July 17, 2021

Article at Medium

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10 flags, or how I was nearly scammed

Photo by on Unsplash

My mantra for my relatively new freelancing self-employment is “I trust the money will come readily and easily.” I put that out there, to the universe. So, of course, the universe will take care of me. Right?

In my haste to “trust the universe,” I forgot my Number 1 rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The roller coaster always comes down, and it certainly did for me one day not long after I’d started my business. On this particular day, the roller coaster crashed at the bottom in a spectacular wreck.

When you’re freelancing, you learn quickly to overcome the years of suspicion and double-checking on sources, learning what’s spam and what are legitimate emails. Sometimes work comes from people you don’t know, so what do you do?

Google them.

Sometimes that doesn’t even work; I got a job from someone who didn’t seem to have much of an online profile. His company did, but not him. He didn’t have a company email. There was no address to verify. All red flags. But he was a legitimate client. The thing that tipped me off was a follow-up email he wrote (I’d ignored the first one, thinking it was a scam). Sure enough, I had a pleasant project to work on for him, he was happy with my work and promised to come back. He was legit.

In my haste to “trust the universe,” I forgot my Number 1 rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

On this particular day in question, I skipped right past all those red flags and merrily answered the email, which indicated it had come through a respected and legitimate national association with whom I have a membership. I stuck with a 45-minute interview on Google Hangouts — Flag #1 — answering all the questions happily, and grateful I could actually have an interview by typing and not face-to-face; I’ve always been much better with the written word than the spoken one. It really did suit me.

The interviewer and the job description indicated several times that a quick response was needed, as the position would start immediately. Flag #2. That’s where they get you — rush you through the process so you don’t really have time to think. To consider carefully what you’re reading and being asked to do.

I was offered the position “after much deliberation.” Actually, within 15 minutes. Flag #3. They asked for no references. Flag #4. The contract was sent by email with the company logo at the top. Although I read the contract fairly closely, I didn’t notice there wasn’t an address for the company, or that the company header was actually low resolution. Flag #5. The contract promised a laptop, benefits, paid vacation, an hourly wage but no set hours and no probation period — Flag #6.

I must have wanted it all to be true. That must be the only reason why I ignored all these blatant indicators that this was a scam.

Even when the “HR” person told me to buy a $200 Apple iTunes so the vendor could use it to load all the software, I hesitated, but I bought it, hook, line and sinker: Flag #7. There were 12 kinds of software, most of which I hadn’t heard of, and which I did not have time to Google. If I had, I would have discovered they were mostly accounting, illustration, winery software — why would I be proofreading anything in those applications? Retrospective Flag #8.

Finally, better judgment prevailed (not mine). I attempted to verify the identity of the interviewer/HR person, so I Googled the company (I’d already done that to find out about the company, and I really liked the sound of it). She wasn’t listed as an employee, but generally the HR people aren’t in big companies. Flag #9. I called the company, based in Arizona, to see if she actually worked there, but the office was closed for the day. I left a message. I messaged the interviewer back on Hangouts, asking for verification since I couldn’t seem to find her connected to the company in a Google search, either.

Tomorrow, I expect I’ll hear from the company, and they will not like that someone has been misrepresenting them. I do not expect to hear back from the interviewer. That will be the final flag, Flag #10.

Then I will know for sure I’ve been had. It was all so clever — a query through a professional association immediately made me think it was a valid query for a potential job. I mean, who wants to target an editor? They’re so . . . inoffensive.

I’m a smart woman. I’ve had a long career in communications and journalism — both professions that require fact-checking and questioning and digging deeper to get to the real story. Why didn’t I do that on this day?

Beyond the wish that it all was true, I’m not sure I can answer that. The experience has shaken me. I’m writing this so that I can assuage my feelings of embarrassment, guilt and stupidity, and hopefully prevent someone else from being duped. Yes, I’m putting that out there. It’s obviously embarrassing to admit in public that you’ve been tricked. Now you all know now how easy it is to be duped, even for a seasoned and somewhat savvy professional. Don’t think less of me.

I wonder now what my chances are when I’m a senior citizen in the early stages of dementia. I’ll likely stop using the Internet altogether. . . Just to be safe.

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