PAT TAYLOR: They Got Us: How a Flim-Flam Ad Made It Into the Paper
We at The Pilot keep our antennae up, our eyes peeled, our noses to the grindstone and our ears to the ground. We keep our shoulders in the harness and we walk a straight and narrow line. We care about our readers and our advertisers. Honest.
But despite our best and most concerted efforts, sometimes a scammer gets one over on us. We in the Advertising Department try to be relatively easy to do business with. We try to be customer-oriented. We try to find ways to tell people "yes" when they want to advertise. As with most dishonest efforts, crooks get smarter and more sophisticated. Once in a while we take our eyes off the ball for a second and miss a curve some bad guy throws our way.
Such was the case last week with a small, simple ad that read, "BOOKKEEPER needed for immediate employment, must be at least 18 years of age, no formal experience needed. Earn weekly." It gave an e-mail address to reply to for more information.
In most cases when an ad comes in that's not on the up-and-up, there are telltale signs that tip us off. They usually come in by e-mail. They usually promise something that doesn't seem quite right, like the idea of making $50 grand sitting at home in front of the TV, stuffing envelopes while you stuff yourself. Or the wording in the ad is stilted. We reject five or 10 such ads every week.
This one was called in, a credit card was given (possibly stolen, we now figure), and it went through without a hitch. So we'll probably have to refund the price of the ad, adding insult to injury. A lot of "help wanted" ads only carry an e-mail address these days. Most questionable ads don't call for bookkeeping jobs.
Regardless, this one got in, and several local people responded -- women looking for a little extra income in these days of $4 cereal boxes and $1.25-a-pound potatoes. Honest people looking for honest work. Luckily, they also had their antennae up and were a little bit cautious going in.
More important, they weren't looking for something for nothing, or a get-rich-quick scheme. That often seems like part of the formula in a successful scam. The closest thing to a get-rich-quick scheme is winning the MegaMillions Lotto, and the odds of that are about one in 440 million. Of course, you beat bigger odds than that just getting fertilized, so it could happen.
Perhaps people are a little less trusting these days because there are so many stories of "preyers" that do get answered. We are more wary of getting scammed. I hope that's the case. At a time when people are scared that their identities are going to get stolen and/or their life savings drained from an electronic account someone hacks into, there is a shroud of paranoia hanging over all of us.
We'll be safer going forward if we stay a little paranoid. Our antennae should be out, our ears to the ground, our eyes on the ball, in self-protection.
But back to the local scam.
It's a new twist on a used plot. The person responding to the ad for the job (i.e. bookkeeper) gets a reply e-mail saying the company is new in the country but has been doing business successfully as XYZ company in (pick a country) for many years. To speed up cash flow, they are looking for people for exchange purposes.
They want the "bookkeeper" to take the position of middleman, as a local exchange, so to speak. You simply get a check from the company, deposit it, and wire another check to a second party. You keep easy money for all that hard work. (If it's that good, send me millions right away.)
'Didn't Sound Right'
Several ladies responded by e-mailing a resume to the address in the ad and waiting for a response. Before the prospects could say "instant riches," there was a certified cashier's check for $2,500 (in this case) waiting on them at home. They were supposed to take that check and deposit it, keep 10 percent out of the deposit, and forward the difference via cashier's check to another person.
Usually a cashier's check is solid gold. Naturally, their wired cashier's check would be good because it was drawn on their personal account, while the check they received from the company in question would not be. Thus, had they fallen for the deal, they would have given away $2,250 in hard-earned dinero.
Please note: The company in question is willing to share 10 percent of its sales for the sake of speeding up cash flow. Thankfully, this seemed kind of odd to the job prospects, as if it was an unusually generous fee for such a simple task. If a real bank tried to charge those kinds of fees for cashing checks no one would be willing to pay it. There's one tip-off.
The heroines in my story; Lisa, Emily and Andrea, are all smart ladies and were suspicious off the bat. To their credit, they were also curious and followed this one to the end of the line. They all reached the same conclusion. They also thought we ought to know about the scam ad, so no one would be fooled by it and so we might avoid running another ad like it. What kind of people do that? Did I say they were my heroines?
Lisa told me, "It wasn't what the ad posed at all. A three-way check-sending deal didn't sound right, especially when you think you're applying for a part-time local job. That sent up a red flag right away." Lisa followed the thread, even taking the check to the bank on which it was supposedly drawn. The bank said it was a fake but looked exactly like their cashier's checks up to three months ago.
Bad People Out There
"I've heard about this kind of scam," said Andrea, who alerted me to the scam after sending a resume. "So I applied to see if this was the same setup. It was. I am sure you don't want The Pilot involved and advertising (helping) this character anymore."
No, we don't. You can take that to the bank.
So, to any Pilot readers who might have responded to the bogus ad, my humble apologies. We will continue to be vigilant in filtering out dishonest advertising. I promise you that.
To all of you, know that there are bad people out there who prey on anyone who lets his or her guard down. The electronic world is faceless, so what appears to be isn't necessarily true. If you don't know where something came from, check it out before you download it or respond. Or just discard it. If you are important to the sender, they'll let you know some other way. Most of all, remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
In closing, I do want to share some great personal news from yesterday. Because of political instability in the country, a guy from Liberia needs to park $7,200,000 in an American bank. And guess what? He chose me! So, if you don't see any more columns from me, you know that the transfer went through and I retired happy ever after.
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