The holiday season is a beautiful time in our society, and I'd love to take a break from my stories about malevolence and discuss something other than the nefarious nature of the human race, but it feels like there's always something happening out there, and the public needs to be warned. If one scammer fails to abscond with a consumer's cash because of this column, that's something I'd be thankful for, indeed, so here goes:
Omahan Laraine Harris was too smart to expect something for nothing. Like most of us, she wanted to do some honest work for honest pay, so she posted resumes with Indeed, CareerBuilder and other sites, which was a good move. She received several emails from an HR Department that referenced her online resume at Indeed, so Laraine certainly had no reason to be suspicious of any scam.
The emails discussed a position with a firm called Mardil Medical, which was described as “not a big company.” She would work out of her home assisting with invoicing, data entry and customer complaints. It was exactly the kind of work Laraine was looking for, so she applied for the Administrative Assistant position.
She got polite emails informing her that her resume had been reviewed. She was required to set up a Yahoo Mail account and download Yahoo Messenger, and she was instructed to add Ms. Kimberly Christman to her Yahoo account and to add Ms. Christman's ID to her Buddy List to receive the job briefing and comprehensive details.
She did all that and then got the information. The salary would be between $25 and $35 per hour with benefits that included health and life insurance as well as a dental plan and a 401(k). She'd eventually earn some paid time off and some paid holidays, too. It all sounded great. When she was asked to complete an interview, she worked hard on her responses.
The emailed interview questions were challenging but not unexpected. She answered questions like, “Describe a situation when you had to handle a dissatisfied and angry customer,” and “Tell me about a time that you had a confusing interaction with a customer. How did you clarify things?” When she responded appropriately to the first set of questions, she was asked to write a two-page article on the best ways to prevent overdue accounts, using professional examples.
Laraine completed this task satisfactorily, too, and after taking an online math test she received positive feedback for her scores and was offered the position. Ms. Christman instructed her that she would need to purchase specific software for the job and Laraine sent $325 via Western Union for the software.
Next, she was asked to send $850 for a special laptop onto which more necessary software was being loaded. The laptop would include a “time ticker” to track when she was working.
Laraine smelled a rat, then, and informed Ms. Christman she would absolutely not be sending $850. She indicated she was no longer interested in the job and asked for her $325 back. Laraine promptly received a reimbursement form, which she completed for her refund.
But the money never was returned. Instead, Laraine received a lot of excuses, like ”The accountant was having problems” and “The refund was sent via FedEx,” although it never arrived.
Whether it's a work-from-home scam or a phony offer of employment, job-related scams not only dash hopes but often steal money or identities. It's easy for scammers to create email, websites and online “job applications” that look very professional, and it's common for them to hijack the names of legitimate companies.
Be cautious of anyone who wants to interview you only over the telephone or online. If you're asked to wire money for supplies or other upfront expenses, or if you're asked to fill out an online form that asks for personal data like your Social Security Number, you are almost certainly dealing with criminals. Laraine hadn't given a Social Security number or any of her financial account numbers, but she'd been ripped off, anyway.
Laraine researched Mardil Medical online and found a firm named Mardil Inc., which has a similar name but is a legitimate business. When she contacted Mardil Inc., President Jim Buck explained that his business identity had apparently been hijacked. After receiving documentation from Laraine, Mr. Buck initiated legal action against Mardil Medical.
But Laraine still wasn't ready to surrender her money as lost, and she independently went after Christman, trying to get her telephone number or find out her location. Christman had told her she lived in Omaha and had promised that she would meet Laraine at a local coffee shop sometime, but when Laraine pushed for the meeting or the phone number, Christman stopped corresponding with her.
It's a sad story when someone who is willing to work is scammed by a wolf in sheep's clothing. But it gets worse, of course.
The software Laraine downloaded injected her computer with ransomware and her screen now displays a “CryptoLocker” message stating, “Your personal files are encrypted… .” She was given 72 hours to pay for the “private key” and warned that if she didn't comply, no one would ever be able to restore her files. Unfortunately, this might not be a bluff; experts tell me that this type of computer virus can be very destructive.
The ransom demanded is $300, but Laraine has no intention of paying it. She has disconnected her computer and is checking with computer repair businesses to see if there is anything else that can be done to save the stored data because the last thing she wants to do is lose one more dime to the fake company.
She has contacted the Omaha Police Department and has filed complaints on ic3.gov, LinkedIn, and Indeed.com and she doesn't intend to cooperate with the scammers on any level at this point. They've poked the wrong bear, perhaps, with Laraine, and the thieves may end up wishing they'd never “hired” her.
That would be a great victory, and I wish I could say Laraine was dealing with a catchable criminal, but our research reveals that the perpetrators are likely located in Bermuda and that there is no actual Ms. Christman with whom to meet and demand a refund. Regardless, we're all pulling for Laraine because her indignation is righteous and her cause is a noble one.
Believe me when I say I'd rather tell heartwarming stories about kindness and generosity, about hungry children being fed and kittens being rescued. I'd rather write a column about an honest girl getting her money back and a thief facing justice.
Maybe next month.
Jim Hegarty is president of the Better Business Bureau representing Nebraska and southwest Iowa. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-898-8520.