I thought I was smarter than this, but I guess not. Here is the story:
I do seasonal work in disaster relief but there weren’t any major disasters last year so I only worked 5 weeks. I’ve been looking for another job, either one that pays me as well, or one I won’t feel guilty about leaving if I get called back. I recently updated my resume on Work In Texas, the website associated with the state’s unemployment system. I was contacted by a representative saying she might have a job for me.
The woman gave me the name Florence Carter. She texted me a few times then asked if we could move the conversation to Google Hangouts. She told me the name of the company was Amanta Healthcare Limited. I looked them up. They are a company in India that provides medical products. It was a very professional website. It had several pages. Google also showed me an article on the company by Bloomberg, and there was information about them being bought out. Looked legit. I thought, okay, they’re in India, that’s why they want to handle everything online.
We conducted an online interview. This is not the first time someone has asked me for that. They offered me a data entry job, work from home. I have friends who work from home for companies like Hilton and AAA, so this was not a red flag for me.
Ms Carter told me I would need to purchase some software and the company would send me a check. The next day, Fedex dropped off an envelope. Inside was a check for $4950.00. That seemed like a lot of money. It was drawn on Chase bank. I called Chase and gave them the name on the check, NY Iola Attorney Trust Account Moliterno PC, and the tracking and account number off the bottom of the check. Chase verified that it was an active account.
The package also contained a letter, stating not to bring the check to the bank to cash. Honestly, I would never do that. The last time I tried to cash a check, the bank involved kept something like 6%. When I was a young person, you could take a check to the bank it was drawn on and cash it with an ID. Nowadays the bank won’t cash it unless you also have an account at that bank. So still no red flags since I was like, “Why would I do that?”
The letter also told me to drop an email to Caroline Hampton, the Financial Accounting Officer, at email@example.com to let her know I had received the check. She emailed me back telling me to deposit the check and follow up with my supervisor, who I assumed was Florence Carter.
I bank with Citibank. Citibank does not have an office in Texas, where I live. I deposited the check using the phone app. Florence asked for a copy of the deposit ticket, but I didn’t use one. I took a screen shot showing the pending deposit, but it did not have any of my banking information in it.
Florence asked me how much money was deposited to my account. I told her that I deposited the whole check, but my bank would hold it for several days since it was from a new source. I didn’t have any additional money showing in my account. She asked if I could cover the cost of some software until the check cleared so I could start training. I figured I could live without $200. She asked me to use it to purchase a Google Play card to use for the software. Odd, but I had the check so okay, let’s see where this goes. Worst comes to worst, I own some new software I don’t need.
I went to Walmart. I picked up some coolant for my car, some washcloths and the gift card. My card was declined. I really needed the coolant, so I had everything else put back. $8.73. Declined. So I called the bank.
Calling the bank is always a hassle because it takes so much effort to get a person. The system really wants you to use the automated information but I have never yet called the bank for something that is prerecorded. I finally got a person. He hmmm’d and aha’d and told me he needed to refer me to another department. Something was up. The new person was less circumspect. She told me right up that my account was frozen for a fraudulent check.
Now I am embarrassed about taking a bad check, but I was really frustrated that I couldn’t access my own money that was in the account. The bank explained that we have to wait for the check to bounce out of the account to unfreeze it. It’s a 3 day weekend so that means my funds are frozen until at least Tuesday. The idea is, I shouldn’t be able to access money from the bad check. No benefit for me from fraud. I don’t mind that. The check is bad, I’m clearly not going to get the money. But I don’t carry cash, so I am effectively broke for the weekend. That bothers me. I had plans.
I haven’t contacted Florence Carter since then, although she has tried several times to reach me. I don’t know what I would say. I’d rather have her think I stole the money than know what happened. Because the longer they don’t know they’ve been found out, the more time the authorities have to catch up with them.
I did report the fraud. I have contacted the FBI, who handles internet crime, and filed a report with them. I have filed with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). And I have filed with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. I had to file a complaint against my bank, which I hated to do but I needed to get something on record showing that I took the check in good faith. I’m an intended victim, not a perpetrator.
I also took the check to the police. They looked it over. It even had a watermark. The officer said, he would have checked the same things I did, and he would have taken the check. It might be a scam, but it was a good one. So I feel less stupid but still too naive.
I took the check to Chase. It took the manager about 10 seconds to state that it was a fraudulent check. I asked how she knew and she said the font was wrong. Well. How would I ever know a thing like that? An average person isn’t going to scrutinize a check to that degree, if they even have a good check for comparison. I had to remind the manager to look at the account, since it was an active account, because if they’re writing checks on that account, I’m not the only person getting targeted. She did pull the account up and said it was flagged for fraud on the 16th. Well that was yesterday, and it was probably my check that caused that.
So as things stand, I am broke for the weekend, and maybe for the next week. I am embarrassed and I feel a little stupid. But I am not out any money, just some time. I’m telling you this because I thought I knew better and I still got taken. It could happen to you.