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
Telephone number: (812) 347-75-07
83 Vitebskiy Ave.,
St.Petersburg, 196233, Russia
Ivan Bolotny, “manager”.
Money sent to:
Last name: Shpakau
First name: Pavel
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
TLRU International, Inc.
37 Nevskiy Ave.