Has your new employer asked you to deposit a check in your bank account so you can send the money back to it or one of its clients with bitcoin or gift cards?
If you answered yes, run. It is a scam.
There is really no more analysis needed. You do not need to read any further. It is 100% a scam. Do not send your new “employer” or its “clients” any crypto or gift cards. Call the police to report fraud.
The cheque you deposited (if you deposited it already) will bounce. Thus, you don’t need to worry about being in debt to this “employer”. Rather, it is you who will be in debt to your bank to cover your overdraft from the bad cheque if you cash the cheque and use the funds.
Let me be clear one last time. This is 100% an employment scam. There is no way your case is the exception. Simply put, no real employer will ever ask you to cash a cheque in your personal account to convert to crypto or gift cards. You are being scammed. Please do not send the scammers any funds.
Do not try and rationalize to yourself that you need a job so it’s worth the risk. It is not worth the risk. You have zero chance of getting this job. It is a scam.
What is this Employment Scam?
The bitcoin/gift card employment scam is relatively new. Scammers are setting up fake jobs (or responding to people who upload resumes on Indeed) to entice desperate job applicants to send them crypto or convertible gift cards. Here’s how it works.
1. The Scammers go to great lengths to convince job applicants they are a real employer. They make a real-looking website, set up socials and post a work-from-home job ad or respond to someone who posted their resume on a career site like LinkedIn or Indeed. Some scammers even set up fake offices with branding, furniture and multiple staff members to make it seem like they are the real deal.
TIP: Google potential employers. If you get a too-good-to-be-true job offer, ensure their website’s domain name matches the one found on Google. Some scammers will register domains with similar, but different names as the employers they are pretending to be.
2. Once a victim responds to the scammer’s job advertisement, the scammers reply using a credible-looking email address or social profile. The scammers always appear professional. They offer to set up an interview on the phone or on Zoom. Sometimes, they even offer to conduct the job interview over messaging. This is the first major red flag job seekers should look out for. Almost no employer would ever interview a stranger from the internet using a messaging app for a real job.
3. The interview takes place. Normally the scammers will not use cameras (they may say their mic is broken). Moreover, some of these scammers don’t even bother using voice. They just use messaging services.
4. Very soon after the interview, the victim is offered the job. They are congratulated and provided an onboarding message or email. This is another red flag. Most employers take days or weeks to offer someone a job following an interview.
TIP: If the job pays much higher than average, especially after such an easy job offer, it could be a scam.
5. The scammers tell the victim they need to fill out some legitimate-looking employment forms and send a copy of their identification.
6. Once the victim accepts the employment offer, they are told more about the job and the day-to-day requirements. To appear more credible, the scammers tell the victims that they will be monitored during the day.
7. The scammers set their trap. They tell the victims that they need to cash a cheque or accept an e-transfer using their personal bank account to buy some equipment or pay for some services. The scammers may provide any number of excuses as to why the victim has to use their own bank account. Often, the scammers tell the victim they have to use their own bank account for security reasons because the victim is new to the job, and that they cannot trust them yet. This is a major red flag job seekers should look out for. For one, no employer would ever hire someone to cash cheques for them under such a quick and easy job search process. Real employers only trust long-tenured employees to handle cheque-cashing for them. Second, under no circumstances will any real employer ask an employee to use their own bank account to cash a cheque. There are no exceptions. Literally, no real employer would ever ask an employee to cash company cheques in their own account to pay clients or suppliers.
Tip: Never cash a cheque for an employer in your personal bank account. Demand that you use the employer’s bank account to cash cheques. If they refuse, it is a scam.
8. The victim receives a cheque or an e-transfer from the scammers. The cheque looks real. It has the company’s logo on it. The victim is told to cash the cheque or e-transfer, and then send the funds to a third-party supplier or client to pay for something the employer says is needed urgently. The victim is, most times, asked to convert the money sent to them into cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin or Ethereum) or other non-cash currency like iTunes gift cards.
9. Eventually, the victim cashes the scammer’s cheque, converts it to cryptocurrency or some gift card, and sends the funds to the third party as directed by the scammer.
10. Days later, the bank notifies the victim that the cheque or the e-transfer returned as insufficient. The victim loses all the money they took out of their bank to pay for the cryptocurrency or gift cards. The scam is complete.
TIP: Having funds credited to a bank account does not mean a cheque is legitimate is valid. All banks hold cashed cheque funds for a week or so. During this time, the account shows that the money is in the account even if the hold hasn’t passed yet. Only after the cheque has bounced or cleared will someone know if a cheque is good or bad. Even money orders can bounce.
11. Some victims may fall for this scam multiple times and keep cashing bad cheques for the scammer until eventually they realize their mistake.
Once the scam is complete and the scammers have the victim’s money, there is no way to get the money back. It is gone forever. The banks will normally refuse to refund the money. And the victims can’t sue the scammer because the scammer has almost always vanished (hence the use of cryptocurrency or gift cards). Even if the victim could identify the scammer, the scammer is likely judgment-proof. He may live in a foreign country and never attend court for a lawsuit let alone pay his debt if a judgment was ordered against him.
TIP: Reports indicate some banks may be compassionate and refund a victim’s losses after public pressure.
How to Avoid this Employment Scam
It is important for trusting yet perhaps naïve job seekers to watch out for this employment scam. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Before you accept a job offer, do an online search. Compare the domains of the website and the email address of the employer’s representative’s offering you the job. Are they the same? Keep in mind scammers can easily spoof a phone number, so don’t trust call display. Also, try searching for the employer’s name plus the word “scam” on Google. Perhaps others have been scammed by this fraudster before. Lastly, never cash checks for an employer in your bank account. No legitimate employer will ever send you a check to cash using your own account and then ask you to buy cryptocurrency or gift cards to send to a “client” or “Supplier”. This is always a scam.
Report employment fraud with the Government of Canada here and call your local police department if you suspect this scam.
Jeff is a lawyer in Toronto who works for a technology startup. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles. Jeff is interested in Canadian business, technology and law, and this blog is his platform to share his views and tips in those areas.