Several viewers have reached out to NBC 5 Responds after they were hired from what appeared to be legitimate companies. They turned out to be fake - costing some North Texans thousands of dollars.
After months of struggling to find a job, Angie Rife of Grapevine felt hopeful when an email, inviting her to apply for a position with an energy company, hit her inbox.
“I only had a certain amount of time to text them back,” said Rife. “Immediately, I did because it sounded wonderful.”
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Rife could work from home, making $30.55 an hour. She would also be paid during a training period.
“It sounded like a dream job,” said Rife.
The potential new employer asked Rife to log onto an online app called Wire for a job interview. Over an online chat, Rife answered typical interview questions about her experience and goals. Soon, she was offered the job and received a $7,400 check in the mail.
Rife said the new employer told her to deposit the check into her bank account, then buy home office equipment from the company’s chosen vendor.
The bank flagged the check and stopped Rife before she deposited it. Rife reported the scam to Grapevine Police.
“I was humiliated and extremely upset,” said Rife.
Rife wasn’t out any money, but the experience left her feeling defeated. She, like thousands of other North Texans looking for work in the pandemic, wanted the job to be real.
“They're doing it and you're telling them everything because you want the job,” Rife added.
In Frisco, another North Texan received a similar job offer in her email. Alexis, who asked NBC 5 Responds not to share her full name, jumped at the chance to work from home as an administrative assistant at a pharmaceutical company.
Alexis was a recent college graduate and a new mom to a preemie baby who’d spent 91 days in the NICU. An offer to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic sounded ideal.
“They knew they had a vulnerable target, somebody who was desperate for a job and just got out of school,” said Alexis.
The new employer asked Alexis to undergo a job interview on Google Hangouts before offering her the position.
The company sent two checks to Alexis with instructions to deposit them into her account, then use a cash app to transfer money to their chosen vendor for home office equipment.
“Because of the pandemic, they stated that this was a new, different way of doing things. They made it very believable,” said Alexis. “Buying the materials from their vendor would make it cheaper - was my thought.”
“I deposited it and I was told to send it to their vendor through Zelle. Once I sent it to their vendor, the money was out of my account and the check bounced three days later,” explained Alexis.
The company tried to convince Alexis they would fix the problem and attempted to get her to send another $1,000.
By then, Alexis realized it was a scam and contacted Frisco Police, FedEx, her bank and Zelle.
But, the money was gone.
“I just had a newborn and there's a pandemic going on. Part of that money was unemployment benefits I was receiving. So, it definitely has affected us buying formula and diapers,” Alexis said.
Job scams have been around for years, but job seekers are especially vulnerable now.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are legitimately hiring people to work from home without meeting in person. Online and over-the-phone job interviews aren’t unheard of as employers try to limit in-person contact.
In both Rife and Alexis’ cases, the scammers spoofed real companies. Alexis looked up her interviewer and the pharmaceutical company before sending any money. Looking back, she said the scammers likely lifted publicly available information to impersonate actual employers.
“The scammers have gotten really sophisticated,” said Federal Trade Commission Attorney Matthew Wilshire. “Any one red flag really ought to raise a lot of skepticism and concern.”
Wilshire said requests for advance fees or unusual banking transactions are signs of scam.
“Any company that's hiring should not be asking for you to make payments upfront or do unorthodox things with your bank account or deposit checks or anything like that,” said Wilshire.
In January, the FBI warned criminals are spoofing real company websites, creating similar domain names and posting fake job openings on job boards.
In Rife’s case, the person who emailed her claimed to work for NACCO Industries – a real company.
NACCO tells NBC 5 Responds, “In this COVID environment where so many have lost jobs and are anxious to work, we believe it is appalling that someone would prey on and scam those attempting to find work. When we found out this was happening, we put the statement on our website for jobseekers to contact us, if needed, to determine if an offer was legitimate, and to convey we were not looking for remote employees at that time.”
In addition to independently verifying the person reaching out is, in fact, calling from the company, NACCO recommends asking if you can call the person back. The company says a scammer will often hang up if you tell them you need to verify their credentials.
