College student loses entire savings in fake job scam

Job hunters duped out of $86 million in three months, FTC says

It was a classic con that has persisted for years. Phony job offers and bogus checks mean big paydays for scammers.

SAN ANTONIO – Elizabeth Gray is worse than broke -- she’s in debt. It all started with an online job search and a text.

“I get a text message from a person claiming to be with a textile company up in Chicago,” she said.

It was a large, legitimate construction materials company, and the job seemed perfect. It was a remote data entry position that paid $37.75 an hour. It offered paid holidays, medical insurance and a 401K.

“I never got like a phone call or even a Zoom call,” Gray said. “They did everything in text.”

They even interviewed her over a Google chat app. And, they moved fast.

“They were so impressed by my resume they were going to give me the job immediately. We’re going to send you equipment, this and that. It sounded like a dream true,” she said.

Except she was communicating with an imposter, and they didn’t send equipment.

“They actually sent me checks to buy equipment,” Gray said.

She received two checks totaling more than $10,000, which she deposited into her bank account. But then, there was another twist in plans.

“(They said) ‘Okay, we need you to send money to this vendor in CashApp or Venmo, whatever you prefer,’” she said.

When peer-to-peer payment apps didn’t work, Gray said she was instructed to wire the money.

Then, she heard from her bank. The two checks were fakes.

She’d had about $8,000 in savings. It was wiped out.

“You have no money left. Your savings is completely gone and you now owe the bank $2,000,” she said.

It was a classic con that has persisted for years. Phony job offers and bogus checks mean big paydays for scammers. In just the second quarter of this year, the Federal Trade Commission said cybercriminals have tricked job hunters out of $86 million.

The FTC and Better Business Bureau urge job seekers to slow down and verify online job offers. Look for the job listing on the company’s real website or make a phone call.

They said to be skeptical of instant hiring and interviews conducted over a messaging app. Those are big red flags that the job offer is bait to steal your money or your sensitive data like your Social Security Number.

And, never make an upfront payment for equipment or a background check.

“Anything that they are asking that involves financial transactions - Zelle, CashApp, digital wallet, peer-to-peer payment situations - that’s the new trend now,” said Jason Meza with the Better Business Bureau.

Gray said she should have known better. She’s studying cybersecurity.

So, why did she fall for it?

She answered with one word: “Desperation.”


About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.