When LaSandra Cooley first spotted a help wanted offering good money and benefits for an Admin Assistant in the Progress, it seemed a good offer, but like all scams it was literally too good to be true.
Cooley said she quickly became cautious and didn’t get suckered in, but wanted to warn other people that scams involving help wanteds are out there – even in this weekly paper. She said she could easily see people being tricked out of their hard-earned money.
A second Progress reader also replied to the bogus ad and she too found the scam too fishy to be taken in.
But, as the head of the sheriff’s criminal investigations division warns, these crooks are difficult to catch as they are mostly overseas and are “super smart” at convincing people to send them money.
How it worked was an ad was placed in the Progress through our website and paid for through Paypal, which this paper feels offers pretty good screening. Anyone using it has to have a valid credit card for Paypal to process a transaction and the massive online company seems to put a lot of emphasis on security, though it was mostly devoted to protecting buyers.
In this case a person placing the ad was likely in China, but had done enough research to make the ad appear local. It came to us showing an address on Hobson Drive, (the home actually turned out to be one for sale) and a 404 phone number prefix. So it appeared to come from a local person.
Cooley sent an e-mail and received a reply by someone using the name Michael Baumstark informing her that her application was being reviewed and then the fake boss made a few comments on specifics that Cooley had put in her resume.
The one thing in the original e-mail to Cooley that was unusual is the person noted they wanted to get someone hired before they travelled to New Zealand – not somewhere Pickens residents travel very often.
The reply noted the job’s main duties were, “Assist in the collection, deposit and recording of income, including the pursuit of delinquent rent.
*Assist in the processing of invoices for payment. (Making Transfer of invoices Payment as Instructed)
*Responsible for the administration of the Property Manager, Timing, Planning and Coordinating on my behalf.”
The next e-mail told her she had been hired. At this point, Cooley knew something was up -- to be suddenly hired with no interview to be a personal assistant seemed unlikely.
The e-mail stated the pay would be $500 per week and after a while could include insurance and benefits – obviously very tempting for a part time job.
Though she wasn’t fooled, Cooley said she played along to see where it would go. She, and the other respondee who called the Progress, said they were careful to not give any banking or financial information to the purported company.
After being “hired” Cooley was sent this e-mail, “I will update you with your email as soon as I get the First Assignment for you and you will receive your first paycheck with your Assignment. USPS will deliver it to your door step. I will get back to the states before ending of this month and I will meet you in person when I get back.”
Then a check for $1,725 was sent priority to the Jasper Post Office, with a slight mistake of mixing up Cooley’s P.O. Box and street address.
She also got an e-mail telling her to expect “the rental payment,” which she was to deposit in her account and then send a money order for $1,500 to China “for the payment of the Aluminum wire products I'm buying,” using $25 to cover the transfer fee and for her to keep the other $200 for her trouble.
Cooley said at this point she reported it to the sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division and called the Progress to notify the paper that the ad was a fraud.
Detective April Killian, head of the Sheriff’s criminal investigations, said they are looking into it, but she speculated there will be little they can do as the trail will quickly lead overseas, most likely to China where the e-mail asked for the money to be sent.
Killian said they see a number of cases like these and all operate on the basic premise that someone is “hired” but really they are being used to move money around.
“Any time you get a job and all you are asked to do is drop ship something, it’s buyer beware,” she said.
Based on other cases, Killian said there were three outcomes that may have happened if someone had followed through on the check cashing and wiring money.
First, they may have found that once they sent the money, the check to them was no good and they would be left holding the bag for the amount they had sent.
Second, the check was actually backed by cash, but it was stolen money in an account and the fraud was to make it harder to trace it down.
Third, the check was good but was only designed to give the crooks access to the victim’s bank account when it was deposited. And they would shortly clean out the account entirely.
In a similar case, Pickens detectives worked a scam where rather than checks, actual goods were being bought with stolen credit cards and shipped to someone here who would deliver or ship them after they were sold online.
Killian notes that the perpetrators of these crimes are “super smart” and they are getting better all the time with their frauds. In this case, she was not surprised to see they had gone to the trouble of finding a local address and a “spoof” phone number that made it appear calls went to the 404 area code.
Killian referenced another case where the crooks used a website to make it look like a real business, giving their victims employee log-ins where it appeared they were working on shipping and tracking.
“It looked legitimate. I can see how someone would have fallen for it,” she said.
Routinely the Progress is e-mailed all types of ads that we assume are scams and reject. Generally our response is to reply that whoever is placing it needs to call our office, which no one ever does, or to place it online through the Paypal, which has generally proven reliable in weeding out the scams.
Jasper Police Chief Greg Lovell cautioned a few years ago on an earlier scam story that if you are asked to send money overseas, you are probably being ripped off.