Early in the pandemic, Krystelle Goodman lost her job as a sales consultant at Zales Jewelers in the Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
So Goodman decided to try to find a job that allowed her to keep tabs on her daughter, now attending school from home, by working from home. She scoured job sites like Indeed with no luck. Then, around June, she received an email, supposedly based on her online résumé, for what seemed like the perfect work-at-home opportunity: She was to receive packages at her home for customers in a country unable to access Amazon to sell their products.
Her duties: Open the box to confirm the item arrived in good shape and go online to get a shipping label. Then, she was to print that label on her printer and repackage the item in a new box to send elsewhere. Finally, she’d drive the package somewhere like a Federal Express office or United Parcel Service to ship.
“Half of the stuff they sent was pretty heavy,” Goodman said.
Some boxes had $50 champagne buckets. Some had parts for Ski-Doo snowmobiles. One involved a snowmobile lift, which she later priced online for around $500.
Many items went to an address in Blaine, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Things seemed to be going OK. The boxes kept arriving and she was to be paid $50 for each package she shipped.
She was supposed to wait one month to be paid. But she didn’t receive a dime after shipping 22 packages over a month’s time. She was out what would have been $1,100 for the packages and more than $400 in expenses.
After that month, the emails slowed down and she wasn’t receiving any more packages. And she never, ever got any money.
“I don’t even know what they were doing with this stuff,” Goodman said.
Looking back, she said, she might have been suspicious when the company hired her without doing a background check to make sure that she was trustworthy and wouldn’t just keep their items.
She never talked with anyone — all communication was by email.
Uptick in jobs scams
Consumer watchdogs are warning of an uptick in jobs scams, such as reshipping scams, as unemployed workers try to find jobs from home during the pandemic.
Across Michigan, the Better Business Bureau has received 10 reports of reshipping employment scams in the past six months.
“A lot of the time they claim to be from a business that actually exists; other times they will make up a business name and website,” said Ashley Gibbard, marketing coordinator for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan.
“These jobs are always remote and claim to pay very well, which makes them appealing to applicants.”
Many times, victims discovered a job on a popular site, such as LinkedIn, Indeed or Craigslist. Or the scammers troll sites looking for victims who have their resumes listed on these sites and then the scammer might say the potential victim’s resume is a good fit for a job opening at their company, according to the BBB.
Some people end up getting recruited for some of these tasks or jobs on dating websites, as well, where a fake “sweetheart” asks for some sort of help with packages.
Red flags: High pay, fancy titles
Another big red flag: The pay that’s promised to work from home is often far more than $15 or $20 an hour.
The phony jobs use fancy titles, such as a “shipping coordinator” or “logistics manager” or “package processing assistant” or “package handler.” No one is going to advertise, of course, that we need someone to assist in laundering stolen merchandise.
The Indeed website warns: “During the holiday season, scammers might also seek gift wrappers. In this variation of the reshipping scam, you’d receive a package at your home, gift wrap it and then reship it.”
But the site notes that “there are no legitimate work opportunities that involve receiving packages and shipping them to someone else from your home.”
The FBI and others warn that consumers who take reshipping jobs are getting caught up in fraud rings that launder merchandise or money.
The crime rings can use stolen credit card numbers, forged credit cards or counterfeit money orders to buy expensive goods or equipment online. To get their cash, though, the crooks are going to need to resell those goods on the black market.
The FBI warns that instead of having the items shipped to the billing address, the fraudster sends them to what’s called a “reshipper.”
Anyone who does any kind of job and doesn’t get paid ends up losing hours where they could have earned a real paycheck. Victims typically don’t get paid for their work.
And you risk arrest for committing a felony when helping criminals.
Ask questions and vet the employer
Stopping to ask a few simple questions, according to experts, can be an easy way to avoid getting caught up in the scam.
First, what legitimate company is going to send you computer laptops, electronics, jewelry or equipment in a box to you so that you can ship the goods out of the country? Or even to another location in the U.S?
Sure, some parts of this deal could look real. The items sent to Goodman, for example, didn’t seem all that exciting. Who cares about ice buckets? The company provided prepaid shipping labels. Again, experts warn that stolen information often is used to pay for those shipping labels.
Sometimes, the scam involves buying gift cards or money orders, or transferring money, which can be done at home.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service continues to warn about how job seekers can end up unwittingly becoming what’s known as a money mule — someone who receives and transfers money obtained via fraud.
You can try to do some research on a company in advance to see if there are complaints. See if a company really has job postings on its website and then reach out to the company to find if the job is legitimate.
If you either can’t find a website, or the website looks suspicious — such as typos or no physical address — view that as a red flag.
Scammers are ready and willing to take advantage of anyone who is looking for a job.
“I don’t think a lot of people know about this,” Goodman said, adding that these types of job openings are “100% bogus.”