Both my wife and I work from home as self-employed freelancers. Currently, our only income comes from jobs we can hobble together to pay rent and whatever we can earn from our penguins, books, and Patreon. So, when a job comes along that will pay the rent for a month, we take notice. One good job makes the month easier and relieves a lot of stress. For better or worse, this leaves us open to the possibility of being scammed.
My wife received an email from Erskine Burns in Bellingham, Washington – she had her address in her email tag. She needed two documents translated within a month. Did my wife have availability? My wife said yes and she would need to see the documents to give a price. We did some research, found out what the average is for translations from English to Russian and came up with a price.
Erskine Burns immediately agreed to the price, which is unusual. In our line of work, no matter how reasonable a price you quote, the other person always wants a lower one. Sometimes, there are legitimate concerns; most of the time it’s a reaction to our gig economy – when people are willing to take jobs for $5, why would you pay $10, even if the person is going to take two hours to get you what you want.
My wife asked some clarifying questions and asked how Erskine would like to pay her. We usually opt for PayPal, but we could also do Square. Erskine said the only payment form that he/she could do was check or bank transfer. We chose check because I didn’t want to give any banking information out. Erskine said that he/she would have to get back to us after talking to the sponsor.
My wife had a bad feeling because she thought she was charging too much for her work. She also thought the scammer should have haggled. We then got an email that said our payment was mixed up with the movers. I didn’t really understand what that had to do with anything. Maybe we’d receive the wrong check and have to send it back. My wife had another bad feeling and started doing some research.
She found that scammers will purchase an item or a service or something they have to pay, and they will send a check for much more than the payment is supposed to be. This used to be related to large purchases like cars and boats, but it has since been adapted to freelance work and Craigslist items. When the Seller gets the check and says it’s too much, the buyer will tell the seller to cash the check, keep a small amount for his/her trouble, and send the rest back.
The seller takes the check to the bank. The bank releases the funds in a couple of days, usually without having confirmed that there are funds available in that account. The extra money is withdrawn and sent to the buyer. Two weeks later, the original check bounces, and the seller is on the hook for the entire amount. Even if the check is fake, it’s often good enough to fool banks.
I looked up Erskine Burns online and only found one who is in New Mexico. The address in the email tag was a vacant lot in Washington, at least in my search; My wife turned up a house that was brand new with a barrier in front of its driveway. In the meantime, Erskine sent us an email with a tracking number for the check. When the package arrived, we needed to sign for it. I’m still excited about opening this because of the success it would represent.
My wife opened the envelope and pulled out the check for three times the amount agreed upon. My dreams were shattered. She was disappointed. I still didn’t want to believe it was a scam. I tried calling the bank in Pennsylvania, but they closed a minute before I got on the phone – literally. I looked up the company. It exists. Then I looked at the return address on the envelope: Seyanufunmiloni, Inc in “New York City.” (Do people write “New York City” or just “New York” for mailing addresses?) The business isn’t on the Internet, and the address doesn’t exist in New York.
Then, I contacted the Oregon Consumer Protection Department at 1-877-877-9392 . The woman on the phone immediately recognized the scam. She recommended cutting off all contact and tearing up the check, which we did, even though my wife composed a great response to “Erskine.” I have also filed a complaint and submitted our documentation.
Scammers, grifters, and con-people look for people who are desperate, which many self-employed people are through this pandemic. They prey upon the lonely, the naïve, and those who would choose trust over suspicions. They also hope that you don’t expose their usually illegal and always immoral ploys. If you’ve been scammed or are worried that something may be a scam, first, trust your gut. If it’s too good to be true, do all the homework. If the offer is only valid for a short time, don’t take it. If you feel any pressure, don’t make the deal, and whatever you do, never give out your banking information.
This may not be enough to protect you from scams. If you fall victim, it’s not your fault. Document everything, report the scam to the proper authorities and help your friends and family avoid similar scams.
Getting scammed, or even being targeted in a scam will likely make you feel all kinds of emotions. For us, we were excited because we were going to have February taken care of. We were relieved because we could put our money worries to the side. We were excited because it meant the work we’ve put into advertising our work and putting ourselves out there was paying off. When we realized we were being targeted, we felt terrible. February is no longer taken care of, our efforts to get jobs aren’t paying off, and we still have the same money worries we had before.
Now, we also have something else – we have the fear that the next offer will be another scam, and we won’t catch us. As entrepreneurs, that fear and hesitancy can cost a good-paying job. It’ll make us second guess ourselves, and it will hamper our willingness to take chances. Worse, as human beings, it reduces our willingness to trust other people, and it reduces the amount of joy we will feel in future successes because we will always wonder if we got scammed.
Still, we have to move forward and do what we can do to make a living. If that means facing another possible scam, we’ll have to bite the bullet and hope we recognize it sooner.
Read about the scam that torpedoed our dreams of finding the perfect place to live.