Fake recruiters catch desperate job seekers by luring them with the promise of high-paying jobs before stealing their money and identity. We recently posed as a gullible recruit and let a scammer suck us out so we could learn his tricks.

Fake recruiters pretend to be real people

That’s why this scam is so smart: fake recruiters impersonate legitimate people in real companies. When a person contacts you, everything seems real — a real company with a real website, a real person’s name and photo that appears in the directory of employees of this company. The scammer links you to a real company website and a real LinkedIn profile that appears to match the person you’re talking to.

But this is a trick. The person you are talking to is not who they claim to be. You are talking to a scammer pretending to be a real employee.

This is how the scam starts

A Google Hangouts conversation with a job offer from home.
Photos and names were blurred to protect victims of identity theft.

Fake recruiters don’t just contact you out of nowhere. These scammers contact people who have posted their resumes online in search of a job. The scammer offers an enjoyable work from home job that can be very tempting for those who are having trouble finding work. The scammer is posing as a «recruiter» for a real company, so it makes sense that the email is not from the company’s regular email accounts.

We know someone who was contacted by one of these scammers, so we sent a fake resume to see if they would try to take advantage of the job search.

The «recruiter» was delighted to receive our fake resume and quickly asked us to speak to someone on Google Hangouts — text chat, not video chat, of course. After doing a bit of internet research, we found that the person’s name and profile matched the real person on the company’s website and on LinkedIn. This person even directed us to the website of this company so that we could «get to know the company».

This company, which we contacted but will not name, is also a victim of a scam. This particular company is a great sign, as it was very difficult for us to find anyone in the company to warn them that they were part of this complex scam. A scam victim will not be able to quickly verify that the company has not hired employees through Google Hangouts.

Interview with a real fake person

Google Hangouts conversation showing open positions.

Our naive young applicant (let’s call him John) couldn’t believe his luck! The company offered John various roles, from customer service and data entry to accountant. Despite his resume with experience in IT, he applied for a customer service position. We provided information different from what we used in the resume — the scammer obviously didn’t bother to read it.

The interview got better and better. The job is a work-from-home job that pays $40 an hour — full time with benefits! The only downside was that the training period only paid $20 an hour and it was all a scam.

We were fully on board at this point — well, for the sake of the exercise — but the scammer actually apologized for looking like a scammer:

i (sic) would like to inform you (sic) that we are sorry for our indecent approach if this interview method is unprofessional or if you are new to all this, but i (sic) believe that the world is always moving forward so it is important to be in keep abreast of all events, because change is inevitable.

Sounds legit to us!

John’s hours-long interview began with questions about his work history, career goals, which bank he uses, and how long he has been with the bank. Totally standard questions you expect in any job interview, right? John’s answers to these questions were somehow «scored» and he scored 86.23%.

Our intrepid young applicant had mixed feelings at this point. On the one hand, he clearly passed this interview and deserved at least 96% — he was removed from 4 points for refusing to provide job recommendations. On the other hand, he already got a promotion! He eventually applied for customer service and now held a position in project management.

Google Hangouts claims the employee was
We’re surprised the scammer didn’t want our W-4 right away, as that would be a great way to get a Social Security number.

Interview came from Nigeria

Now John has been hired by this perfectly legitimate company and is ready to get started! To move forward, John needs to sign the employee’s offer letter, provide a photo of his passport, and submit the IMEI and serial number of his smartphone. This left us confused — in preparation for the scam, we did not expect a request for a passport or IMEI number. The identification makes some sense, but why does any job need an IMEI number?

Chat on Google Hangouts with a description of the applications required for learning.

According to our very trustworthy and legitimate interviewer, the company will use the phone’s IMEI to install educational apps on John’s phone. But the company was also going to give John a new «Apple Laptop» to run programs like Microsoft Office XP 2012, which isn’t a real program and probably wouldn’t work on a Mac if it was.

Luckily, John’s new job was very understanding and willing to wait for John to collect his parents’ passport, which would give us time to pick it up. In the meantime, John sent them a letter with a little addition. We sent a message to a link that tracked the IP address of the person who opened it and crossed our fingers hoping the scammer wouldn’t notice. And luckily they didn’t!

Much to no one’s surprise, instead of showing us an IP address from the US, our recruiter seemed to be speaking to us from Nigeria.

This may just be the VPN’s first hop to hide the scammer’s real address, but it’s clear that they are not a legitimate company in the US, as they called themselves.

Please send us a smartphone for $1449

Never mind the scammer’s IP address, because John has a new problem! His training could not start because his phone was not compatible with the training apps. They «won’t install remotely». And only one phone will do. «The iPhone Max with the biggest hard drive and the latest iOS.» Nothing less fits.

