I Lost $5000 To A Job Scam: 5 Tactics The Scammers Used To Trick Me
Getting scammed was easily one of the most painful and embarrassing experiences of my life. It’s something that I thought would never happen to me. Surely, I couldn’t be that gullible, right?
If you thought scammers only preyed on non-tech savvy baby boomers, think again. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) reported that over half of scam victims (53%) were aged between 20 and 39.
With Singapore having one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world, it’s no surprise as well that victims in this country lost the most money on average globally, according to a recent study by the Global Anti-Scam Alliance (Gasa) and data service provider ScamAdviser.
The study found that victims here lost about $5,539 on average to scams. Let’s just say this statistic was eerily accurate for my case, on par with the amount I lost myself personally. While it’s still difficult to talk about my experience, I hope that this will help you guys recognise the telltale signs of a potential scammer.
1. Advertising in legitimate job portals
For context, this happened during a period of my life when I was desperate to earn some extra income. I was regularly browsing through job portals, on the lookout for freelance work-from-home jobs as a side hustle.
This made me an especially vulnerable target, naturally. The one thing that didn’t cause me to be suspicious was the fact that the scammer promoted their job posting on a legitimate local job portal.
I’ve even gotten hired for a few part-time gigs through this platform, so I had no reason to assume any other ads wouldn’t be credible. Big mistake! I’m not sure what the vetting process was for this particular website. But clearly, the scammers were brazen and managed to qualify undetected.
So please do your background search on the companies (more on this later) before you proceed to submit your resume.
2. Giving an initial payout to build my trust
Essentially, the job posting was for an online paid surveyor. The “fixer” in this case was supposedly representing a consulting firm. The brief was straightforward enough - leave behind Google reviews for a number of local and international hotels based on a list provided by the company.
I can’t recall what the exact remuneration was. But it was a flexible role, and I could do it remotely. I just had to complete X number of Google reviews per day, and I would be paid weekly. Sounds like a sweet deal, right?
Mildly curious, I submitted my resume and email address, along with my mobile details. The first red flag I should have picked up was that I received a Telegram message from the “hirer” barely 5 minutes after completing the job form. Again, I didn’t think much of it because dollar signs were too busy flashing in my head.
The person walked me through the reviewing process. Enter the company’s “secure” microsite (that should have been another red flag), where there was a prompt to key in my Paynow details and the assurance that the money would be transferred to my account as soon as I completed the first review.
True to his word, I was immediately compensated once I completed my first hotel review and submitted a star rating. Wow, easy money, or so I thought.
IMAGE: UNSPLASH/LANA CODES
3. Creating the illusion of an online presence
At this point, you’re probably thinking, alamak bro, how come you didn’t do research on the company? Wouldn’t they have a digital footprint of some sort? Trust me, guys, I did do a rudimentary check on this so-called “consulting” firm. They had a proper website, LinkedIn page, and office address on Google Maps. Heck, I even checked the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority's (ACRA) page to ensure this company exists.
I would only find out later on that the scammers actually assumed the identity of a real company, but the office address given was, in fact, an empty industrial unit. They basically faked their entire online presence. It still makes my blood boil to think that I was so easily fooled in this regard.
So yes, please do yourself a favour and do your due diligence if you’re unfamiliar with the company you’re applying for. And don’t be an idiot like me and start giving out confidential details unnecessarily until you can be certain there’s no foul play involved.
4. Dedicated customer service hotline with a local-sounding voice that didn’t arouse any suspicion
Here’s where the story took a turn for the worse. Now that I had completed my first Google review, I was excited to do more. I even mentally calculated how many reviews I needed to do to earn X amount of money I wanted. Before I could even finish daydreaming, the perpetrator threw me a curveball.
Suddenly, he insisted that I needed to deposit X amount of money so that I could continue my quest and unlock the batch of hotels for me to review. He promised me that once I completed 10 reviews in a row, I could withdraw my money back and also be compensated for each hotel review.
It sure sounded like a good deal. But, at this point in time, my Spidey-sense was tingling. Wait a minute, why is this fella asking me to transfer money? So I did the next logical thing and called up the person’s number.
To my surprise, he actually picked up. Well, it turned out he was a she. And she had the most pleasant, alluring voice ever, like a radio deejay’s voice. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t AI as we had a proper back-and-forth conversation. She also definitely sounded like a local, which lulled me into a false sense of security.
She even addressed all my queries and was patient enough to explain that the hotels were funding online surveyors to give their establishments positive reviews so that it will help with their algorithm and SEO ranking, etc. The deposit was just an insurance policy to ensure the surveyors followed through on their reviews.
What can I say? I was bamboozled. I should have known it was a load of nonsense. Unfortunately, I still fell for it and proceeded to transfer the money. Urgh!
5. A seemingly active Telegram chat group sharing their earnings
I proceeded to complete the first round of Google reviews while eyeing the deposit amount that I had put in on the microsite. But just as I was about to complete the batch, the landing site of the last hotel review became frozen. A sense of unease started to take hold of me.
As this was happening, the lady that I was liaising with actually added me to a Telegram chat group with all the other freelance paid surveyors. They were regularly sharing screenshots of their earnings to the channel, with everyone congratulating them and sending 👏👏👏 emojis.
If I were being really honest, it felt like a cult. I mean, how are all these people chatting non-stop and complimenting every earning shared as if they had nothing better to do? The inner pessimist in me felt like this was all a charade. I would eventually realise that everyone in the chat was in on the scam, save for a few victims like me who had no idea what was going on.
So here’s the kicker - when I tried to send the screenshot across my frozen landing page, nobody acknowledged it. WTF, right? The main “scammer” would continue insisting I complete the new round of reviews so as to get my initial deposit back, but it always kept freezing at the last review, and the wild goose chase would all over again.
People ask me why I didn't stop after the first round and reported it to the police immediately. The truth is, I was desperate to get back my initial deposit, which was admittedly a huge amount. Also, I did about 4-5 rounds of hotel reviews, so the earnings I accumulated were easily in the 5 figures. So, I felt like I was owed that amount.
Hence, I kept at it until I eventually realised I was never going to get my money back and that I should back out while I still could. By this point, I had put in nearly $4000. The moment I confronted the “scammer” and warned her that I would contact the police if she didn’t return my deposit, she immediately blocked my number. Lo and behold, the Telegram channel shut down without warning, confirming the deception.
I will never forget that sinking feeling when I finally accepted that I was being scammed. With my tail between my legs, I made a police report. I vividly recalled how the police officer looked at me with pitying eyes as I explained to him the scammer’s modus operandi. He explained to me that this was incredibly normal and consistent with how a scammer would trick their victims. I never saw that money again. So guys, please don’t be an idiot like me and learn from my experience.