A woman has lost her entire life savings after falling victim to an elaborate employment scam.
Brisbane mom Nikki, who requested to keep her surname private due to safety concerns, found herself desperate for work after her husband’s debilitating medical conditions required her to become his full-time carer earlier this year.
The 53-year-old exclusively told news.com.au she needed a new job that would allow her to work from home, so that she could still fulfil her carer duties while bringing in some money for the household.
She had been searching for jobs on employment networking site, LinkedIn, which allows professionals to connect, post jobs and apply for different positions that are advertised.
Sometimes, an employer may make contact with an individual through the platform if they are interested in them for the job, which is exactly what happened with Nikki.
She was overjoyed when a message from a man who claimed to be from a high profile marketing company appeared in her inbox.
He told her he had the perfect opportunity for her in the marketing space, with the role requiring her to boost the sales of a few select travel companies.
“My husband has early onset advanced dementia, a crushed vertebrae and severe arthritis in his hips, hands and shoulders,” she told news.com.au.
“He also had two stoma bags after needing emergency surgery 12 months ago for diverticulitis, which is an infection of the digestive tract.
“His medical conditions have progressively gotten worse. It is now at the point where doctors told me he can no longer be by himself and will need round the clock care.
“I quit my job earlier this year to be his full time carer and was looking online for work. I had my profile on LinkedIn, and had applied for many jobs over a few weeks.
“I wasn’t having much success, but then I received a message on LinkedIn about a job opportunity where I could work from home. The person said their manager would reach out if I was interested.
“I told them I’d like to hear more, and gave my number. It all snowballed from there.”
The next day, Nikki was contacted via WhatsApp, by a man who claimed his name was Alvis from a high profile marketing company called DUNE7.
The website and documents provided to Nikki appeared legitimate, and looked identical to a real company called Dune7, based in New York City, when searched on Google.
However, upon further investigation, it has been confirmed the scammers brazenly copied the company’s logo and graphics to appear legitimate, and made their website almost identical to the company’s.
One of Dune7’s co-founders told news.com.au that they are aware of the scam and are taking legal action.
“We have been made aware of this scam and referred it to the relevant federal authorities,” they said.
“This scammer is using our brand illegally, and is in no way associated with our company Dune7, which is a marketing agency in the United States.”
The investigation is ongoing.
“Alvis” introduced himself to Nikki and told her about the role, explaining it was an online only job where she could earn big commissions through the company’s platform.
In essence, her role would be to boost the star ratings of different travel and tour companies, which in turn helps them attract more customers.
Throughout this time, “Alvis” did not request to interview Nikki or ask for any resumes or other documentation.
He also did not request a call or a video meeting, instead they talked exclusively via texting on WhatsApp, and later on Telegram.
“Alvis” also used pictures believed to have been stolen, which show a man with a woman and two children. It cannot be ascertained where these images came from, however it is common in scam situations for individuals to use fake pictures stolen from the internet.
He also told Nikki about his relationship with his children and talked about having a wife, likely a way to appear more genuine and likeable.
During the training process, he showed her how to complete tasks before she began doing them on her own, under the assumption she was earning commissions.
She had completed the first level with no issues, and earnt $263 (US $149) which she was able to withdraw from an account that has been set up for her.
But from there, things began taking a sinister turn.
Some of the tasks assigned to her were called “expedited journeys”, meaning she would earn higher than normal commission for the particular tasks.
However, to complete an expedited journey, Nikki would have to pay to complete the task. This meant she was putting in her own money from her bank account.
She was assured by her ‘supervisor’ “Alvis” that once she paid the money and completed the task, she would be receiving a huge return in commissions along with her initial payment.
It fell under the guise of needing to “spend money to make money”, a common phrase in the finance world that refers to making investments for high rewards.
However, little did Nikki know at the time, there was never any intention of her getting any money back.
“I did two days of training with him over WhatsApp, he then set me up with my own profile and I began doing the tasks on my own,” she explained.
“This was all fine. I did the first level and then got paid as promised. But then I started level two.
“If I had only known what I know now, I would have stopped there. I began getting these ‘expedited journeys’, and was told that I’d need to put my own money in order to get a return.
“It felt like it was never ending, and I kept having to top up my account to complete the work. He explained that in order to make money I had to spend money.
“But I just kept putting in more and more, and wasn’t getting anything in return.”
Nikki felt trapped and desperate. She was unable to get out of the situation and worried that if she ceased communication with “Alvis,” her money would be gone for good.
She had already drained her entire savings account and took out a $6,000 (US $3,800) bank loan in the hopes it would help release her from the nightmare she was trapped in.
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Before she knew it, she was down over $15,000 (US $9,500) with no idea how she was going to get it back.
In another bizarre twist, Nikki said at this point the scammer began showing romantic interest in her.
“My bank account was completely drained, I literally had zero dollars in there,” she said.
“He just kept pressuring me to finish the tasks. Then he began hitting on me.
