A true story, that happened to me a few years ago. A prelude to my next piece.
| Internet scams.
They are out there, they are searching for you. It is inevitable if you are a regular internet user, that they have already found you.
"It could never happen to me", you say;
Well roll, with me, my intrepid friend, as we tumble and fall. Let us see how far this rabbit hole goes, as I recall my experience in late October 2010. Whilst traversing the World Wide Web in search of employment.
After relocating to Brighton in Early 2009, following my then partner of 10 years who had earlier made the same pilgrimage to the South coast for work reasons, the only work for a versatile individual such as myself, who`s main forte had been in warehouse/logistics was as a chef. A past trade I had excelled in, but long forgotten.
Almost 2 years later and the lure of a career change (away from the burns and scolds I was steadily accumulating), was becoming ever more appealing. What with the meteoric rise of the internet's employment capabilities, I was certain I was making the right choice in leaving my then job.
My last choice to leave the hustle and bustle of London, for the binge drinking mantra of Brighton had not faried too bad. At least I was able to soothe my kitchen wounds in the ocean.
A month later, not a single reply to countless vacancies I had enquired about. The festive season imminent, impending tax rises and a now unstable relationship at home due to my decision to leave a job I was no longer happy in. I was feeling more vulnerable than versatile.
The newsagents/internet café where I had been residing for the last month had lost its initial allure of confectionary delights, multitude of glossary reading on well routinely displayed magazine shelves and the smell of fresh coffee and soup.
This had been replaced, I was now noticing how cramped the partitioned area where you sat to use the computers was, no room to move your chair without banging the person seated next to you, or the flimsy partition wall behind. This partition separated us users from the newsagents.
A thin, skinny, counter ran the length of the shop window. On top sat seven monitors and keyboards, with no room to move the mouse. Unless you wanted to hold hands, with the person next to you. Coupled with the ever-growing smells emanating from the different users. The pungent cologne scent, cheaply disguised, days old body odour. Half-eaten snacks festered in the cafes single bin, and the flatulence of others had replaced allurement with aversion.
One day I stumbled across an e-mail in my in-box, offering work as a payment-processing officer (sounded new).
The job description?
Work from home or in my case the said café I was now becoming a part of, 2-3 hours a day. Attention to detail and the lure of earning between 2-4 grand a month (I was intrigued).
Valid bank account, to receive and send on monies as payment to freelance I.T engineers, through a company who were supposedly outsourcing the market.
A little suspect, I dismissed the e-mail and retired from the internet café for the evening. By now an evening at home with my partner was anything but an evening at home, where one could forget the troubles and mounting pressures of the festive season.
Jobless and in no position to be gearing up for the festive holidays, nor the heckling and gestures that accompanied my partners exasperated efforts to bring home the enormity of my not having a job. Come the morning I was hyper verbally dragged out from under the duvet. The words `get a damn job` amongst others, hastened me to the door. Deciding to deploy myself directly to the café omitting any form of refresher for another forlorn night's sleep, or sustenance for a now weary soul.
The e-mail from the night before now seemed as dangerous as a night at home. By now, my feelings and lack of rational thinking made it easy for me to reply. My ears were still ringing from the verbal assault, which had hastened my departure from home earlier that morning as if I was deserting a sinking ship.
After replying to the e-mail, I waited for a reply. Sure enough I received another e-mail from someone pertaining to be from HR. Intrepid, I followed the link I was given which directed me to their colourful website, where, after reading their profile and trade acumen I was invited to partake in a short questionnaire to see if I was suitable for the role. That completed and upon receipt of a 20-page company policy, accompanied with a PDF contract that I read, countersigned and faxed back along with a copy of my passport and bank details.
I now, anxiously waited as they verified my passport and validity of my bank account.
With this and the events of the day slowly niggling away at my subconscious, ignorance was a cacophonous sound; The hum-drum of the internet café`users franticly bashing away at their pc terminals, the walk home, snaking through rush hour traffic (the impending tone of voice my partner would use if I told her of my constructive day). Something was not right, but my silence would postpone the storm brewing at home, no matter how hot and flustered the day had left me.
The morning brought a clear southern front. I headed for the caf by now, officially my second residence. Once logged on at a pc terminal I found in my mailbox an e-mail welcoming me to the company, probationary allocation of a supervisor for a I month period and a personnel web page so I may check for tasks (transactions). Messages from my supervisor, a page that displayed a countdown clock in days until payday and any bonuses incurred made up my webpage options.
