Job hunting? Watch out for this nasty remote work scam

The "how low will they go?" nature of human behavior never ceases to disturb, especially in cases like this. Sometimes it's just so hard to not hate humans.

Confused businesswoman annoyed by online problem looking at laptop

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Here's how this works. You're searching a well-known jobs board and you see a remote work listing from a company you know and respect. The job fits your skill set and background well, so you apply. You upload your resume data as well as the usual personal identification data a prospective employer needs to see.

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After a short but expected delay, you're invited to a Skype interview. You take a shower, put on your best shirt and tie, comb your hair, and prepare for the meeting. At the appointed time, you join the interview and speak for some time to Jennifer and Antonio. The interview goes well.

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You spend a day or so hoping that this will be the one. You're really desperate for a new gig, and this looks promising. Finally, you find out that you've been hired. You've got the job!

Not only do you have the job, but the company has a work-from-home allowance for furniture and gear for your home office. You're sent a check for several thousand dollars, but you're told you need to make your purchases at an approved supplier.

Unfortunately, the check takes a while to clear and meanwhile, you need to get started working. So, knowing the money is in the bank (or about to be), you go ahead and make your furniture purchases. Technically, you're using your own money, but those expenses will be covered in a few days from your new blue chip employer.

It's at this point -- and you probably don't know it yet -- you've been scammed out of a few thousand bucks.

Yeah, there are people out there scamming people who need work out of what's left of their savings. Credit goes to the folks at Wordfence for doing a deep dive on this scam.

Anatomy of a scam

As you've probably figured out, "Jennifer" and "Antonio" are not their real names. And the blue chip employer you think you've been hired by did not post that job listing. The preferred supplier you bought your office furniture from doesn't exist. The thousands of dollars will never clear in your account. And you've just sent PII and the last of your savings to the scammers.

The perpetrators of this style scam are apparently very active, posting job listings that seem legitimate. According to Wordfence, lots of people are falling victim to this scam. Because, yes, what the world needs is scam listings on job boards.

So how do you protect yourself?

At the start of the process, it's going to be hard to tell legitimate job listings from scams. As we always advise, keep an eye out for telltale signs: misspellings, grammatical errors, listings that don't seem internally consistent, and so forth.

Pay attention in the interview. I'd say keep an eye out for interviewers that don't seem polished, but after having had far more Skype and Zoom meetings than I'd care to think about in the past two years, I must admit that the verifiably legitimate corporate types I've worked with (especially since the pandemic has been wearing on for so long) aren't displaying the old-school corporate polish anymore either.

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Instead, keep a situational awareness of the interview and job-related knowledge. Does it feel like a comprehensive job interview? Listen to your Spidey-Sense.

And finally -- don't spend money with preferred suppliers. Don't do it. If you're required to have a certain laptop or certain furniture, get it from a known supplier with a clear return policy. Wait until funds are cleared into your account. Don't give out your account number. I know this last one is hard in a world of direct deposit, but point out this scam to your new employer. Another tactic: open up a new account just for that employer to deposit into, until you're sure it's safe.

A legitimate employer will understand your need to wait a few paychecks before parting with this level of confidential information. And, if you have a new employer who shows no empathy, skip it. Whether they're actually hiring or trying to scam you, it's not worth taking a job from an employer who doesn't respect your need to protect yourself from this kind of scam. It will end badly anyway.

So that's it. Keep your head on a swivel. Good luck and stay safe out there.


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