But a new group of vulnerable people have emerged to be pounced on by fraudsters: the jobless. Desperate for work or extra cash, students and unemployed young people are now being warned about a scam: “jobs” which involve “transferring money”.
Translation: you’ve just become a money mule, which is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years – quick, everyone sign the “Sorry you’re leaving” card!
Financial Fraud Action (FFA) UK released some pretty terrifying figures in February, that as many as 15 per cent of UK adults had been targeted by money laundering scams – 17 per cent in London.
What exactly is money laundering?
Money laundering is basically concealing the source of money. DCI Dave Carter, an investigator at FFA, told the BBC, “Almost every single criminal transaction that goes on depends on money mules, to turn the money from crime into something the criminals can spend.”
Why do they so often use Western Union or Moneygram?
Western Union and Moneygram are a fraudster’s best friend, because the transfers are quick and the recipient is essentially anonymous. In some countries, Western Union agents require the recipient to show ID – but they’re criminals. If a Californian frat boy can get hold of a fake ID, so can they. Once the money has been picked up – usually before the sender realises s/he’s been scammed – the recipient is long gone, with no trace of who they are or where they live. So if an employer mentions Western Union or Moneygram, er…be careful.
I caught up with Stinne, a translator for the media who is now based in Denmark, who recently fell victim to the scam.
So Stinne, what was the ‘job’ you were offered?
It was supposedly a Personal Assistant job for an English guy who worked for Exxon Mobile. He said he was coming to Denmark and needed a translator who could also drive him around, arrange his hotel etc. I got an email from him saying he saw my CV on proz.com, which didn’t strike me as odd as I’ve gotten a bunch of jobs that way.
Is this a job you were interested in?
Absolutely – it’s not a straight translator job but it was time limited, and if there was to be some interpreting involved it would be a good thing to have on my CV. He also promised a good salary – €30 an hour with an upfront payment to ‘secure my services’. That didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary, it’s normal for someone educated to Masters level in translating, and it’s the minimum fee I’d ask for if there’s interpreting involved. But thanks to the recession I’d been out of work for about two years apart from a few small freelance projects, so I don’t mind admitting I was feeling pretty desperate. I absolutely jumped at it.
So you just trusted some guy you’d only met via email?
Well he was very clever. He sent me a scan of his passport to “prove” his identity, and we spoke on the phone several times. I was never quite sure why he was calling, but now I know it was probably to gain my trust. I always thought scams were things done on computers, not by humans who call and say things like “Do you have any questions?” and “Let me know if you need any more information”, as he did. His English was perfect – better than his emails, which had typos, but I thought – hey, he’s just lazy I guess!
So at what point did you become suspicious?
He was very vague about what I’d have to do, except when it came to these cheques. He said he was sending cheques to cover the trip and I should cash them, take my upfront payment out of it, then use the rest to book him a hotel and rent a car. I thought it was an odd way to do it, but didn’t question it. Then he changed his mind, and said I should transfer the money to a Danish travel agent – “via Western Union or Moneygram”. Then the story changed again – suddenly the travel agent was in England and was part of Exxon. I thought – this doesn’t make sense. Why would they want money to be transferred from Exxon and back again, via Denmark?
Even the upfront payment changed – he started off saying I could take €200 down payment, then €300, then in his last email he said €400 as if it had always been the deal. Nothing really added up.
What did you do?
I did some digging. I called Exxon, gave his name and asked if he worked there, and they said no. I did some more digging and found my “employer’s” email address, home address and telephone number – all under a different name. I emailed him confronting him about it, and I haven’t heard from him since.
Did you report him?
I didn’t need to – I found his email address was already on a list of translator scams, and by then he’d deleted his profile on Proz.
Do you know the penalty for getting involved in money laundering, even if you’re the victim of a scam?
Well, I know you can go to prison but I figure a judge would be lenient if you’ve been scammed.
Actually, they might not, and the penalty is up to 10 years in prison
Holy ****. That’s terrifying. It’s clever to prey on jobseekers because they’re desperate, especially now. I’m just so relieved I caught it in time, and didn’t become a money mule. It’s not the best thing to have on your CV!
– Here’s how to report a job scam
– Email addresses already reported as translator scams: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org…find more at Wiki ProZ
– A few security tips from Reed.co.uk