Online Jobs: Not Always What You Think

By Elvis Huff on November 20, 2017
8 minute read

Who wants to earn some extra money this holiday season? Your diva daughter wants designer shoes. A shiny new game console for George would pair well with that new ultra large, curved, UHD TV. The electronics store gives package deals, right?! Zero percent financing, anyone?

Almost everyone could use some extra cash during this busy shopping season. If you’re looking to make some extra money through an online job, though, proceed carefully. Lots of these online jobs are not what they seem. In fact, many are a front for organized crime, designed to funnel money from illegal activities through you and back to them. Others are just plain scams, that aim to rob you of your hard-earned money without you ever coming face-to-face with the criminal.

Online jobs are everywhere. A quick Google search told me I could make quick cash, and now! Most even assured me that I did not need any experience for the field in which I was applying.

Criminals troll through these [online jobs] better than you do. They are looking for victims to enlist in their “jobs.”

Think only Google searching turns up the scam jobs? Think again. A search on Craigslist, Indeed, and other forum job sites contain a plethora of work-from-home opportunities. Some with scams. Of course, I’m not saying that all online jobs are bad, or illegal, but unfortunately, many are. Here is what you need to know: criminals troll through these pages better than you do. They are looking for victims to enlist in their “jobs.” Before you leap for joy at that job offer where you have been accepted at a firm, please know that many of these jobs will have you generally do one of two things.

Two types of jobs

In numerous fraud cases, these two categories always appear: 1) one where you are asked to receive money and send it to someone else, and 2) one in which you get digitally robbed. Of course, that’s not written in the job description. It is masked in the details, and you won’t realize it until it’s too late – either you’ve unwittingly given your money away, or the police show up at your door asking why you are sending money to organized crime.

1. You Receive Money and Send it to Someone Else
You have applied, been accepted, and hired. You are ready to begin working. Most jobs that require you to receive money and send it back out, are posted in one of these categories:

• Accounts Receivable representative
• Administrative assistant/personal assistant
• Account manager
• Coordinator
• Mystery Shopper
• Drop Ship Handler

This is not an exhaustive list, but these categories are the ones I see most often. The criminals lure you in with the appeal of making money from home so you can spend more time with your family. Please note, the stories and processes for these scam jobs are more in-depth than you think. They’re not filled with misspelled words and bad grammar from amateur fraudsters; what we’re discussing here is detailed, highly organized, and very convincing. These folks are very good at what they do. Many may require some type of background check, submitting of your personal information, and always opening up a bank account in your name. This part is crucial. By using your name and information, the criminals implicate you in their crime. It is your name tied to all of the transactions, not theirs. The people you think you’re dealing with are not giving you their real names or information. They use fake names and Google voice numbers.

Once the account is open, the criminals will have you do normal, routine things, to build your trust in them. You’re a new employee who wants to make a good name for yourself, so you do almost anything they ask. Everything seems okay so far, right? Many employees are often legitimately paid, furthering their trust in the job and its opportunities. Once the criminal feels that you are ready, they will have you receive incoming funds. This first transaction is always a small amount – because, ironically, the criminal doesn’t trust you yet. Now that you have received the funds, the criminal will provide instructions for you to send them the remaining balance after you’ve deducted your “salary.” Once you successfully transmit the small amount, keeping some for yourself as instructed, larger amounts of money are sure to follow.

How do you send them the money? Usually it is in the form of a wire, like Western Union or Walmart’s Money Center, or in gift cards. Yes, gift cards. Keep in mind, the stories told to you sound so real, that it seems like modern business at work. Plus, you already have trust in them because you have been paid.

Where does the money originate? Employees are told a story that matches the job description. We had a customer recently who had been hired as an online accounts receivable person for a national rental property firm. Their job was to receive the checks each month, deposit them into their bank account, then wire the money to the company, after the employee had deducted their salary. This went on for about four months until the employee’s family became suspicious and began asking questions. The employee finally quit the job. However, during the four months, all of the checks were real and none of them ever bounced. The family began researching this company and began finding that things did not match up. The family could not locate an actual physical presence for this firm, and people who were reported to be working for the company could not be located or contacted. Imagine how difficult it was for this person to quit this job; they really believed they were doing a legitimate job during this time.

The money really comes from stolen funds. Most often it is a business email compromise where someone received wire instructions to wire the employee the money instead of the original recipient. These interceptions are known as business email compromises because the businesses’ email system has been compromised – the criminal changed the wire instructions on a legitimate real estate transaction. I, and the rest of the financial sector, have seen too many of these. Sometimes we can get the money back, and sometimes we cannot. It depends on how fast the “employee” receives, processes and forwards the money.

2. The Digital Robbery
The other type of online job where people lose money is what I call the “digital robbery.” Simply put, an applicant signs up for a job, receives a check with instructions to keep some and send the rest back to the company, but the check is forged. You’re sending your money to the criminals without ever being threatened or intimidated.

We recently encountered a very good one. A young lady came in to one of our branches, with a check for approximately $2,200. Our head teller saw that our customer had never received checks from this business before, so she began a conversation with the young lady about it. During this conversation, the young lady stated she had applied, and been hired, to wrap her car as a mobile billboard for various businesses and products. The amount of money sent was higher than what she needed because of “variations in vehicle wrapping technologies and costs.” Fortunately, our head teller caught on, and verified this check and job as fraudulent. One digital robbery stopped.

Almost any type of online job, or sale of an item online, can become a digital robbery – a situation where you willingly give away your money – so be careful, ask questions before you deposit that check, and talk to your bank if you are unsure.

Do you know someone who has been victimized by a fraudulent online job? Please share below!

Posted by Elvis Huff

Elvis Huff worked as an officer and network administrator for 12 years with the Lebanon Police Department and has also served as an adjunct professor in information systems at Cumberland University. Read More »

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