If studying psychology has taught me anything, it’s that people make poor decisions in times of stress. Our brains redirect energy to the lower level brain functions in order to give our instincts more control. In the wild, that helps keep us alive.
The problem is, that same process reduces cognitive function because of less blood flow to the frontal cortex – making it a modern disadvantage. Maybe we’ll talk more about that in a future post.
A few weeks ago I was offered a job through indeed. Like many of you, I have been jobless and hunting for quite some time. Even scrubbing toilets would be welcomed at this point.
So you can imagine my excitement when something had come my way.
(Being unemployed is an artificial stressor, but our society’s structure and our personal economic obligations make it seem VERY real. Scams work because of this fundamental principle.)
After doing a bit of passive research, I confirmed my desire to apply for the role of entry-level crypto trader – a role that is legitimate in some settings – and growing in demand.
The “company” collected all the usual employment forms, which had been meticulously crafted I might add. It collects your name, address, driver’s license, account direct deposit info, but NOT social security or medical. (I should have listened to my gut when I noticed what they were not interested in collecting)
Then came the day I was meant to start -and where it got weird.
I was contacted by “chief HR”, with instructions to receive a deposit in my private bank account –(ok?) – in order to “test my ability to buy crypto at a local machine”, using a provided QR code.
Reluctantly I made my way a few miles to the nearest machine, pulled the transferred founds as I was instructed and started the process.
I got in touch with the machine’s security company because I didn’t understand exactly how the machines worked. After a short text exchange with the security technician, he expressed concerns about what I was being told to do and called.
The agent asked me a few more questions, which confirmed his suspicions. He proceeded to explain to me that this was something called – a job scam.
The scam operates by setting up multiple fake accounts on services like linkedin, indeed, glassdoor, etc – fake websites, and even positive/negative reviews for both companies and individual “employees”. Then they target would-be victims with an onboarding process much as you’d expect of any typical job application. Name, address, driver’s license, and account direct deposit info are all collected by signing a written employment contract. Then they transfer your money as a “training exercise”.
Why Do They Transfer Money To You?
“The initial transfer is used as a trust exercise to gain more access to your account at a later date”, the agent explains. “Once that happens, your life savings are stolen.” He informed me he’d gotten reports of entire RRSP accounts being suddenly drained following this exact same script. One person lost tens of thousands to this type of scam.
I was in a state of partial disbelief, but enough of my reasoning power remained to immediately take protective action.
The first thing I did was inform the taskmaster (scammer) security had flagged the transactions and I wanted to return the money to where it came from. To no surprise, I was ghosted immediately when the word “security” came up.
I got on the phone with my bank and had all my accounts frozen, then shut down.
I filled out fraud reports, visited the local police, closed all my bank accounts, changed all my passwords, and phone numbers.
Then, A Holiday Miracle.
After talking to bank security about trying to return the funds I’d been transferred, which were likely stolen, they were able to trace the origin of the money (they couldn’t tell me where for security reasons) and agreed to launch an investigation to see if the person who wired the funds was a victim or a scammer.
I asked the police what to do with the money. It could not be returned. The desk clerk told me since the attempted crime was international, and no personal loss occurred, no crime had yet been committed against me. They told me they could not get involved beyond what bank and local security was already doing, meaning they could not advise what to do with the money.
The nightmare wasn’t over, I still had calls to make over the next few days, but as a result, I was able to buy more groceries, some Christmas gifts for friends, and pay off an overdue bill.
Although this seems to have worked out in the end, the same cannot be said for thousands of victims of scammers that struck over the holidays.
Understand that no matter how smart you think you are, you’ll always be at risk of making bad decisions. That will always be the case.
Feeling guilty won’t make it better or teach you anything.
But taking action and overcoming it will.