Technology

“WHAT HAPPENED????” How a remote tech writing gig proved to be an old-school scam

Enlarge / Maybe this is the "Mark Taylor" I seek…Getty Images | vladru

After a layoff dumped me into the job market for the first time in more than a decade, I had an all-too-close encounter with a new breed of digital fraudsters who prey on the unemployed. These high-tech predators use a new twist on an old scam to "hire" the victim in order to gain access to their bank account. The scheme was cleverly engineered, but a couple of small irregularities tipped me off to my would-be assailants' plans before they could steal anything more than two days' worth of my time. Once alerted, I was even able to use some of their own tactics to inflict a bit of pain on the folks who sought to scam me.

Embarrassing as it might be, I'm sharing my experiences in the hope that they might help you avoid falling victim to these cyber-vultures and perhaps even turn the tables on them.

The setup

Like most successful cons, this one involved gaining the willing consent of its victim through some combination of greed, fear, or desperation. Having been laid off several months earlier, I fell into the latter category and was ripe for the picking. When I lost the unfulfilling but steady editorial job I'd held down for the past few years, I was confident that my strong credentials and deep collection of contacts I'd made over the years would help me land a better gig within a month or two.

To my surprise, the job hunting skills I'd honed over my 20+ year career were outdated and almost useless at penetrating the layers of digital screening agents that stood between me and a potential employer. I found myself in unfamiliar territory, struggling to learn the complex Kabuki dance that today's job seekers must master in order to slip past Corporate HR's silicon sentinels and gain an audience with a carbon-based life form.

Even engaging a resume coach to help me finetune my credentials failed to break the deafening silence until an email arrived from ZipRecruiter, one of several job hunting sites I was registered with. The recruiter was responding to the application I had submitted a day earlier for a remote-work tech writer position at a biotech firm. Since the scammers used the name of a real company for their scheme, I've redacted it from the email below:

Company: XXXXXX, INC. – Position Type: Full-Time/Part Time.

Positions Available: Copywriter/Technical Writer/Proofreader and Editor. Pay: 45-50/HR

Station: Freelance/Remote – Full Time & Part time available.
Candidate Interview Reference Code: ZPRTR11680 – Job Code: 3022

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Manage team of experienced copywriters and proofreaders, bringing team members together in pursuit of highly relevant, error-free content across both digital and traditional print media
  • Evolve companys voice and tone, championing the evolution of, and adherence to, our brand style guide
  • Lead proofing and copy functions as a “hands on” manager, personally taking on related tasks to hit critical deadlines
  • Work closely with Creative Director and team in the development of new and existing concepts, and in crafting output that sells
  • Manage overarching editorial process and workflow for all copy-writing and proofing milestones, prioritizing work, while improving process to maximize efficiency and productivity
  • Supervise and coach copywriters on developing engaging content that seamlessly integrates with visual design.

Your resume has been reviewed by our HR Department for the position and we believe you are capable of handling this position based on the contents of your resume you sent for our ad on ZIPRECRUITER. Your details has been forwarded to Mrs MARK TAYLOR the Assistant Chief Human Resources Officer. He will be conducting interview with you to discuss the Job Details, Pay Scale and every other thing you need to know about the position.

You are required to Log on to Google Talk Messenger/Hangout and send an Invite/Message to the Asst. Chief Human Resources Officer MARK TAYLOR on his ID at (hrmdesktaylor@gmail.com). An interview tag identification number has been assigned to you ***ZPRTR11680***. Introduce yourself to him and indicate your interview reference code.

Thus began a two-day odyssey that nearly ended with my new "employers" draining the contents of my bank account.

Have you ever heard of a job interview conducted via Google Hangouts? Can't imagine this happened frequently back in 2015 when these screenshots of Hangouts on iOS were current...
Enlarge / Have you ever heard of a job interview conducted via Google Hangouts? Can't imagine this happened frequently back in 2015 when these screenshots of Hangouts on iOS were current…

The hook

Per the email's instructions, I hopped onto Google Hangouts and reached out to "Mark Taylor," the person who would be interviewing me. His voice channel did not seem to be active so we messaged back and forth and set up a time to chat the following day.

During our exchange, I noticed that his replies contained some subtle grammatical irregularities that were very similar to the ones I'd seen in the first email. Wanting desperately to believe that this interview would be my ticket to a steady paycheck, I told myself that the recruiter's odd turns of phrase were probably due to the fact that he was working at some sort of offshore service center.

Any lingering concerns I had were put to rest after a bit of research revealed that the biotech firm the recruiter claimed to represent was a real company. Thus assured, I spent some time gathering information from the company's website to prep for the upcoming interview.

The following day, I logged onto Google Hangouts, properly dressed and groomed for the video chat I'd been preparing for. To my surprise, I learned that the interview would be conducted using Hangouts' text messaging service. Here is an excerpt of the conversation:

Me: Hi Mark—it's Lee. I'm on Hangouts and trying to confirm that the application will default to my external microphone instead of the one in my laptop. I'll call in a couple of minutes and if we have difficulty I'll run the call through my phone.

"Mark Taylor": Hello Lee, we can conduct the interview via text.

Sure—that would be fine too. If it's OK with you, I'll try the voice link and default to text if that doesn't work.

(After unsuccessfully trying to establish a voice link for a few minutes, Mark broke in again)

Are you ready to proceed with the interview now?

Yes. Let's rock!

The interview consist of three phases i.e " Introduction to the Company, Questionnaire Phase, Job Briefings, Description and Pay scale" So I'll begin by introducing you properly to the Company, provide you with the necessary information/details you need to know about us after which we would proceed with the questionnaire and job briefings OK.

Sounds great! Thanks—I'm rRead More – Source

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