I went through an entire interview with a scammer. It felt so real, and I really wanted it to be real. The interview itself took three and a half hours – time I could have otherwise used to turn salvaged pallet wood into something more useful. Some of you might be thinking, ‘why are you giving even more time and thought to the scammers in writing this blog post?’ Because there is so little we can do to report, catch, and punish them, and by writing this, I hope to help someone else not waste their time being scammed (when they could be spending that time to view some of my animation!)
Before I tell you about what happened, I’d like to first point out the warning signs that you might be dealing with a scammer:
- Scammer has two first names. I mean no offence to anyone who has two first names. I have two first names. But this isn’t the first time I’ve been contacted by a scammer with two very American-sounding first names – every single one was using two first names. I attribute this to lack of creativity. Not to say that the parents of people with two first names lack creativity, but the scammers typically operate outside of the US, and simply don’t understand what a last name might sound like in the US. The more American-sounding the name, the more “trustworthy” they think they might appear to their victims. Actually, because I’ve been contacted by so many scammers with two first names, it now registers as a “red flag” to me.
- Scammer may use trusted sources like Indeed, Upwork, or Monster. The most convincing scams have come out of big employment search engines like Indeed, Upwork, or Monster. You don’t even realize it’s happening because you assume that these websites are able to screen out criminals. Big job-hunting resources are able to safeguard against some of them, but they cannot catch everyone. Thankfully, they have ways to report scammers. Upwork asks that you contact their customer support directly to report abuse from a client.
- Scammer wants you to send or receive money in unusual ways. The latest scammer wanted me to print a pdf check, sign it, then deposit it via “mobile banking” by photographing the signed print. One scammer who contacted me through Upwork, wanted to pay me through some kind of system called “Clover” (and not through the Upwork payment system that is in place to protect you.)
- Scammer is in a rush to get money transferred. There is usually some kind of strict time budget. The scammer will require you to deliver a work and give a bounty of excuses as to why you need to do it ASAP. The reason being, is that once that check bounces, the gig is up, you’ve been alerted to the scam, and the scammer will receive nothing. You may not lose money if the check bounces, but by that point, they’ve probably wasted a lot of your time. Many banks charge you for depositing bounced checks or lock you out of your account for a period of time. If you’re really unsure, call your bank, or bring the check in to a local branch. Most bank tellers are skilled in recognizing a real check. Here’s the fake check I received. Note the stellar quality (#sarcasm):
- Scammer has a sob story about suffering and cancer. This ties directly with the point above. They don’t have much time left on the planet, so be quick about their requests. They have no problem pretending to have a serious illness. Any person with some semblance of heart and humanity will stop and think, ‘what if this person really does have cancer?’ Be aware of this psychological strategy to snip and slice through your heart-strings.
- Scammer has email from a general domain like “@gmail.com” or “@yahoo.com”. Granted, there are some small-business employers out there who can’t afford or are not interested in setting up an email account with a custom domain name. But, be aware if you are dealing with a larger company. It might help if you can lookup the company and reach out to their HR to confirm the status of that suspected scammer/head-hunter.
- Scammer can’t define details. If you received an email from someone asking about your “artworks” that they saw online, but can’t describe or name a single one, you are dealing with a scammer. In the example I provided at the bottom of this post, the scammer was unable to offer any details beyond the basic responsibilities and qualifications even after he said I was “hired.”
- Scammer can’t spell or use proper grammar. It is a well-known fact that most scammers are not native English speakers because many of them operate outside of the States. With the invention of spell-checker, their spelling might be okay, but their grammar is terrible. Keep in mind, however, there are also many people who own businesses you’d want to work for who do not possess a mastery of the English language. Smaller businesses might not be able to afford an HR manager, but be alert – there are usually other red flags present when dealing with a scammer.
- Scammers target the vulnerable. If you are really young and inexperienced, desperately seeking life essentials (such as employment or medical supplies for an uninsured illness), or elderly and not very computer savvy, you will be targeted. Be cautious.
If you’re wondering what a scammer has to gain by sending you a check, here’s how it works: they send you a bogus check, and after you’ve rushed out to deposit it, they tell you they sent too much money by mistake! Then they ask you to send them the excess money before the check bounces and you realize you’ve been scammed.
And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for. Below is a description from my most embarassing correspondences. I’ve also copied the transcript from the “interview” I had. I’m posting it here for those who are doing a search on a block of words to determine if the person they are talking to is a scammer. If you find wording similar to what is below, you are dealing with a scammer.