“I didn’t encourage him, but I didn’t discourage him because I wanted my money back. I kept telling him that we could talk about his feelings after I sorted my situation out.”
Nikki’s situation only got more dire, with the overarching promise of her money being returned to her eventually getting more out of reach as the days went on.
“Alvis” then boldly asked her to put in another $10,000 (US $6,300) in order for the issues to be solved, however she refused.
Feeling emotionally exhausted at this point, and with her mental health at an all time low, Nikki decided to confide in her sister and come clean about everything she had been going through.
That is when everything became painfully clear.
“She told me I’d been scammed. I felt so stupid,” Nikki said.
“Everything suddenly made sense. I felt absolutely sick with guilt and worry. I had no idea this could happen or that this was a thing.
“I don’t know how anyone could be so evil.
“These people are sitting there with my savings, over $15,000, and even now I have no idea how I am going to get it back from them.
“It is absolutely gut wrenching. I don’t know how I am going to survive.”
Nikki has been thrust into a catastrophic situation.
She has no money to her name and has needed to rely on the help of family to survive.
Meanwhile, she is continuing to take care of her husband. She is also needing to look for another place to live, as her current rental home is being put on the market.
Nikki fears for her safety after receiving bizarre and threatening messages from the scammer on different platforms, who flew into a stalker-like obsessive rage before she blocked him.
Her sister has helped set up a GoFundMe in the hopes that Nikki will be able to get back on her feet.
“This has ruined me. I feel so stupid that I fell victim to this,” she said.
“I would never wish this upon anyone, and I am sharing my story to help warn others. These scammers prey on desperate people who are already in terrible situations.
“People who are looking for the perfect job, and are desperate for money. These are people who are who are barely getting by, and then these criminals come and take whatever they have left.”
Sadly, employment scams such as this one are steadily on the rise and criminals are using platforms such as LinkedIn to find potential victims.
A spokesperson for LinkedIn said that while it has introduced new measures to help curb these types of scams, they encourage members to be on the lookout for suspicious signs.
“Maintaining a trusted and safe community has always been a top priority for us,” the spokesperson said.
“We use a combination of human reviews and automated defences to prevent job scams and we encourage members to watch for signs of potential fraud at every stage in their job search.
“We’ve implemented new tools to enhance safety on LinkedIn and make it easier to identify and avoid suspicious jobs.
“We also want to educate our members to watch for signs of potential fraud by partnering with career experts and influencers such as Elizabeth Houghton, Eric Sim and Sakshi Chandraakar to provide resources and guidance to help members recognise and avoid suspicious jobs, and report them to LinkedIn so that we can take action.
“By empowering our members with knowledge, we can work together to maintain a safe community.”
According to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) – which runs the National Anti-Scam Centre and the SCAMWATCH website – job scams such as this one have dramatically exploded over the past year, with Australians losing nearly $20 million (US $12.6 million) collectively from January to September 2023 alone.
“Since September 2022, losses to jobs employment scams have increased substantially,” an ACCC spokesperson told news.com.au.
“Between 1 January 2023 – 24 September 2023, Scamwatch received 3767 reports of jobs and employment scams with $19.6m in losses.
“This is an increase of 73 per cent in the number of reports and 741.5 per cent in losses compared with the same period in 2022.”
The ACCC explained this shocking rise has been due to the cost of living crisis and the influx of people needing to work from home.
“This rise is attributed to a particularly harmful scam type which is targeting people looking for part-time work, the opportunity to work from home and to earn more money, particularly as consumers are impacted by cost-of-living pressures,” it said.
“Scammers will often ask for upfront payment in cryptocurrency in exchange for a guaranteed income. They pretend to be hiring on behalf of high-profile companies and online shopping platforms and impersonate well-known recruitment agencies.”
SCAMWATCH’s top tips for protection employment scams
1. Never send money or give your personal information, credit card, online bank or cryptocurrency account details to anyone you don’t know, especially if you’ve only met them online, through email or over the phone.
2. Avoid any arrangement that asks for upfront payment via bank transfer, PayID or cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
3. Be suspicious if the role is offered to you without an interview, or discussion about your experience, suitability and references.
4. Be cautious of recruiters that contact you via encrypted message platforms like WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram. These platforms are commonly used by scammers.
5. Know who you are dealing with. Research the recruiter and the business or individual offering the position. Contact the recruitment agency via phone numbers sourced from an independent internet search.
6. Don’t be pressured to act quickly. A legitimate offer will not require you to make an immediate decision. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
7. Don’t trust the legitimacy of a job ad just because it appears on a trusted platform or website – scammers post fake ads too. If you come across a scammer, report it to the platform or agency.
8. Don’t take payment or rewards to recruit other people into a scheme.
9. Don’t transfer money, make purchases, or receive packages on behalf of someone else, you could be committing a criminal offence like money laundering.
11. Remember to update passwords to your online accounts regularly and use strong passwords or passphrases.