fact, my therapist even told me that she had been scammed before, too. It’s an awful feeling, knowing that your naivete was taken advantage of, knowing that someone out there used you. But with a downfall as shitty as this one, the best thing I can do is learn, reflect, and share. Because perhaps by being open about these problems, we can prevent it from happening again.
Thank you to those who wrote and contributed to this blog post. The Covid-19 crisis has been incredibly difficult, and even more so because of these awful scams. I hope you enjoyed this post. Stay alert everyone. Because if the dream job you’ve been waiting for is being offered to you during a global pandemic…
it’s probably too damn good to be true.