I received an email from someone by the name of “Annalisa Dreams” from “firstname.lastname@example.org” – after some communication, they asked for a “Google Hangout” interview. I entered the G-Hangout, I got myself ready and I even put makeup on! Those of you know know me are probably scratching your heads as to where I got the makeup from (I actually have a pile of it collecting dust in my bathroom.) I took some time to set up the camera and mic, then went through the steps to log in and start a hangout with the criminal. He didn’t want to use the video chat. I was kind of relieved about that, but then I wondered, ‘why didn’t he just e-mail me with all the questions or give a phone call?’ I really should have saw all the warning signs. As you’ll see below, there were quite a few. But, I had my job-hungry-blinders on.
This is the initial email I received:
Annalisa Dreams <email@example.com
Crunchyroll is seeking Freelance Graphic Designer to join their team. This is an Excellent opportunity to join a well-established company. Full time & Part time available.Responsibilities/Qualification
s:Get projects completed in a timely mannerCreate layouts for print materialProficient in the Adobe Suite, especially Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.Strong layout skills and clean design aestheticTake direction wellWork well with othersHave a positive attitudeWork through problems and find solutionsHave and attention to detailMake digital corrections and finishing touches, Familiarity with Dreamweaver is a plus.Requirements:Use of a computer and keyboard to generate various work-related documents.3 years minimum graphic design experience.Strong Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator skills.Compensation: $44-50.00/hr , Monday– Fridays.To apply:We were forwarded your portfolio by Indeed.com and we would like you to send your recent resume to this email to apply and we will get back to you for an interview.
Then I wrote:
Hi Annalisa,Thanks for reaching out. I would be interested in knowing more about your company. Just in case I’m being tested right now, I’d like to point out that you have a grammatical error in your message where it says “Have and attention to detail.” What are the hours like? Is there an option to work remotely?Thanks! I’ve enclosed my resume and hope to hear back soon,Ellen Marcus
Here is where the Google Hangout “interview” began:
“Nathan”: Hello Ellen How are you?
“Nathan”: Well, thanks. (5 minute pause)
Me: Is this Nathan?
“Nathan”: Yes it is. Are you ready for the interview?
Me: Sure, I think so.
“Nathan”: What is your interview code?
“Nathan”: What is your Full name, current address, why did you choose this profession and what makes you right for this position?
Me: (I gave my full name and address) I began in animation because I enjoy its challenges, but I also love to work in illustration and other arts (editing video, working with wood…etc). I’ve done quite a bit and have a lot of experience in the field of art, design, and animation. I’ve had the pleasure to have worked with many talented people. I have a sharp eye and a lot of experience that I think your company can benefit from.
“Nathan”: What is your graphic design process, what are your graphic design career goals and what have you learned from your mistakes as a graphic designer? What have you done to improve your knowledge of graphic design, what kind of design software are you familiar with and What kinds of print media have you worked with?
Me: As a freelancer, this is how my process goes: I get all the information I can about a project (I may end up asking many questions), then I create a rough draft of whatever the client might be asking for. I take that to the client for approval/edits. Once the draft has been approved, I begin work on the finalizing. I may send progress notes back to the client if needed.
I’ve made professional mistakes. I’ve learned to take them as a learning experience, and not just move on, but push forward, and not give up in my endeavors.
The thing I’ve found most helpful in improving my knowledge of graphic design is in asking other professionals what their thoughts are. I like to ask people who I look up to in skill level.
Oh, print media: I make a lot of stuff that goes to print (postcards and works that get printed to canvas…etc.) I’ve also done a few brochures (trifolded and posters)
Also, my graphic tools are a wacom tablet (medium sized). I also like to scan and digitize media.
I’d like to know a bit more about the position if you have a moment. I only received the qualifications from Annalisa and would be interested in knowing more about the nature of the position. I’ve looked at the Crunchyroll website and see you do a lot of work for Anime. I’ve worked for traditional animation companies and have been exposed to lots of Anime. I feel I understand the style very well.
I also see you are located primarily on the West Cost US and Tokyo. I may not be able to relocate easily. I’m wondering if you take remotely freelancers?
“Nathan”: Yes this is a remote job. Can you tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure and how you overcame it and What qualities do you consider necessary for a good designer?
What kind of design projects interest you, how good are you about sticking to your deadlines and how long does it take for you to deliver the final product?
