It is a scam that preys on people who are looking for work in a tight economy, and uses the promise of a job to bilk them out of about $2,000 at a time when they can least afford to lose it.
Three Abbotsford people recently ran across the scam, which generally works like this.
The targets are hired for a position to work from home. They are sent a large money order to purchase supplies for the company, including a small amount for themselves. They cash the money order, sending away most of it, as instructed by the new “employer.”
Their financial institution contacts them in a matter of days, saying the money order is counterfeit. They are held fully responsible for the funds by the bank or credit union.
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Heidi Neudorf was hired via an ad on Craigslist. Her job was to make travel arrangements for company employees. Her new “boss” was on the road, in Baltimore, but he would send her a money order for $2,150. Of that, she was to use $50 to purchase stationary supplies for her home office, and keep $100 as a signing-on bonus. The remaining $2,000 was to be sent to an address in California, to purchase materials she would use, including a computer and a Blackberry. All the communication to this point was via email.
“He was very specific,” she said. “It sounded like I was dealing with a real employer.”
The cheque came via registered mail. She signed for it, cashed it at her financial institution, and transferred the funds via Western Union, as instructed.
Two days later, she was contacted by her employer again, via email, and told the supplies were not available in California, and a new money order would be coming to purchase the supplies in England. It too was for $2,150.
She took the money order to her financial institution, and was told it was counterfeit – and so was the earlier money order.
“I was totally in tears, and beside myself,” she said.
On Saturday, she got a phone call from her “boss,” Andy Brian, who asked why he hadn’t heard from her. She strung him along, trying to get information. Eventually she confronted him about the counterfeit cheque, saying police are involved, and that if he was a legitimate business, he had to reimburse the money she had lost.
She hasn’t heard from him since.
Neudorf kept all the paperwork, including copies of emails, and where she sent the money, and passed it along to the Abbotsford Police. The phone call was indeed traced to Baltimore, but police said there is nothing they can do to help recover the funds.
“They target people who are desperate to find work, and they knew how to con me,” said Neudorf.
“This was all just to help my family, but it has put us in a spin.”
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In a similar case, Kim responded to a newspaper classified ad, and was given a data entry job at a tile store that would be opening on Marshall Road. She was given the name of a legitimate business, and looked up their website. She was asked to work from home for two or three weeks, until the new location was ready.
Kim already works in retail, has a baby, and her husband works three jobs as they try to get ahead. Working from home was an attractive option.
She was sent a money order for $2,500. She was told to keep $400 as a bonus, and send $2,100 on to a supplier in China.
Kim was suspicious. She didn’t cash the order for days. Then she asked the teller at her financial institution about the money order, explaining she was unsure.
“I asked her ten times, and she said ‘yes, this is like cash.’ “
She cashed it, and sent away the funds.
“A week later, I get a call from the bank saying it is a counterfeit…”
She met with the manager of her credit union, who said it was a very good fake, which fooled the teller.
“That makes sense – they’re thieves, they’re criminals,” Kim said.
Kim felt her credit union should take a share of the responsibility for cashing the counterfeit, but is being solely responsible under the terms of her account agreement.
“They weren’t empathetic, whatsoever,” she said.
She dealt with Abbotsford Police, and was told she was victimized by a scam that originates out of Ghana, Africa, via the U.S.
Kim was embarrassed at being scammed, and asked that her last name not be used.
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Fred Jagers got a data processing job through Craigslist, to work from home, and was sent a money order for $2,150, along with a list of computer programs that would cost $2,000. He was to send the funds and the list of software to a vendor. He was told he would be working for an online company, and he checked out their website.
“All the way through the process, it seemed fairly legit,” Jagers said.
He noticed some irregularities during his correspondence with the bogus employer – errors in language and sentence structure – which made him dubious.
“I purposely followed it through, just to see what it was,” he said.
He was fortunate not to lose any money – his credit union identified the money order as a counterfeit before any funds were issued.
Police have traced the scam as far as Denver.
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Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said it’s a familiar scam, but “we haven’t had this in abundance in Abbotsford.” He estimated there have been fewer than 10 cases reported to police so far in 2011.
“When you’re dealing with anything on a social networking site, you don’t know who’s on the other end of it,” he said. “There’s a ton of anonymity on the Internet.”
He said if a new employer is asking you to conduct transactions through your personal bank or credit union account, “my suggestion is, don’t do it.”
He said such scams are successful because they reach a huge number of people via the Internet, and also because the perpetrators keep themselves well insulated from their victims and their crimes.
The persons who pick up the cheques from Western Union and forward the funds on to the source of the job scam – often in Western African nations – are often victims themselves, who are not subject to criminal prosecution.