September 22, 2018

We all know not to respond to emails from people we don’t know asking for money

Would this opportunity interest you? Multinational financial services organisation seeking graduates (minimum 2:1 in Economics, Maths or Management) for new office in London. Must have strong communication, analytical and commercial skills.”

Many of us in the UK are aware of scams. Indeed it looks like England, not Nigeria, was the origin of these cons, dating back to The Spanish Prisoner scams in the 1600s. Despite their high profile, it seems that there are still desperate victims who respond to emails from allegedly high ranking officials (I got one from Ban Ki Moon!) offering to pay commission on the transfer of large sums to your bank account. Actually there are some even more clever ones from the “Scam Victim Fund” that I have come across. This is a careers oriented website and I need to be clear that I don’t recommend being a scam artist as a profession! Indeed, even comedian Nkem Owoh whose music video “I go chop your dollar” led to his arrest in Amsterdam (he was later released).

So, we all know not to respond to emails from people we don’t know asking for money. Don’t we?

No.

The 419 scam works because it plays on desperation and because it has generally been designed to represent some authority. Whilst we may be suspicious about Ban Ki Moon emailing us, our defences can drop if its from something we may be expecting: potential employers, for example.

I met with a student recently who had been the victim of a job related scam. He was browsing jobs through a credible, specialist recruitment site, applying for those he thought interesting. One related to a financial services company in the USA that was seeking employees for a new office in London. The student was invited to undertake psychometric tests, personality profiling, a Skype interview and was then passed to the penultimate stage of the process. In order for the “employer” to observe the student’s financial exchange competence, they would transfer £700 to the candidate’s bank account. The candidate was then to send £670 (£30 expenses) back to them. The candidate went into the bank branch, saw the money was deposited in their account and promptly transferred the £670 back to them.

In reality, the scammers understood the banking system better and knew that a payment can be cancelled. Therefore £700 was never deposited and the “candidate” was no more than a victim of an easily replicated scam. I have seen this scam on many different sites – from car trading websites, auction and property sites.

To a native English speaker there may have been some indication through the writing style that the enterprise was not legitimate. But the scammers had built professional looking sites and used a name that was very similar to credible organisations in New York.

So how do you avoid being scammed?

  • If the company contacted you directly, perhaps having seen your CV on an un-named website, be cautious. Clarify exactly where they saw your CV.
  • Research the company – use LinkedIn to see if you can find employees, check the exact name (that is, there may be subtle differences in the company name).
  • Ask on wikijob and studentroom to see if others know the company
  • Look up the company details at Companies House
  • Check out who owns the web domains the company refers to and are they consistent with the information you’ve got.
  • Check current scams (and report any you know)
  • Ask a native English speaker to see if they have concerns about the style and language used in the advert.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, run away. Quickly.

But above all….

  • Do not send any money. It is illegal in the UK for an employer to require an upfront fee – even recruitment agencies are no longer allowed to.
  • Do not provide your bank account or card details. Some legitimate employers may conduct credit searches on you but you should only provide sufficient information once you are certain of the legitimacy.
  • Report companies if you think you have been scammed. You can report it to the Police online.

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