Me: Sure. The times I’m most under pressure to complete deadlines is when I work for animation companies that require lots of work in a short amount of time. I’ve been known to stay up late, work long hours, neglect a few (lots of) house-hold chores. People I’ve worked with are usually pretty happy about my speed. I don’t remember receiving any complaints to that respect. But I work very hard to meet a deadline and, on the rare instance I don’t think I’ll be able to meet one, I try to foresee how long a project might take, and notify the client well in advance of the declared deadline.
Qualities of a good designer: experience, attention to detail, creativity to see more and offer more than what is being asked.
I consider myself very good at sticking to my deadlines whether they be self imposed or requested by a client. For clients with open-ended or non-specific deadlines, I tend to overestimate the due-date, and they are usually pretty happy when I come through ahead of a declared deadline.
Oh, to the note of deadlines, I also think it’s important not to sacrifice quality for quantity.
“Nathan”: Sounds good
Get projects completed in a timely manner
Create layouts for print material
Proficient in the Adobe Suite, especially Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.
Strong layout skills and clean design aesthetic
Take direction well
Work well with others
Have a positive attitude
Work through problems and find solutions
Have and attention to detail
Make digital corrections and finishing touches, Familiarity with Dreamweaver is a plus.
Can you handle these with training?
Me: Yes! I believe I’m most qualified for all the bullet-points. I might need to take a review of Dreamweaver, though I’m a quick learner with new programs.
“Nathan”: How soon can you begin work if luckily chosen for the position, do you need any our Company benefits and what means of Payment would you prefer; Check Or Direct Deposit?
Me: Hello! Direct deposit would be fine. I don’t require benefits at this time. I can start working as early as tomorrow. I’ll be out of town from [I told him when I’ll be out of town], but will have my surface with me. Depending upon the project (how much computing resources will be required) I am able to accomplish most of my graphics projects on that machine. I typically work from a more powerful desktop. Let me know if you’d like the specs of either computer and I’d be happy to fetch them.
Oh, I should also ask – how long is each project with Crunchyroll expected to last? What is the scale of each job, and is it a perpetual work-flow, or is it more like a 9-5 type of work? Thanks!
“Nathan”: Longterm project
Our Company benefits for eligible workers include: Health Benefits (Individual and Family), Employee Wellness,401K and paid training,Paid Time Off and Holidays with Generous Company Discounts.That counts after working 60 days with the Company and you will Earn $45 per hour 8:00am-4:00pm daily. You will receive your pay via Direct Deposit or Check weekly, Taxes are taken out of your pay as you will be an Employee. Days are Monday-Fridays and you will work remotely.
Me: That sounds good. [I provide some more personal information] Would benefits be automatic? How would that work? My apologies, it has been a while since I’ve considered a FT employment position.
What bank are you with for Direct deposit/so we can see if it tallies with our preferred banks and do you have any question before i move forward?
Me: Oh, sure! I have a [personal information censored] account.
I am curious to know how the 8-4 schedule would work on a remote template. Do I need my camera/mic on at all times, or make frequent check-ins?
“Nathan”: Frequent check-ins
and the hours are sometimes flexible
Me: Okay. I’d be fine with either. I’m wondering what kinds of print medias are offered that I might be working on. Do you have a sample, or link?
“Nathan”: You required to have these items to begin…
Inkscape (Vector Software), Dropbox and Blender (3D)
Gimp (Image Manipulation) and Adobe Creative Suite
Autodesk 3ds Max and a time-tracking software.
An iMac, printer,scanner and fax machine.
You will be using in starting your paid training. As we need you to have these things for the new home office we are setting up for you once you get hired. The good news is Due to your level of experience and your qualifications the company has decided to hire you as one of our new working staff and we hope to see the best in you soon.
The company will provide you a start up check and you will be using the check to purchase above all the software programes i just told you (the company is paying for it outrightly , not out of your pocket) and your W4 form will be coming along with the working materials you need to start working with, You are purchasing from the company vendor while you are making payment to the representative vendor available.
You are to make the purchase for the programs and listed materials above from company vendor, they will have them shipped all the listed supplies to you overnight via UPS. The vendor will be responsible for installing the software and any updates and patches,she will also need to perform manual data backups and secure the data.
Me: That makes more sense. Is there a way to travel with an imac? Would I be allowed to travel with it? For example, if I’m lucky enough to be chosen for the position and required to begin within week(s), I do have travel plans from [I repeat my dates of travel]. I suppose I could cancel those, but it’s a trip I’d rather not need to cancel.
How much paid time off is offered?
“Nathan”: Yes sure you can travel with it
Me: Oh! Okay, great!
“Nathan”: We have lots of paid time off over the course of the year.
