EDITORIAL: Some job offers really are too good to be true. Beware of check scams

SHARE EDITORIAL: Some job offers really are too good to be true. Beware of check scams

Check use in a fraud scam. | Provided

Scammers are coming at you through social media, your phone and email.

Take, for example, this message sent by a hacker who took over the account of someone we know on LinkedIn, the professional networking website, earlier this month:

“I hope this finds you well. A firm is seeking people to become mystery shoppers in your area. It entails going into stores as an under cover agent, to carry out an evaluation of the store and then report back. You will be paid for each store you evaluate and you can do it as many times as possible. It can be done part time or full time basis and it takes just about 20 minutes (from the time you enter the store) of your time.”

The message included a link to sign up. Doing so would bring a windfall — to the scammer.

Swindlers get more creative by the day at raiding our bank accounts. Law enforcement has trouble keeping up. It’s up to job seekers and consumers to stay vigilant and get educated about fraud. The Better Business Bureau offers tips about scams, including fake check cons, and the Illinois Attorney General’s website also can be helpful.


Sun-Times investigative journalist Stephanie Zimmermann reported over the weekend on a scheme in which secret shoppers received checks for $1,780. They were told to keep $300 as pay, buy about $60 in store items and wire $1,400 to a company representative to test the store’s money transfer service. Victims of such cons are left to pay back the money after the checks bounce. The scammers, many of whom live overseas, disappear.

Complaints about check scams to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel database and the Internet Fraud Complaint Center went up from 12,781 in 2014 to 29,513 in 2017, Zimmermann reported. Industry experts believe most people are too embarrassed to report the fraud.

People who are eager or desperate for work can become easy targets.

Zimmermann interviewed someone who was used as a pawn in the mystery shopper scam. Jodi Hubler, who lived near Rockford, answered an ad to work in a company’s payroll department. Hubler, who is disabled, believed she landed a great opportunity because she could work from home.

But the checks she wrote, drawn from major banks, were bogus, she found out after federal agents dropped by her home to investigate. The checks were being sent to people who had signed up to be mystery shoppers.

The person who hired Hubler to be a money mule soon disappeared. Hubler lost $400 in the deal.

Another con, known as the “nanny scam,” tries to lure caregivers, Alexandria Jacobson recently reported for the Sun-Times. Jacobson wrote about a former Columbia College Chicago student, Samantha Stahl, who was hired by a couple who said they would soon move to Chicago and wanted her to be their nanny. They asked her to help set up their affairs in Chicago, including buying $1,550 in gift cards, and sent a fake check to cover the cost.

Stahl was still on the hook for the $1,550 she had spent on the gift cards when the check bounced. At least she never sent the gift card pin codes to the would-be employers, which allowed her to keep the gift cards.

Most people end up seeing red.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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