I probably receive two dozen emails a week from people asking about check cashing and work at home scams. There are hundreds or even thousands of these running simultaneously and they aggressively target people in the U.S. Often, but not always, they are run out of eastern Europe. They are very difficult for law enforcement to track and shutdown. My guess is that many of them are run by organized crime rings or terrorist organizations.
One of their major ways of reaching people is through job web sites, online classifieds and social/community networks, such as CareerBuilder, Monster.com, Hotjobs, and Craigslist. The phony companies, people, and offers behind these schemes change constantly, but they have several characteristics that are similar. They offer a way to make money for doing virtually no work. It’s usually centered around cashing checks or wiring funds. And it’s always about working from home or independently. Their absurd and false business proposition is that they need agents, representatives or financial processors in the United States to help them process payments from U.S. customers or vendors. It’s a ridiculous concept—any foreign business that is legitimate would simply use a local office and bank to accept payments. THESE ARE ALL FRAUDULENT SCAMS. There are never any exceptions.
They will either use the “agent” to launder funds for them, steal funds from the agent themselves or, both. They dupe people by telling them they get a cut or fee for processing payments. They typically send you stolen, falsified or counterfeit checks. And the “job” is to deposit the checks in your account and wire funds to them (or write them a check and send via overnight mail). Often they use forged cashier’s checks as well, which fool people all the time. (Cashier’s checks are not cash, they are as risky as any other check. If you can steal or forge a regular check, why not a cashier’s check? Think about it.)
I’ve have tracked hundreds of these, usually through my old blog scamsafe.com, which still gets dozens of comments a week from people asking about work at home scams. I can sniff them out in seconds. There’s a new one called InDigit that is worth checking out to get a taste of a more creative fraud attempt. Their web site is designed to fool you into thinking they are a legitimate business: www.indigit.net. Here is a link to their job offer on Craigslist for a “Project Agent” (it will hopefully be taken down soon). This is a totally fake company and bogus web site. They tell you they are a software company that has been in business for seven years with 250 employees. And yet, they registered the domain name July 2006.
The takeaway: assume any work-at-home job that involves depositing payments and sending funds is a scam. And to report an online scam, go to the FBI’s IC3 website at www.ic3.gov.
Update: Another point to add. The job boards are utterly useless in stopping this fraud. They are in the business of accepting ads, not taking them down. They do very little to stop it although they may talk a good story. I was contacted by CareerBuilder a while back and they promised they were diligent in fighting fraud. I took them at their word, reported some abuse and waited. I didn’t see any let up in scam job postings on their site. Their standard line is that people should report fraud and then they will shut it down. By now they should realize that job seekers don’t realize it is fraud until it is too late, and by then the fraudsters have re-posted using a different name and tactic. With two interns, they could cut bogus job postings significantly. Scan all their ads for certain keywords, monitoring new job posting companies and flag accounts that use foreign addresses of any kind. And put a link on every ad that lets visitors flag a posting as suspect. That won’t catch them all but it’s a start.
Update 2: One of my readers send an email to InDigit asking if they were a scam. This is the response he received from”Eva Habenicht”. It’s a funny read:
Dear X, We are insulted to the innermost of our hearts with you groundless suspicions. We know that in the Internet present false and knavish firms. Because of it there is not much confidence to our and other firms. But we build our business exclusively on the confidence and honest. We must to stop our collaboration if you have any suspicions in our honesty.
Update 3: Michael Webster is blogging about this here. He suggests, I think, that the job boards and social networks that post misleading “business opportunities” is a violation of Section 5 and 12 of the FTC Act. Now I assume it is that only the FTC itself can go after such violations. So Michael seems to be suggesting that the FTC Act be amended to allow for “private cause of action” which to me means allowing individuals to file suit for FTC Act violations.
Update 4: The scammers are watching. I noticed in my server logs that someone from the Russian Federation was reading my blog. The were referred to my website by an internal, hidden web page of a company called FranceSoftUnicom. That sounded suspicious to me. I visited their web site, and sure enough, it’s another bogus company. They also offer Financial Agent positions. Watch out for FranceSoftUnicom, it’s a scam also.