PEI

P.E.I. woman loses $700 to online job scam

Hannah MacDonald says she wasn’t actively looking for a job when she got an alert to her email for a job offering more than $20 an hour last week.

'They prey on these sort of grave disaster situations'

'It seemed like kind of a normal procedure where they would ask about my previous work history,' says Hannah MacDonald. (Hannah MacDonald)

A 19-year-old P.E.I. woman is out $700 after falling victim to an online job scam.

Hannah MacDonald says she wasn't actively looking for a job when she got an alert in her email last week for a position offering more than $20 an hour.

The email said if she was interested in the position she could inquire about it — so she did.

"By doing that then the scammer emailed me asking for some contact information," she said. "They wanted my phone number so they could send me a text."

The fraudster told MacDonald she needed to download a chat app commonly used by businesses to communicate internally. MacDonald thought she was being offered an office job and was told she would have to work from home due to COVID-19.

"When I did ask about the online process they did say 'We have to have people working from home,'" she said. "It did seem legitimate. I trusted it."

One of the messages sent to MacDonald highlighting job requirements for a position that didn't exist. (Hannah MacDonald)

The alert came from a popular job search engine she had used before to find employment and that combined with falsified letterheads made it all seem like the job was real, MacDonald said.

"They said it would be an online interview," she said. "It seemed like kind of a normal procedure where they would ask about my previous work history, my experience."

MacDonald was asked if she had the equipment to work from home. When she told the fraudster she didn't have a printer, she said the company told her they'd help her buy one.

"Basically print out a cheque that was petty cash," she said the fraudster instructed her.

"They emailed me the front and the back of a cheque which I was to print off and basically any money I would have to spend to get the supplies … would be coming out of the petty cash."

MacDonald was emailed a fake cheque to print. (Hannah MacDonald)

She also sent the fraudster a $500 e-transfer for a training kit — but she was told that would also be reimbursed through petty cash.

Then they asked her to buy a gift card. This is where MacDonald said she thought something was up. She said she knows the type of gift card is usually used for video games, but when she questioned the fraudster she was told it was to buy software to put on the laptop she was being sent.

In all it was $500 for the training kit and $200 for the gift card "which was supposedly going to be reimbursed out of this $2,400 cheque which they sent me via email," she said.

They're scripted, they're practiced. It is not their first kick at the can in many cases. So they know exactly what they are doing.- Jeff Thomson, senior RCMP intelligence analyst

She said she knew she shouldn't buy a gift card for a company and has taken anti-fraud courses with previous employers.

"They told me that the gift card, me having to get the gift card myself had to do with the COVID situation," she said. "I guess I just believed it because I figured who is going to lie about circumstances like that when it comes down to a pandemic that's affecting the entire world?"

'They prey on these sort of grave disaster situations and certainly a pandemic would fit into that category,' says senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Jeff Thomson. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Jeff Thomson is a senior RCMP intelligence analyst at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. He said it is not uncommon for fraudsters to use a natural disaster or tragedies like a pandemic to capitalize. 

After Hurricane Katrina, for example, U.S. law enforcement had to set up charity fraud task force because of the number of charity scams that popped up, he said.

"They prey on these sort of grave disaster situations and certainly a pandemic would fit into that category," said Thomson.

Professional fraudsters

Thomson said he hates to say it but fraudsters are professionals.

"They're scripted, they're practiced. It is not their first kick at the can in many cases. So they know exactly what they are doing. They're prepared for the questions you are going to ask them," he said.

Thomson said scammers can reproduce logos and stamps and fake their email to look like it is coming from a legitimate company.

"It is getting harder to recognize, I guess, certain scams," he said.

However, he said in every scam there is going to be a point where the victim is asked to provide financial or personal information.

Scammers even had MacDonald message other email accounts to set up a home office. (Hannah MacDonald)

When MacDonald deposited the fake cheque into her account it went into overdraft, she said, and her bank told her she wouldn't be able to get the money back as she sent it to the fraudster herself.

"The only thing that they could do is they can flag the account which I sent the money to so that it can't accept any deposits," she said.

MacDonald said she also called the RCMP but was told there wasn't much they could do.

Thomson said the main thing people can do to prevent being scammed is to be aware scammers will use any means or situation to create urgency, and people should research any companies that get in touch and ask questions.

"If you can't identify any reviews on feedback on sellers or any other information about these job offers that might be a good indicator that it is fraud," he said.

Thomson said if people are scammed they could feel embarrassed, but it is important for them to report it so police can warn the public.

Anyone can be scammed

MacDonald said she was embarrassed she was scammed, but she felt it was important to speak out so others know it can happen to anyone. She said the experience has taught her anyone can become a victim — especially during a stressful situation like a pandemic.

"You think somebody my age would definitely know better than to do something like that — to send money to someone you don't know."

She said she often sees things shared on social media warning seniors about scams.

"It's not just your … 60-year-old grandmother or your great aunt or great uncle or your elderly mother. It's not just older people who fall for these kind of things, it is anybody."

More from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

Tony Davis grew up on P.E.I. and studied journalism at Holland College. He can be contacted at anthony.davis@cbc.ca

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