Alexis said the person who emailed her claimed to be hiring for Censa Pharmaceuticals. A media representative for PTC Therapeutics which acquired Censa Pharmaceuticals earlier this year tells NBC 5 Responds, “Although we have no information about this particular case, we know that companies of all sizes, and job applicants across the country, have recently been falling victim to scams of this nature.”
PTC Therapeutics goes on to say, “Given the surge of scams of this type over the past several months, we have been in touch with federal law enforcement officials, and we have been working closely with these authorities as they investigate.”
How to Spot a Scam
If the potential employer asks for payment upfront, your bank or credit card information, it’s likely a scam.
A job posting that shows up on internet job boards, but not the company’s website may also indicate a scam – according to the FBI.
If the job seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be especially wary if the pay seems higher than what’s typical for the position.
How to Protect Yourself
Search for the company’s website or contact information independently. Don’t use the contact information provided to you by a stranger.
If you find multiple websites for the same company or the web address is just a few letters off from an actual company website URL, it may have been spoofed.
The FBI points out legitimate companies will ask for direct deposit information for payroll purposes after hiring employees. It’s safer to do this in person. During the pandemic, consider asking the company for a video call. It may help you confirm the identity of the person you’re speaking with - especially if the company has employee photos online.
Never send money via wire transfer or a cash app to a potential employer you met online. You can also call your bank before agreeing to any transactions to give the bank a chance to flag a potential scam.
A media representative for Zelle says consumers shouldn’t use the app to send money to people they don’t know. The money is sent directly from one bank account to another within minutes and consumers should treat it like cash. You can report a scam directly to Zelle here.
Alexis said her Zelle was connected to her bank account at Chase.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. tells NBC 5 Responds, "Unfortunately, this customer was scammed. We urge customers to make sure they provide information or send money only to people they know and trust. Scams are trending upwards because of the pandemic, so it’s important to be vigilant. If you ever have any questions or concerns about your account, do not hesitate to visit a branch or call the number on the back of your debit card."
What to Do if This Happened to You
Contact your bank or credit card company immediately. If you used a cash app, reach out to the bank connected to the account and let them know about the fraudulent charge. It may be too late to stop the transaction, but law enforcement recommends to notify your financial institutions immediately.
If you gave the scammer your personal information, read about next steps to take here.
Rife and Alexis can’t pinpoint exactly how the scammers got their contact information. Both job seekers say they uploaded their resumes to online job boards and maintain profiles on LinkedIn.
Rife says the scammers claimed they found her resume on CareerBuilder. In an email to NBC 5 Responds, the company wrote, “CareerBuilder takes the threat of fraud seriously. We work with a third-party organization to actively validate that businesses are legitimate when they post content on our site and have built-in safeguards to remove accounts if fraudulent activity is reported. Additionally, there are educational resources available across our website to help job seekers during their search on how to report identified fraudulent behavior.”
Both Rife and Alexis received checks in the mail via FedEx. In an email to NBC 5 Responds, the company writes, “FedEx does not tolerate the use of its network for illegal purposes, and we investigate and cooperate with authorities in matters involving criminal activity. Unfortunately, scammers often invoke the names of trusted brands when attempting to take advantage of the public, and FedEx is one of many companies whose brand has been abused in this way. Any suspicious text messages or emails should be deleted without being opened and reported to email@example.com. For more tips on detecting online scams, visit the FedEx Customer Protection Center here.”
You can read more about avoiding common scams and reporting them to Google here.
NBC 5 Responds reached out to Wire and in an email response, CEO Morten Brøgger says, “Wire’s end-to-end encrypted technology is purpose-built for securing enterprise communications and collaboration, helping businesses around the globe remain productive internally, as well as with customers and other external parties, whilst also averting costly cyber threats.
‘Wire is used for private communication. When using it, you are required to abide by any applicable laws. You cannot use Wire for unlawful or illegal, defamatory, harmful, abusive, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive purposes. If you violate these terms, we may disable your access to Wire.’
Users can report objectionable content (or any other form of misuse in violation of the terms and conditions) in the application. From there, our team will follow up on the claim and act accordingly to our terms and conditions. We are unable to comment on pending police investigations or legal matters.”
NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and recovering your money. Our goal is to get you answers and, if possible, solutions and resolution. Call us at 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our Customer Complaint form.