If you are a writer, looking to make a living off of the craft, be careful. While it’s a great way to make a career if you do it right, there are people out there waiting to take advantage. A popular scam that has emerged over the last couple of years involves giving the target a fake job offer. This “offer” is intended to get you to provide financial information. I recently went through the process with a “job offer” from “Joseph Studios.” To be clear, I put the company name in quotes because I believe that Joseph Studios is a real marketing agency that the scanners were imperaonating. The same as of you got an email from “Apple” or “AT&T.” This post is about a scam that could take the form of any legitimate company. There were plenty of red flags, and I did not provide the information they were looking for. I did, however, document the whole scam so you can see what it looks like.
Beware, Scammers are Getting Better
This scam is actually a twist on a classic. Scammers will offer their victims money and even send a check or make a direct deposit. The victim then uses the money to buy something or pay the company for something. It looks real in your bank account and the scammer is banking on you saying “they put money in my account. It must be real.” What they don’t want you to know is that the check will bounce and what you see in your account is pending. By the time the bank realizes, you have made purchases or sent money “back” to the scammer. You spent money you didn’t have and drained your bank account.
In the past, these scams were much easier to identify. Recently, criminals have become much more savvy. Since the pandemic increased the number of people looking online for remote work, scammers have started impersonating legitimate companies. To make matters worse, these criminals are really doing their research and taking the time to appear legit. They will take extra time to “interview” you and will contact you from email addresses that sound real. The alleged names of the people who contact you may even be actual employees from real companies. The problem is, that the people you are talking to are simply impersonating real people.
Make Sure to Investigate Potential Scam Jobs
Investigating any suspicious job listing or offer is extremely important. More and more people have learned to fact-check, which is why the more savvy criminals have begun impersonating real people from real companies. They even copy information from real company job listings. Keep that in mind when you investigate a company offering you your dream job. In the past, a quick Google search of the company name and the word scam would typically show you the truth. These criminals figured out though, that they needed to try harder. By imitating a real company, and using real employee names and real job listings, they can get past the basic Google check. Here are some tips when you investigate a potential job-phishing scam.
- If they contact you by email, check the domain address. In the past, scam emails were always easy to identify because the sender name may say Pay Pal or something legit, but the actual sender address is a Hotmail account. Scammers are getting smarter. Many will now register a domain that looks real. In this case, the domain showed Admin@Josephstudios.team. First of all, “Admin”instead of a persons name is suspicious. Secondly, the teams extension is a little unusual and not typically for business use. A quick WhoIs search showed that the domain was registered the same day I received the email.
- Look up alleged employees on Linkedin. I was told that my immediate supervisor would be in contact with me (after I set up my banking information) and the scam artists used a real name affiliated with the company. However, her Linkedin showed that she had left the company two months ago.
- Compare the area code of anyone who contacts you with the location of the actual company. In the scam I experienced, I was contacted by phone by a person in Massachusetts and spoke to a person online who wanted to set up a time to talk at 10 AM in the Pacific time zone. The company they were impersonating is located in Georgia.
Watch Out For These Job-Phishing Red Flags
Job Phishing scams will try to lure you with a huge paycheck and what sounds like a dream job. The hiring process will also move way too quickly to be real. When you really analyze it, there are clear red flags to look for. Ask yourself these questions about any job that sounds too good to be true.
- Is the Pay Unreasonable?
- Is the Interview over a messenger app?
- Dose Contact Information add up?
- Are You Offered a Job Way Too Quickly?
- Is it a Job You Didn’t Apply For?
The Joseph Studios Scam
For me, it all started with an email. It was the typical “You would be a great fit for our content writer position” sort of thing. I do a lot of contract work and have a lot of companies reach out to me, so, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. There were red flags from the beginning, however. For starters, $55 an hour for a remote content writer should raise eyebrows. Not that this range is out of the question, but it is unlikely to be randomly offered to you via email.
Secondly, They very quickly wanted to move on to the interview process. The interview was conducted over the Wickr Me app. This is a text messaging app with encryption and self-destructing messages. Legitimate employers will not go out of their way to hide what they are doing. Criminals will. I went along with the interview (didn’t give out personal information) and it seemed to go well. You have to understand how much effort they put into this phishing scam.
The interview questions all seemed very real, and the interviewer did not use broken English and horrible grammar which often tip you off to a fake person trying to steal your identity. I believe that Joseph Studios is a legit company, but criminals are impersonating them. Interestingly enough, I found an actual Joseph Studios job posting from two months prior with much of the same information. Not only did the scammer copy and paste much of the job information, but I believe they may have interviewed with the company or a similar company themselves and copied elements of the process.
The way the scam works, is they tell you that you are hired and there is required equipment for the job. This will include things like computers, iPads, printers, etc. They will tell you that they will pay you for the required equipment. Many scammers will send you a check to buy equipment with. You deposit the check and it takes a few days for the bank to realize it’s bad. By that time, you have ready spent your money and sent the devices to the criminals who are enjoying the new iPad you bought them. Alternatively, they may “overfund your account” so that after buying equipment for the new job, you need to send them what’s left. In any case, you are giving your money to them and getting nothing for it.
As I said, scammers have become much more savvy. Personally, I was amazed by how far they went to make themselves sound real. I’ve included below for your education and entertainment, the conversation I had with the scammer. Hopefully, this will help some people who might be targetted by the same type of scam. Keep in mind, these criminals are always shifting and will come at you with different company names, different job titles, etc. Be careful out there.
And just like that, he had nothing else to say. Interesting, no? If you found this information helpful, take a moment to share this so others won’t become victims of this scam.
Michael J. Snow is a writer, marketing professional, and unlicenced comedian. Check out his Fiverr page to see all the neat tricks he can do. Want to collaborate on a writing project? Send an email here.