Online scams could leave you with more than just a bank account in the red. It’s entirely possible that your new online job could also land you a criminal record as well. Yes, I’m being serious and MSNBC has recently covered a story regarding a young woman who got caught up in a particularly popular online scam.
She was told she’d come on to work as a virtual assistant and would be performing various tasks from home. A lot of it sounded pretty normal, well, until her employer wanted her to ship alcohol to a random guy in South Africa. At that point, anyone should have started asking questions, but she continued to do work for him.
Eventually she was asked to print out a $1,300 check, deposit it, then mail off the funds back to her employer after it cleared. It was at that point the bank decided to investigate her account for fraud.
Walker hit a snag, however, when she deposited the money. Her bank told her the funds would be held for seven days, pending a check for fraud.
A few days later, she received a phone call an irate woman in Atlanta. The initial check was drawn on her account, she said, and when she called the bank to complain a representative gave her Walker’s contact information.
“She never heard of this person and never authorized any such check. She said she was contacting the police and there would be felony charges brought against me,” a frantic Walker wrote to msnbc.com on May 23. “I don’t know what is going to happen and am really scared. I have never been in trouble before, I have no record at all, not even a speeding ticket. I am afraid of going to jail, I have two little girls to take care of, they depend on me.”
Walker was caught up in a relatively common “money mule” scheme. Overseas criminals who steal credit card and bank account information have one serious hurdle to overcome before they can make their easy money — they have to figure out a way to move cash from a U.S. account to an overseas account without raising suspicion. They often do this by involving an unwitting middle man, or money mule, and passing the money through his or her hecking account. It’s far less suspicious for Walker to send a $1,200 check to Africa than for a criminal with an African Internet address to request online payment through a bank Web site.
Law enforcement authorities have taken notice. The FBI issued a warning about increased money mule activity in November.
Still, that warning was little help to Walker, who was more focused on helping her husband keep food on the table than evaluating global fraud trends. She spent a couple of hours on the phone with the victim whose checking account funded the fraudulent transfer, and shared all her notes and chat logs.
“She was understanding,” Walker said. “I sent her everything right while I was on the phone with her.”
If an employer every approaches you and asks you to handle money or process checks for them, it is always 100% a scam. ALWAYS. The mere mention of the words Western Union or MoneyGram indicates that job is fake. Never accept a job where any of your duties are to handle someone else’s money.
Luckily, the woman in the story lost only about $500. She could have been taken for much, much more if the bank hadn’t stopped her. You need to be extra careful out there.