Sensing that his new job was in danger, John felt immediate relief when the recruiter offered him an offer. John could provide a username, password, and security questions to his cellular carrier’s online portal. John’s awesome new company will log in for him, order that expensive new smartphone, and pay for it with company funds. Isn’t that cute? Exactly what you would expect from a legitimate company!

Chat on Google Hangouts asking for credentials for the Cellular Portal.

But John was already one step ahead; his brother just had an iPhone XS Max with a 512GB hard drive. He didn’t want it for reasons. The recruiter said it would be perfect. John just had to ship this $1,449 smartphone to the company so his technicians could install these learning apps. As we all know, iPhone apps are incredibly difficult to work with, so of course John was willing to ship the phone.

The recruiter helpfully sent a FedEx tag, and it was at that moment that John, thanks to the magic of Google, saw the headquarters of his new workplace for the first time.

A very small house with three windows, no second floor and a garage.
The address we need to send the phone to is this random house.

Well, it doesn’t look like the headquarters of a large company. Maybe the offices are underground? Some digging into the address showed that the guardian currently owns the house, so it’s most likely free. This is the perfect target for this scam. A scammer can monitor the delivery of a package and dig it up without fear that the homeowner will intercept it. They even asked John for a picture of the box so they knew what to look for.

Of course, we never sent the package. A few days later, the scammer is still asking for it. John insists he sent the package, but his new employer doesn’t believe him. The scammer said that John never sent it, and he knows — but it’s good, he forgives John. He knows that John will soon «do the right thing» and mail him an expensive smartphone so he can start his well-paying job from home.

Identity theft, fraudulent checks and more

In this particular scenario, the scammers were after the phones. They wanted to break into your carrier account, order expensive smartphones to a different address under your name, and swipe their fingers over the phones. You pay for phones, of course.

It’s bad enough, but it could have gone the other way. When offering you a job, scammers have a logical reason to ask for your name, address, phone number, signature, social security number, and your passport photo.

With all this information, they can easily steal your identity. Forget hacking into your existing accounts — with this information, they can open new credit card accounts and do other nasty things. Heck, Facebook now bans foreign nationals from posting political ads in the United States, so a scammer could use your personal information to impersonate a US citizen and buy any ad they like.

The scammer can use this entire interview process to start a more traditional check forwarding scam where they also send bad checks to you. You put checks in your bank before you start a wire transfer and send money, but those checks bounced and you were out of money.

Beware of these red flags

Chat on Google Hangouts with an apology for conducting interviews via chat
Even a scammer knows that an interview shouldn’t use Google hangouts.

If you’re reading How-To Geek, you may already know these things. But maybe you have friends and family who don’t talk to them like that. Let them know the red flags. A few simple rules go a long way:

Companies don’t hire through Google Hangouts or text messages. If someone contacts you about a job through Google Hangouts, don’t rely on their contact methods to continue. Find a way to contact the company directly via the phone number on their website, or better yet, in person and confirm the interview.

American recruiters are more likely to speak excellent English. During my contact with this scammer, I noticed that they spoke English to a competent level. But their spelling was often wrong, they often missed important words or misused common phrases and idioms. Their language capabilities didn’t match the profile of the person I found on LinkedIn. It’s entirely possible that a staffing company might hire someone who has learned English as a second language, so it’s not a hard and fast rule. But this should ring a warning bell for you.

No company should ask you for your credentials to log into a website that they don’t control, be it a bank, a cell phone carrier, or anything else, especially any site that stores your money or your credit cards.

Legitimate companies will not ask you to pay anything to get started. Your employer pays you; You don’t pay your employer. Never pay a new employer for the right to work or «deposit a company check» into your personal account and send funds. It is a trap.

Finally, if this sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. Working from home in customer service that pays $40 an hour is too good to be true. Look at similar positions in similar companies. Does the position make sense? Does it make sense to pay? Ask such questions.

Interested in a fraud investigation? Here’s how we played along with one of those «tech support» scammers.

RELATED: «Technical support» scammers called HTG (so we had fun with them)

How to report fake employment scams

We have reported this fraud to the FTC. If you have ever come across such a scam, you should do the same. Go to the FTC Assistint Assist website where you can find out about fraudulent job offers and other scams. If you are not in the US, your government probably has a similar agency that you must report these types of scams to.

Because the scammer contacted us via Google Hangouts, we have also reported this scam to Google. Unfortunately, a few days later, the scammer still appeared on the Internet in Google Hangouts. We are disappointed that Google is not responding to reports of fraud on its platform.

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