After a layoff dumped me into the job market for the first time in more than a decade, I had an all-too-close encounter with a new breed of digital fraudsters who prey on the unemployed. These high-tech predators use a new twist on an old scam to “hire” the victim in order to gain access to their bank account.
Embarrassing as it might be, I’m sharing my experiences in the hope that they might help you avoid falling victim to these cyber-vultures and perhaps even turn the tables on them.
Like most successful cons, this one involved gaining the willing consent of its victim through some combination of greed, fear, or desperation. Having been laid off several months earlier, I fell into the latter category and was ripe for the picking. When I lost the unfulfilling but steady editorial job I’d held down for the past few years, I was confident that my strong credentials and deep collection of contacts I’d made over the years would help me land a better gig within a month or two.
To my surprise, the job hunting skills I’d honed over my 20+ year career were outdated and almost useless at penetrating the layers of digital screening agents that stood between me and a potential employer. I found myself in unfamiliar territory, struggling to learn the complex Kabuki dance that today’s job seekers must master in order to slip past Corporate HR’s silicon sentinels and gain an audience with a carbon-based life form.
Even engaging a resume coach to help me finetune my credentials failed to break the deafening silence until an email arrived from ZipRecruiter, one of several job hunting sites I was registered with. The recruiter was responding to the application I had submitted a day earlier for a remote-work tech writer position at a biotech firm. Since the scammers used the name of a real company for their scheme, I’ve redacted it from the email below:
Company: XXXXXX, INC. – Position Type: Full-Time/Part Time.
Positions Available: Copywriter/Technical Writer/Proofreader and Editor. Pay: 45-50/HR
Station: Freelance/Remote – Full Time & Part time available.
Candidate Interview Reference Code: ZPRTR11680 – Job Code: 3022
Your resume has been reviewed by our HR Department for the position and we believe you are capable of handling this position based on the contents of your resume you sent for our ad on ZIPRECRUITER. Your details has been forwarded to Mrs MARK TAYLOR the Assistant Chief Human Resources Officer. He will be conducting interview with you to discuss the Job Details, Pay Scale and every other thing you need to know about the position.
You are required to Log on to Google Talk Messenger/Hangout and send an Invite/Message to the Asst. Chief Human Resources OfficerMARK TAYLOR on his ID at ([email protected]). An interview tag identification number has been assigned to you ***ZPRTR11680***. Introduce yourself to him and indicate your interview reference code.
Thus began a two-day odyssey that nearly ended with my new “employers” draining the contents of my bank account.
Per the email’s instructions, I hopped onto Google Hangouts and reached out to “Mark Taylor,” the person who would be interviewing me. His voice channel did not seem to be active so we messaged back and forth and set up a time to chat the following day.
During our exchange, I noticed that his replies contained some subtle grammatical irregularities that were very similar to the ones I’d seen in the first email. Wanting desperately to believe that this interview would be my ticket to a steady paycheck, I told myself that the recruiter’s odd turns of phrase were probably due to the fact that he was working at some sort of offshore service center.
Any lingering concerns I had were put to rest after a bit of research revealed that the biotech firm the recruiter claimed to represent was a real company. Thus assured, I spent some time gathering information from the company’s website to prep for the upcoming interview.
The following day, I logged onto Google Hangouts, properly dressed and groomed for the video chat I’d been preparing for. To my surprise, I learned that the interview would be conducted using Hangouts’ text messaging service. Here is an excerpt of the conversation:
Me: Hi Mark—it’s Lee. I’m on Hangouts and trying to confirm that the application will default to my external microphone instead of the one in my laptop. I’ll call in a couple of minutes and if we have difficulty I’ll run the call through my phone.
“Mark Taylor”: Hello Lee, we can conduct the interview via text.
Sure—that would be fine too. If it’s OK with you, I’ll try the voice link and default to text if that doesn’t work.
Are you ready to proceed with the interview now?
Yes. Let’s rock!
The interview consist of three phases i.e ” Introduction to the Company, Questionnaire Phase, Job Briefings, Description and Pay scale” So I’ll begin by introducing you properly to the Company, provide you with the necessary information/details you need to know about us after which we would proceed with the questionnaire and job briefings OK.
Sounds great! Thanks—I’m ready
After a long briefing about the company, its research, and the oncology treatments it was developing, Mark began the formal part of the interview by introducing himself as the assistant chief human resources officer of the company and describing the duties I’d be expected to fulfill.
After reviewing my qualifications, he asked me several of the questions I’ve frequently encountered at conventional interviews over the years, including the ever-popular “whatcan you describe as the most difficult challenge you have faced in your career thus far and what methods did you apply to get it solved?“
I think I remember noticing that some of the questions I was answering had the same verbal tics I’d seen in the earlier emails, but, even if I did, I was too busy typing my replies to allow it to be a concern.
This was followed by a series of shorter questions that seemed at first to be mostly a professional skills assessment that included:
But there were two questions that seemed out of place. They wanted to know which bank I used and whether it supported electronic deposits, a process in which you deposit checks by taking pictures of them with your Smartphone. It seemed like an odd thing to ask, but I told them that my bank did accept electronic deposits and moved on to the next question.
Within a few minutes of submitting my answers, Mark informed me that I’d passed the interview and would receive a formal offer to work from my home as a copywriter/proofreader. My pay would be $45/hour during my one-week training and evaluation period, stepping up to $50/hour when I became an employee.
After months of living on unemployment checks, those were the words I’d longed to see.
I was elated as we settled into what I was told would be the first part of the company’s onboarding process. Mark explained that, following my training period, I’d meet with a company representative who would help me complete the last of the HR paperwork and verify that my home office was properly equipped with a top-line Mac Book, a pricey color laser printer, and a few other pieces of expensive tech the company deemed necessary.
Elation turned to panic because it wasn’t clear whether the company would supply the equipment or if I’d have to pony up for it myself. To my relief, he told me that the company would send me a check that I’d use to buy the equipment from one of the company’s preferred vendors.
I’d been online for most of the day, and it was getting late. We agreed to reconnect the following morning to complete the on-boarding and begin the training I’d have to take before beginning my actual work.
Before I signed off, Mark said that he’d send me a check so I could start purchasing my new office equipment as soon as possible. Life was good.