I was informed by my supervisor to log on every day, between the hours of 9 & 11 a.m. That I should be checking regularly as a task could arrive at any time. Sure enough, 24 hours later, my first task arrived. I hastily printed off the recipient details and then nervously visited my bank to withdraw the monies, not even knowing if the monies would be in my account.
The premise allowed me to deduct 8%, (as my commission) from the total funds that would be sitting in my bank account and then send on the remainder. The recipient details I had previously printed from my web page (which was aptly named `the task manager`). If the sending on fee were more than 3%, I would be reimbursed come payday, which was now in 28 days (as verified by the countdown clock on my task manager).
I decide to check at the cash machine outside the bank to see if the monies were indeed in my account, and it was. After negotiating the wheelchair access ramp when I could easily have taken the stairs I entered the bank, for once there was no queue. Having confirmed (more than once), to the bank teller that I wanted to withdraw all money in my account, my commission deducted, and money safely in a discreet tiny hip bag hidden under the coat I was wearing, I headed for the local Western Union money service outlet.
The end of my supervisor's last message was still fresh in my mind, `do not use the same money gramme shops for transfers`. Now that could have proven a hindrance to future transactions (I had already checked the location of WU money shops), there were not many.
Was my supervisor worried about the queried looks I would receive from the money teller at WU, if I repeatedly visited their branch to send on large amounts of money on a regular basis? If he'd seen the odd looks given by the bank teller when I withdrew the money, well, I'd be looking for a new supervisor.
No matter how many times niggling doubt ate its way into my conscious, I was oblivious. I already knew what awaited me at home, (my real home). The raging storms of the Lunar surface of the moon Jupiter, punctuated by the biggest storm of all `the great red spot`..
All the alarm bells as if, hells bells were ringing itself could make me see the illegitimacy of what I was doing.
Ten minutes later, my part done all that remained for me to do was message the transaction number to my supervisor along with the conversion factor as the receiver was in Europe. That done I was able to reflect on my mornings work.
The racy beat of my heart that had plagued me all morning, which I had dismissed as first day nerves, had now become an empty hollow feeling. The light percussion of bells danced in the background.
I had received over 100 commission, minus the sending on fee, leaving me with 55. Not bad.
There was also another message on my task manager congratulating me on completion of my task, and a 50 bonus for completing the said task within 2 hours. I had also incurred a bonus, for using more than 3% of the commission in the transaction. By evening on the second day, I had accumulated 1067, payable in 26 days' time.
I then received another task that very same evening, after checking to see if the monies were in my account (it was), I started to feel less comfortable about it sitting in my bank. I had been led to believe whilst on the probationary period I would receive two tasks, if that. Invoices for any transactions (every 2 weeks while on probation), recorded delivery to my front door. I had not even received the first invoice, yet they expected me to carry out another transaction.
That night, after naively proclaiming to my partner that I had found employment and negotiating the minefield of questions and disbelief, as she dissected my version of accounts as skilfully as a mortician, on Halloween.
I decided to take counsel from my sister in law, who is actually in law. (No, what I mean is she actually works in law, but is also my partner's sister). After giving her the web address, for which all she could find where, posted blogs on forums warning about such online businesses. Why didn't I do that? She was also able to find my contract (a saddening feeling was starting to build within me, that hollow feeling from earlier in the day was now a gaping chasm, occupying the space where my body and soul used to live).
Funny how the only way I could access the webpage was through the link the company had emailed me on the day I replied to their job offer. After acceptance of the niggling facts and yet another insomniacs induced night of remorse, I returned to my bank the following morning.
But, instead of making the withdrawal I asked if I could speak to the bank`s fraud department. As you can by now imagine the fraud team confirmed the company was a hoax, and was more than likely someone sitting at a laptop, anywhere in the world.
Two weeks passed, before I could gain access to my bank account. That is how long the fraud team took to retrieve the monies sitting in my account. The fraud team where thankful for bringing this to light, pity there were no lights on at home.
To this day, I know subconsciously I was aware from the start that this was not what it seemed. My choice in career change, unforgiving partner (when it comes to the semantics of my career). I was willing to be ignorant and naive, as well as down on my luck during a then economic downfall.
I myself anxiously await to see if there are any repercussions, as my personal details are now in the hands of.......!