Every time I venture into the netherworld of the internet, I try to keep in mind that important axiom: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is’.
Yesterday, however, I managed to forget it. And although that blunder did not cost me thousands in stolen funds (oh, that my bank account was so healthy!), I lost two or three hours of time, which has its own financial cost.
Looking back, I can hardly believe the lengths to which the scammers went to snare me. It all started with an advertisement on Upwork, the site for freelancers. It promised regular editing work and went into great detail about the requirements and demands of the job. For once, I felt I was a perfect fit, and the remuneration was healthy, so I applied.
A couple of days later, I received a message saying I had been shortlisted and would need to take part in a Skype interview. On an A4 sheet that included the logo of a leading publisher, I was sent details of how to set up the call.
I carried out some quick research into the publisher – corporate information such as its structure and its leading figures, plus its specialisms – before connecting with the company for the text interview.
An individual introduced himself by name and position, which I was able to surreptitiously check as we ‘spoke’. I managed to find an individual with the same name and job at the publisher.
He told me that, if I was accepted for the job, I would have to take part in a short training session in HR-related requirements. We discussed job status (employed as staff or as a contractor) and pay terms, and then the specific demands of the work itself.
It all seemed genuine. I was then told I would have to answer 20 questions, which turned out to be typical interview questions such as ‘why do you think you are a good fit for the job?’, ‘would you consider yourself a team player?’ …
The very last question was about my bank. At this stage, he simply wanted to know which company I used, but I am now convinced it was the first stage of an attempt to cajole me into providing all my banking information.
During the final few minutes, I tried to find out more from him about the job but was told this would follow later. I had already begun to have doubts, but the banking query plus this reluctance to discuss the job itself set the alarm bells ringing.
‘We’ll assess your responses to our questions; come back in 30 minutes,’ he told me. I used the time for more research and discovered a forum thread from another ‘victim’ of the same individual. This included a response from an expert who described the specific nature of the scam.
Then, when I tried to call up the original advertisement, it had been withdrawn by Upwork, and when I returned to the Skype call, my interviewer’s account had been deleted. Presumably, he had been rumbled.
Of course, the saga did not end there. I had downloaded a file from him and had clicked a link within the file to launch the Skype call. I had no idea if this had introduced a virus to my computer, so I had to carry out a full scan.
I then wondered if there might be a way for my interviewer to access private information on Upwork that could give them access to my bank account. So, I spent an hour on the phone to my bank (50 minutes of that time trying to get through to them in the first place) to ask them to keep a lookout for unusual activity.
I also had to contact Upwork about the incident, which is not as straightforward as it should be.
It was a complete waste of my time, but I was kicking myself that I failed to spot the scam early on. The daily word count for the proposed work was surprisingly low; the pay rate was unusually healthy for Upwork jobs; the way in which my interviewer ‘spoke’ was slightly unusual, especially for someone who worked with words for a living; and the logo they used was cropped slightly in the corners – having worked in corporate communications, I know how fiercely companies protect the integrity of their brand. I should have spotted the signs.
Anyway, two days later, my bank account is still intact and Upwork have returned the ‘connect points’ I spent to apply for the job. But it’s a lesson learnt.