Here’s what the red flag riddled experience was like.
The unemployment rate in the U.S. is currently hovering around 7.9%, with 12.6 million people unemployed. While this number is a vast improvement from the May 2020 high of 13%, it’s double the unemployment rate we had this time last year. Of course, the main factor behind this sharp incline in unemployment is the Coronavirus pandemic which has impacted all industries, with some, like service and retail, far more hurt than others.
A high unemployment rate and diminished job prospects translate into an upsurge of desperate unemployed job applicants who are willing to ignore red flags during the “hiring” process in the hopes of a reliable paycheck. Resultingly, it follows that there is a new resurgence in scammers preying on job applicants through a variety of hiring scams.
Fake job scammers operate off platforms like Craiglist.com, Monster.com, or Indeed.com to source potential marks. Online job scams typically follow a couple of scripts. Some might try to get you to cash fake checks or pay for work materials after being hired. Others might go a step further and state they will send you a check to cover training or material cost, then send a surplus and ask you to wire back the extra money. Simple phishing scams source banking or social security information from applicants as part of the hiring process. All of the above are red flags.
Now, across social media-from Facebook to LinkedIn-I’ve watched a recent uptick in posts about job scams so I wanted to share my experience with a particular type of job scam: the “pay for your own equipment” on the new job.
Full disclosure: When I was contacted for this job, I immediately recognized it as a scam. However, I decided to ride out the interview process to see where it would take me. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Red Flag 1: The job didn’t fit my experience…at all
The position I was being pitched, per the above, was that of Staffing Coordinator. My work experience since college graduation was firmly in financial and consulting services, including research, wealth management, and financial consulting.
There were no clear reason for why I would be a strong candidate to be a Staffing Coordinator or why the timing of this proposed switch might align to my career goals.
The only reasoning I could see was that it was a generic position and my resume was up on Indeed.com, which meant I was, after some variance, looking for a new position.
As in all stories where curiosity kills the cat, I decided to throw myself into the ring and answered Andy’s request for the role of Staffing Coordinator.
Immediately following my reply, Andy looped a woman named Gina, into our email chain, who would quickly become my main scammer. Within 24 hours, she sent over an incredibly generic job description for the position I was applying to along with an email promising $1,200 a week for a part time, fully remote role. Score!
If I had been an unemployed job seeker, I’d been thanking my lucky stars then and there. But, of course, I wasn’t.
Red Flag 2: The highly atypical hiring process
I’ve gone through everything from super days to completing mockup stock pitches and investment decks as part of the hiring process. I’ve answered behavioral questions before a panel of five imposing figures; I’ve stayed up until 2:00 am trying to decide on the best font via which to answer a writing test for one of the world’s most exclusive hedge funds.
But, seriously, as someone who’s switched jobs a decent amount of times since graduating from college in 2015, I can honestly say until I went through the job scamming process that I had never NOT spoken to anyone involved in the hiring process while applying for any sort of role.
There were a host of small first red flags while being “job scammed”; I’d have had to be colorblind not to see the largest one, which the complete lack of any professional and personal contact while being “hired”.
And for a position such as “Staffing Coordinator” where, presumably, a deficient of social skills and a sparkling personality would be a definitive deal-breaker, not a single live person spoke to me or tried to, as I was being “hired”.
As previously mentioned, my main contact at the company I was “going to work for”, Gina, never responded to my multiple requests to catch up via phone. When asked about it directly, she always had an excuse: work emergency, lack of cell reception, another work emergency.
Now, that's not to say that there are some fully automated hiring processes but, generally, if a company is willing to give you money, they’re first going to want to see proof you’re capable enough to receive it.
So, again, it made zero sense that I never spoke to a single person throughout the hiring process.
And, furthermore, the hiring process was out of order. Per the above, I “signed” an acceptance letter. Only after doing so did I move onto the interview process.
Once I had submitted my “acceptance letter”, I was told to complete a job application, which included questions about my general information, my work history, and my references, and a job interview questionnaire. Normally, the former would be the first step in a hiring process, during the “vetting applicants for first round interviews” phase, and the latter would be done once an applicant passed to the interview phase.
Here I wondered: Why were the scammers going through such hoops to scam me?
I supposed it was because the protracted nature of their scams added some veracity to their claims of a real job offer. A desperate job applicant might latch to that idea-that no real scammer would go to such lengths for a mere payday- but, as mentioned, I was already employed, had expectations that were lower than graves, and, ultimately, was along for the ride.
Red Flag 3: The odd job interview or lack thereof
My job interview for the role of Staffing Coordinator was obviously the work of a half hearted fraudster.
First, all my interview process consisted of was a very long generic questionnaire administered to me via Gmail.
