Callie Heim was thrilled to start her marketing job at Waymo, the thriving self-driving car company, earlier this summer. She’s had a tough year – her mother recently died, she’s moved home and had to adjust to life after college.
The job offer felt like a turning point: “I was at my lowest point and felt like I was coming up with some good things,” the 22-year-old Towson University graduate told CNBC Make It.
But her excitement quickly faded when she received a message from her new employer: Before she started, she would need to purchase her own laptop and work phone through a company portal, and they would send her a check to cover the cost. Alarm bells went off when the check arrived in the mail.
Heim had been deceived with a fake job advertisement.
“I went from excited to devastated in a month”
In a series of TikTok videos that have since gone viral, Heim shares how she applied for the job via LinkedIn’s “Easy Apply” feature and went through what seemed a normal, even promising, application process. First, she answered a few questions about her marketing background about Wire, an encrypted messaging app she was told to download (a red flag, she says now).
She was called in for a phone interview the next day, where the interviewer said the job would involve getting a computer and a phone to do her work remotely. The next day, she received another call with an offer (red flag #2, says Heim).
After a few more calls, Heim filled out some work forms, submitted a scan of her driver’s license, and sent her bank details to set up the direct deposit. She was then told that she would have to purchase her household appliances in advance and be reimbursed for them later.
In reality, this is a fake check scam where scammers hope you will send them money and “refund” you with a bad check. Sometimes they’ll send you a check first, tell you to deposit it, and hope you buy your gear (actually you’re sending them money) before the check comes through.
Luckily, when the check arrived, Heim realized the fraud (“It looked so photoshopped,” she says) and before she actually sent any money to the scammers. But she had to immediately close her compromised bank account and freeze her line of credit.
Heim describes the experience as humbling and a boost in her confidence. She was also embarrassed that the news she was so looking forward to and sharing with friends and family wasn’t real. “Within a month, I went from excited to devastated,” says Heim.
The experience was emotionally draining, to say the least, but Heim considers herself lucky she didn’t lose any money in the process.
Red flags of a job scam
Americans have been scammed out of $86 million for bogus deals and jobs Opportunities in the second quarter of 2022 according to the Federal Trade Commission. People reported nearly 21,600 cases of business and job scams during that time, about a third of which resulted in financial loss.
Employment-related scams were an ongoing problem but increased in 2020 as criminals took advantage of people who lost their jobs due to Covid, Rhonda Perkins, attorney and chief of staff for the FTC’s division of marketing practices, told CNBC Make in June it
Job scams take different forms: scammers could pose as a staffing or temp agency and charge a fee for their services; List fake mystery shopping, government or postal jobs; or mailing and retraining scams with false promises of making money from home.
Or they impersonate a reputable employer and create a fake website or post fake listings on job search sites like what happened to Heim.
The FBI says these are some red flags to look out for during the hiring process:
- Interviews are not conducted in person or via a secure video call, but rather through a conference call app using an email address instead of a phone number
- Potential employers contact victims through non-corporate email domains and teleconferencing applications
- Potential employers require employees to purchase starting equipment from the company or pay for background screenings
- Potential employers request credit card information
- Job postings appear on job boards but not on the company’s website
- Recruiters or managers do not have profiles on the job board or the profiles do not seem to match their roles
After being scammed, Heim stopped applying for a few weeks but is back in the market with renewed vigilance.
For one, she makes sure that every job posting she sees on sites like LinkedIn or Glassdoor matches one on the company’s website. But that can be tricky, since anyone can spoof a real website — the scam she fell for was modeled after a real job listed on Waymo’s hiring page — so you have to be extra careful, she says.
Take it a step further by looking up the name of the company or person contacting you along with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint,” says Perkins. List the business or staffing agency through the Better Business Bureau directory.
You can also contact the employer directly using information you found yourself (so not an email address or phone number given to you in an unsolicited message) to verify the legitimacy of the job and to check how to apply.
“It’s tempting to use LinkedIn’s ‘Easy Apply’ to quickly apply to a range of jobs, but if you take the time to write your cover letter and reach out to the company directly, you may have more success ‘ adds Home.
She also knows that “if someone asks you for financial information before you get hired, that’s a no-go.” Employers will only ask for your social security number after you’re hired, and you should still be sure to verify their identity in person or via video before sharing it.
“It’s the worst way to learn a lesson, but it taught me to be naive on the internet,” adds Heim. “You never know who you’re actually talking to.”
What to do if you have been scammed
If you see a job scam or lose money, Perkins says to report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. And if you’re concerned about becoming a victim of identity theft, you can report it and receive a personalized recovery plan with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.
LinkedIn has numerous resources to help job seekers spot and avoid scams, including additional precautions for working from home. A LinkedIn spokesperson says fake profiles and fraudulent activity violate its user policies and that the platform uses “automated and manual mitigations” to detect and remediate violations. “Whenever we find such material, we work to quickly remove it and constantly invest in new ways to improve detection. We also encourage members to report anything that doesn’t seem right so we can investigate.”
Wire, the messaging app, is aware that scammers are using the app for job-related scams. It reminds candidates that they should never be asked to purchase their own work equipment and that when in doubt they should contact a senior Company officer to ask if this is standard business practice.
Waymo says all interviews with the company are “conducted either in person or via video conference and never via email, Telegram or other platforms” and notes best practices on its hiring page, according to a statement provided to CNBC Make It . “We also work with cybercrime experts and alert careers anti-fraud departments when we learn of fraudulent accounts with the goal of removing them as soon as possible.”
Heim feels good about sharing her story now. “My friends and I joke about it now, but at the time it took a hit to my confidence and ego.” Her confidence has been restored now that she’s got a few job postings in her hands (some recruiters have even come forward in response to her videos) and supported by positive answers that it made a difference.
“People came up to me and said, ‘Oh my god, I was just on the Wire app this morning interviewing for a job. I have now blocked and deleted this number.’ It makes me feel good to hear that I helped them,” says Heim.
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