Also the Company don’t issue the check out to the vendor’s because the payment would have to come from our employee and also to enable them verify the location and alternate shipping address for future purpose. Once that is done i will provide you with the sales representative (vendor) info for supplies you will be ordering from them.
NOTE: All Equipments and softwares are to be ordered from the company’s accredited vendor. We have been buying from this Vendor for years now,that is because all materials will be Customized in your name and the Company Logo and shipped to you via UPS.
Me: I understand.
“Nathan”: Do you have a printer and do you do mobile banking?
Me: I’m not 100% sure. I bank online, but don’t make payments via phone yet. I have a printer/scanner/fax
“Nathan”: You can download the PNC app on your phone
Me: That would be no problem
Yes, I have mobile banking.
“Nathan”: Then its simple to use, the mobile banking app does mobile check deposit
Me: Got it.
“Nathan”: Do you do mobile banking e.g mobile check deposit , that way we can send you the check copy for you to deposit via your phone as lots of employees do mobile check deposit these days. I will email you the check Pdf copy of back and front , you print them out ,sign and endorse the back and then take pictures of it then process the deposit with your mobile bank app. Can you do that?
Me: Sounds easy enough. Wow – does that mean I got the job? Or are you asking if I can preform the task?
“Nathan”: You got the job Ellen
Me: Wow how exciting! When would you need for me to start?
“Nathan”: You are also needed to be here online tomorrow morning by 8 am your time for further instructions from me. Can you briefly explain to me what you will be using the Company check for and how do you want your name to appear on the Company Check ?
Me: Thanks Nathan! My name is as it should appear on the check “Ellen Marcus”. I will be using the company check to purchase stated software and equipment only through your approved vendors.
Gosh, I completely overlooked where you said previously that I was hired as a new working staff! How exciting. I’m a little bit in shock, actually. Thanks! I’ll be here at 8am tomorrow for further instruction. Will you be sending the PDF then or did you wish to send it today?
“Nathan”: We getting the check ready for you now to print out and make the deposit okay.
Yes we getting the PDF check ready now , once you get it print it out and make the deposit ok
Me: Also, to be sure I have a clear understanding of the purchase sequence: I receive PDF > print > sign > photograph > send to bank. Then I go to your vendor (will require the name of vendor) and purchase the equipment and software as follows:
Inkscape (Vector Software), Dropbox and Blender (3D)
Gimp (Image Manipulation) and Adobe Creative Suite
Autodesk 3ds Max and a time-tracking software.
An iMac, printer,scanner and fax machine.
Let me know if I missed something.
“Nathan”: You got it right
We want you to email me your Full name, address home, Cell number , DOB and picture Copy of Driver’s license as form of ID so we can document it as new hire. Send email now to me and you got the job.
Me: Will do
“Nathan”: Are you sending it now, as we have the check ready to send to you now
Me: Yes, I just needed to look up the location of my driver’s license scan
…Just sent it
“Nathan”: Okay got it
Registering it now and sending the check pdf over to you
Me: Okay thanks!
“Nathan”: Sending now
Me: received, downloaded and sending to printer now…
Let me know when deposit is done.
“Nathan”: (3 minutes later) Almost done?
Me: Sorry, printer issues (at this point my suspicions were high, and I was frantically trying to find an e-mail for the Crunchyroll company. When I couldn’t find one, I called my bank and they told me they would be able to determine if it was a real check if I walked in – I wish they had told me that if it was a printed check, it would be invalid right from the start).
Hi. I have the check printed out. Sorry, I’ve been a victim of scams before, so forgive me for being cautious, but you don’t have a company name on your check. You are also using a gmail account and not a company domain. Very sorry if I’m wrong on this, but my bank recommends I walk in and speak with someone there. They will be able to tell me if the funds are real. I have time to do that today.
“Nathan”: left the Hangout.
This concludes my embarrassing ordeal and complete waste of thought on these criminals. While I couldn’t find a phone number for HR on Crunchyroll’s website, later on I went to Indeed and searched for Crunchyroll’s job post, and I found this: “Please beware of recent scams to online job seekers. Those applying to our job openings will only be contacted directly from @crunchyroll.com and @ellation.com email accounts.”
The best way to defend yourself against becoming a victim is to arm yourself with an education. It’s a horrible thing that we can’t just trust people to tell us who they are, but we can’t. The human race is filled with horrible, cowardly people ready to take advantage of your vulnerabilities. Also, don’t just read my blog, look at all these other great sources I have listed below, and seek out more information on your own.
If you live in the USA, (and you have the time) you can report them to the government: https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds