Hello,

Today is another serious (can’t stress that enough) life changing eye opening experience I went through in the summer of 2013.

As you can probably tell from the title, in the summer of 2013, I was a victim of fraud embezzlement. And, at first I was extremely embarrassed to share my story so I kept it so myself and did an anonymous guest post over at Kendel’s old blog a while back. To this day, I’m still embarrassed to share the actual truth with my friends and family so when they asked about the job, I simply told them, “I quit”. Now, I want to share my experience and like any of my serious topics, raise awareness to a problem.

I’m part of the generation that grew up with computers. So, naturally, I’ve been on the Internet for my entire life. Back when I shared a family computer with my brother, he was extremely keen on anti-virus programs and making sure our computer didn’t get infected… I mean, way back then, the only threats were viruses.

That importance of an anti-virus follows to me this day as viruses and malwares and everything in between is so much more complicated, advanced and vicious than ever before. However, no anti-virus can protect people from scams. Simple as that. 

I used to roll my eyes and daze off when a police will come to talk to us about the danger of potential scammers out on the internet. There are tons of documentaries and news segments about online fraud victims – most of which are part of the Generation X that is still getting used to their keyboards.

To be honest, I felt and knew that I was smart enough to not get scammed. Even when I’m doing online shopping on eBay, I make sure everything is legit and fine.

However, in the summer of 2013, after my years of being on the internet, and being ‘tech-savy’, I fell victimized to online fraud.

It all started out when I left my job at Best Buy; it got to the point where I just wanted out so desperately, I didn’t have a new job lined up for me. I figured, my resume is good enough, if not, exceeds expectations of a retailer. But when the retailers (general clothing and grocery stores) weren’t calling, I eventually started looking at entry-level business jobs such as administrative assistant – I didn’t have the skills or degree for it but I figured that I could bullshit my way through.

I eventually started looking online which includes the trusted job boards, and the infamous Craigslist.

One of the ads was for a travel agency looking for an administrative assistant and I applied to it. In about 2-3 weeks, they replied saying the “position has been filled” but they were offering another position – financial manager.

Here’s the thing; you’ll think that I would have noticed something fishy when Travel Agency Spectour suddenly offered me a managerial position.

Or, another sign was that there was no interview process or even a building for me to meet the HR person. When my then-boyfriend asked where I work, I had to lie and said “Downtown at _______ street.”

But, when you’re in my position, desperately looking for a job while your credit card bills are constantly rising, you’ll take the job before even thinking twice.

The “hiring” process consisted to this: e-mailing forms, filling them out, e-mailing them back and provided that my bank account has e-mail transfer. As a financial manager, my role was to “take the sales from customers and deposit them at Western Union,” where I assumed that I was transferring the profits to the main HQ (they told me the company was a Russian company) but take a 5% commission for myself to keep.

My wage was $3,200/month, with 5% commission, paid either by a mailed cheque or bank transfer. I chose the cheque so I also provided them with my home address. 

I was so happy, literally, all I could think about was the money and how easily I could pay off my debts. My dad was super proud of me, telling people that he has a daughter that is a manager at the age of only 19! My friends were all shocked saying, “Wow, a managerial position?!”, even my old supervisor got a bit jealous!

All of that blinded me. No red flags were flying when I was agree with “Anastasia Borodina” about my new job.

That’s what makes me feel so stupid. That I didn’t stop and look twice at the circumstances.

On my “first day” of work, an e-mail transfer came in at 6AM. I accepted it, went to my bank and withdrew the cash amount, less 5% for me to keep. I then headed down to Western Union to transfer it to the Russian address they provided. It’s funny because the clerk warned me about potential frauds but I told him, “Oh, no, this is my job. This what my manager told me to do.” The clerk just shrugged. When I finished the deposit, I’ll e-mail Anastasia with the confirmation code for the Russians to pick it up on their end.

On the second day, Anastasia will reply back with a confirmation on the previous money transfer along with a new e-mail transfer for another thousands dollars or so.

This continued for only a few days. On the fifth day, I woke up with no e-mails from Anastasia. Not even a confirmation e-mail about the last transfer. I figured it might be delayed but eventually no e-mail came that day. I didn’t think much about it.

After school, I had sushi and 20 minutes later, I decided to drop by McDonald’s to grab a drink. My debit card got declined for some reason, and when I called my bank, they simply told me to go down the my nearest branch. I thought it was the oddest thing that just 20 minutes ago, my debit card approved the $13 sushi lunch but not a $1 drink?

