This is a story about my brother.
He told me I could share it — as long as I don’t make him out to be an “idiot.”
Let me introduce you to him first. His name is Jake. He’s 22, and he recently graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in civil engineering. He’s the smart, talented, logical child in our family. (My parents will try to deny this, but it’s true.)
He also nearly fell victim to a work-from-home job scam.
The incident opened my eyes. The Penny Hoarder often writes about work-from-home scams, but I’ve always thought the most susceptible to falling victim were those who are “…at a vulnerable point in their life,” as Katherine Hutt, the national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, told me last year.
She’d mentioned those who are fresh out of work, in debt, in need of a second job to pay bills or are caring for a family as particularly vulnerable.
All of this is still true. But my brother showed me that everyone — even a near-4.0 GPA engineering grad who has a full-time, well-paying job — can get roped into these.
Without embarrassing my brother, I wanted to use the email he received as an example of how you can spot work-from-home job scams yourself.
Some Valuable Lessons From This Real Work-From-Home Scam
My brother is arguably the biggest Penny Hoarder in our family, so when he received an email for a work-from-home, part-time opportunity, he immediately perked up. In fact, he gave me a call to tell me about the opportunity — how he could bank an extra $500 a week just by working a few hours.
As soon as he spit out that number — $500 a week — red flags waved across my face. However, he assured me it was from Core Technology Business Solutions (or Core BTS), a nationally known company even I’d heard of.
I made him forward me the email, which I then sent along to Steve Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and the author of the fraud and identity theft blog Scamicide.
Together, we compiled a list of red flags.
Before I dive in, it’s worth noting that the chance of getting a legitimate work-from-home job delivered directly to your inbox is so, so slim. That’s like a unicorn diving down from the sky and handing you coffee. It’s just too good to be true.
Here are some lessons you can take from this email and apply to your next job search:
1. The email comes from Sharon Morgan, the HR manager/controller. However, her email address reads “email@example.com,” and it’s addressed to “undisclosed-recipients.”
“First of all, companies are not sending out job offers to great numbers of people who haven’t even asked them for a job,” Weisman says. “And when you look at it, the email is coming from a Gmail account that has nothing to do with Core BTS.”
I take some time to put my “cyber-stalking” skills to use. When I Google Sharon Morgan along with Core BTS, she’s nowhere to be found, which seems odd for an HR manager.
2. The logo looks — and is — legitimate. So I start perusing Core Business Technology Solutions’ website. Score. It has a careers page. But, surprise — this job isn’t listed. And none of the other opportunities are work-from-home ones.
3. The email is addressed to a vague “UTEXAS Student.” Additionally, “Sharon” says the company received Jake’s name and email through his school’s directory. Perhaps this is possible, but schools don’t just let anyone into their student directories. I ask Jake about this, and he said you’d need a University of Texas Electronic Identity (or UT EID) to gain access to these lists.
4. It says the job is part of an “empowerment program” for students. A quick Google search returns no record of a “Core BTS Empowerment Program.”
5. The email launches into (a few) details about the position. There aren’t a ton of typos or grammatical errors along the way. “This person is writing fairly well,” Weisman says. A common sign of a scam are those spelling errors and obvious grammatical mistakes. Not too many here.
However, Weisman points out that the language is embellished, an effort to make it seem more legitimate than it is. Take, for example, the unnecessary, “payable in accordance with the Company’s standard Check” when the sentence would be clear and sufficient without.
6. The position has a vague title of “Online Supplier Data Assistant.” In all my years of searching for jobs, I’ve never seen that one. And, as assumed, that title doesn’t appear in a Google search.
Along with the title, the position’s details also seem intentionally vague and open-ended. The description of job duties are as follows:
“You are required to provide a well detailed report and analysis of supplied materials invoice from our un-educated Production Suppliers in an MS Word/Excel Document which will be sent to your mail address. You just need a few hours of your time to do this weekly and you will also be fully oriented by your Supervisor.”
OK. My big question is — and Weisman had a good chuckle over this, too — why are you employing “un-educated” suppliers?
7. The “payment compensation” (unnecessarily repetitive, by the way) section says salary starts at $500 per week. This seems awfully generous for a position that only needs “a few hours of your time.” For an added too-good-to-be-true factor, the next section talks bonuses.
8. Sold? Now the company wants all your information, including your name, address, birthday, gender (why?!) and cell phone number. Then you’ll hear from your supervisor.
Weisman warns about the importance of not handing out your date of birth or cell phone number to just anyone. “Your mobile number can be used for all kinds of frauds,” he says. “Giving your date of birth and cell phone number puts you in jeopardy of identity theft.”
Basically, these two pieces of information can be used for dual-factor authentication — like when a scammer wants to hack into your cloud or even your phone. “They can actually call the service provider and talk them into changing the number or SIM, and they can get control of the phone,” Weisman says.
The email is signed Sharon Morgan, and it links back to the legitimate Core BTS website — a nice little persuasive cherry on top.
About halfway through dissecting the email, my brother tells me he’s already called Core BTS. The email hadn’t left a contact number, so he called the number on the legitimate site — the one that we’d checked out earlier.
The representative confirmed the position was not being offered.
The Moral of the Story? Be Skeptical and Do Some Digging
There are so many awful ways these scams can pan out.
It could be that the “representative” asks for your bank information to wire money over — that can lead to them wiring money out of it.
Or they might need a Social Security number to fill out the W-2 — that can lead to identity theft.
Perhaps they need an address to send you something to repackage and send out — this would make you a mule, Weisman says, which is illegal and could lead to criminal charges.
Your best bet is to be skeptical. Use common sense and watch out for those red flags.
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gets way too excited when she gets to write about scams.
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