Below are some of the 35 initial questions the scammers sent me to fill out to get the job:
The above represents the initial “interview round” I went through. Again, I spoke to no real person involved. For a couple of the above questions, I directly copied and pasted in the first Google result to see if my plagiarism would be noticed or remarked upon. It was not.
In fact, I made it to the second round, which was 10 more questions via Googledocs. All in all, I had to answer over 45 interview questions over the course of 2 weeks to complete my interview process.
I suspected that the scammers felt the more “realistic” and, perhaps, lengthy the interview process was, the less likely the mark would be to question them when things got truly suspicious. After all, again, why waste so much time for such a juvenile scam?
Red Flag 4: I was asked to open a new bank account
Somehow, I passed the time consuming interview process by filling out the aforementioned 45 behavioral questions.
My new job, via my recruiter/my scammer Gina, contacted me under the guise of finding out where to send my paychecks. However, when I mentioned I used typical banks, I ran into an unexpected roadblock.
Per the above, my Bank of America and JP Morgan bank accounts weren’t good enough to…deposit money into?
Now, here comes a major red flag. This “new” job asked me to open a bank account with a Credit Union. No job should be asking an applicant to do this; there is literally no reason why an accredited company cannot send a deposit through any bank unless it is tied to criminal activities or “unfriendly” geographies: the mere suggestion of this should always be viewed as a glaring warning sign.
Fraudsters often ask applicants to open accounts through Credit Unions due to the inherent lack of protection and transparency offered by such account holders. In short, it’s less risky for the scammer and gives you, the mark, less protection.
To add to the above, when I asked why I had to open an account with a Credit Union, Gina evaded all reasonable answers, and kept repeating her point.
At this time, I was wondering if this journey was becoming too intensive. Still, I decided to stick with my exercise, in part, because I hadn’t been asked to provide any sensitive self data, such as my social security number or banking information-a common tactic in fake job scams-so, I felt safe, if on the cusp of danger. I wanted to see what odd direction this scam would go in. And I quickly found out.
Red Flag 5: I was asked to pay for my own equipment
Gina sent me an official, if generic, letter of employment which I quickly signed and returned to her. Immediately after, the scam became obvious.
After a month of “onboarding”, she and the fraudsters behind this ploy were desperate to get a payday.
I received an email from Gina explaining, in short, how I was being asked to buy my own “super special” equipment” that the company would pay me back for. It totaled about $5,500.
Reserve psychology was used in tenfold here; Gina mentioned 7 times how much trust the company had in me and what an important mission I would need to steel myself for. Like, you know, any normal job would…
First and foremost, no company should ever ask you to pay for your own equipment before you have received a paycheck out of your bank account. This was red flag #5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Nor should they pressure you to do so or bring up the “trust” a company has in you, language that fits more cleanly into that of a cult.
If you’re asked to do this, know this scam can go one of two ways:
1. You can deposit money to a fake account, on the promise of a reimbursement you will never get.
2. You can receive a check from your “new” company that overpays you for the price of the equipment. You send the surplus back to your “new company” before you realize their initial check never went through and you are officially out the money you sent back.
For me, Gina immediately asked the below, when suggesting I purchase equipment for my new role:
To fulfill your responsibilities, you should have a laptop completely free from any personal information.
All the information regarding the company must be on one laptop only.
These two components are quite expensive. And the total price of both components is $5550 ($4655 price for the laptop with fingerprint technology and $895 for security software).
The most optimal option. Our company will send you a deposit to you for the purchase of the two components.
In this case, you will need to give your approval to send the deposit.
Only the buyer of components can receive a package with components. Only the sender of the payment for purchase of components can receive a package. The address of the buyer of components should coincide with the address of the recipient.
I’ll transfer money to you, and you will buy 2 components, which I mentioned above.
This option takes 3–5 business days. Plus, the delivery of components to your address will take 1–2 business days.
The company trusts you very much and would appreciate your confidence in return.
I’ll wait for your response. I appreciate your understanding, and hope very much our business relationship will be based on trust and loyalty.
As soon as the deposit is sent, I will provide detailed instructions for purchase of the equipment. After receiving of your confirmation, I will start negotiations with the seller about purchase of the equipment.
Are you ready to receive the deposit for purchasing of the equipment?
No, I wasn’t ready for the deposit because it was completely clear, by this point, what direction this scam was going in.
I decided to bow out. I contacted Gina to let her know I was in on the scam: I never heard a thing back.
From the above, it should be more obvious how job scammers operate. If you are ever asked to pay for your own supplies early in the job interview process or for sensitive information, follow your instincts. Both are extreme red flags.
Moreover, trust yourself. Look into the hiring company; know your rights as an applicant before sending or refusing to send any information. And, to the last part, definitely refuse to send information or money to a new job. If you’re afraid you’ll lose it, the role, as a result of doing so, it was never a position worth having.