The next day, I went down the branch and explained to them what happened with my debit card. The teller told me to take a seat and the next thing I knew, the manager came to meet with me with papers in his hand.

I thought, well, of course my bank will suspend my debit card – they probably assume that all that money withdrawal is theft. I thought all I needed to explain to them was that I got a new job that requires me to withdraw ~$950/day.

The manager sat me down and asked me about the recent money transfers and withdrawal. I told her it was a job and the manager told me, “Jess, you do know the money is illegal right?”

She basically told me I was a victim of fraud. The bank’s HQ fraud department caught my transaction and froze my entire bank until further notice.

A few days later, my bank called me again. They reviewed my case and told me that my bank is still willing to keep me as a client BUT I have to pay back a total of $2,300 to the bank. My heart literally sank. I have no job, let alone even $2,300 laying around.

I asked if I can pay it off slowly and they told me no. Until I pay back the $2,300, my bank account was semi-frozen; which meant by bank released $500 to me but kept the rest frozen.

I started to panic, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t tell anyone because they’ll think I’m stupid. I eventually resorted to lying to my parents about additional school fees, and when asked upon my new job, I lied and said they didn’t pay me yet. So my mum and dad each coughed up $1,000 each and I figured I’ll pay the $300 out of my own bank account.

When I had the money, I realized I didn’t know “how” to pay the bank back. I tried calling the manager but she wasn’t in that day. So, I figured the best I’ll do is just deposit the money and the bank will probably automatically take it.

They never did.

I was so confused and eventually, without knowing, I blew through my funds and the bank never contacted me again. My account was still semi-frozen, meaning they kept about $200. I figured, it’s only $200 but at least my bank account and bank card is still working.

In January 2014, I eventually met another manager at another branch whom cared a lot about customer service and felt pity in my situation. When I was at the bank, I didn’t even inquire about my situation; I had another issue to deal with but the manager took the time to review my entire account. She basically unfroze my bank account in about a week and cleared my bank account from red flags. She was extremely embarrassed about how her colleages from the other branch delt with my situation and ended up reimbursing me a bit too.

However, dispite my lucky outcome of a great manager and never repaying the amount that I owed, I’m now keeping a close eye on suspicious replies from job postings. Not many people can be lucky and “get away” with circumstances like this. Just a few weeks ago, I read about a lady in Alberta, in the same situation as me but embezzeled more money than I did, had to repay the bank in full amount. And we are under the same national bank!

I don’t think online job hunying is a bad thing, I just think there are scumbags that takes advantage of people like me. I’ve found a great job through Craigslist and so did many of my friends.

In the end, no matter how long you’ve been on the Internet, don’t underestimate a situation. I was so blinded, no red flags were popping in my bank and I ended up as a victim of fraud. It’s best to look at the situation from a different perspective, aka, don’t be afraid and tell someone about the “job offering”.

To prevent any more victims, here are the information and people I’ve dealt with:
There are actual people purchasing vacation packages from these people. If you know someone who’s planning to travel/vacation in Russia, let them know about this company. I came across a forum where someone was asking about this company.

Company: Travel Agency Spectour
Company website: http://spectour.com
Contact: tours@spectour.com
Telephone number: (812) 347-75-07
Address:
83 Vitebskiy Ave.,
St.Petersburg, 196233, Russia

Anastasia Borodina
resume@spectour.com

Ivan Bolotny, “manager”.

Money sent to:
Last name: Shpakau
First name: Pavel
City: Saint-Petersburg
Country: Russia
Address: 83 Vitebskiy Ave.
Postal code: 196233

They even had the nerves to send me another e-mail about another “job offering” with another “company”.
 
Anna Bolonina (Same person, different name)

“Official website”: http://www.tlru.com/index.php

Contact:
TLRU International, Inc. 
37 Nevskiy Ave.

St. Petersburg, 
191011

Russia

Phone: +7(812)346-1144
info@tlru.com

Stay safe, my fellow readers!


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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I think we always have an attitude of 'it won't happen to me' but obviously it can so easily. I'm glad you got out of it eventually and I'm sorry about what you had to go through! xx

  2. Betsy Smith Reply

    Wow. That is scary! Glad it worked out for you. Hopefully this will help others not fall into the same trap.

  3. Woah. Thank you so much for sharing this! Honestly? I can see myself having done the same thing and being so caught up in the new job (and good money) buzz that I could have missed the warning signs too.
    Well done for speaking out and revealing the details of this company. Sharing this so we can help get the word out!

  4. Pingback: Privacy on the Internet (and How to Protect Yourself) – October Rain

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