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The psychology of work-from-home scams

Sairas Rahman
29 Feb 2024 21:16:00 | Update: 29 Feb 2024 21:32:17
The psychology of work-from-home scams

Hello, I’m Anita, can we speak in English? A sweet voice said to Kaiser, with a thick South Asian accent. The call is coming from WhatsApp. “Would you be interested in a flexible role, a work-from home position? May I share more details?”

Kaiser, looking desperately for a job, has been responding to dozens of recruitment advertisements. He becomes confused. Maybe the call is from one of the organisations he had previously applied for a job?

The woman on the other side of the phone promised a daily payment of up to Tk 1,000 – Tk 1,500 for completing simple tasks, such as clicking on links and leaving Google reviews. After a little back and forth, she convinced Kaiser to click on a link she had sent him on WhatsApp.

The “employer” however did not provide a name for her company, nor did she disclose the location of her office, or how she got Kaiser’s number. Kaiser, desperate enough for any lead on his job hunt, clicked on the WhatsApp link.

His phone froze for a second, and then, absolutely nothing happened. The woman on the phone stopped responding to his calls and texts immediately. But it was the least of Kaiser’s problems.

Unknown to Kaiser, a trojan worm infected his phone, and sent the scammers his contact list, Chrome bookmarks, saved passwords, text messages, call list, photos and videos currently stored in his smartphone.

The worm hijacked his phone’s camera and microphone, allowing the scammers remote access to take compromising photos and videos of Kaiser and his family. His life unravelled before his eyes when the scammer called him again, blackmailing him for Tk 150,000.

Crippled with fear and panic, Kaiser performed a factory reset on his smartphone, but all his data and media have already been harvested and sold. Even with the help of law enforcers, there is no easy way out for him now.

Kaiser is one of thousands of people being targeted on WhatsApp by a scam that has already squeezed an estimated $100 million out of thousands of victims all over the globe, according to AI cybersecurity firm CloudSEK.

There are primarily three types of work-from-home scams.

Identity theft scams

Identity theft scams convince applicants to reveal personally identifiable information (PII) on fake applications.

Also known as identity fraud, identity theft, is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personally identifiable information (PII), such as Social Security or driver's license numbers, to impersonate someone else.

The stolen information can be used to run up debt purchasing credit, goods and services in the name of the victim or to provide the thief with false credentials.

In rare cases, an imposter might provide false identification to police, creating a criminal record or leaving outstanding arrest warrants for the person whose identity they stole. 

Financial scams

Financial scams come with associated fees, equipment purchases, or fake checks. Legitimate employers will only ask for bank account information after a candidate has accepted the job offer.

Scammers could use a victim’s banking details along with personal information (for example name, mailing address, or email address) to hack bank or mobile financial accounts.

Manipulative scams

Manipulative scams use people to perform illegal or unscrupulous tasks, such as leaving fake reviews on legitimate business ventures.

Scammers are highly skilled in manipulation techniques. They exploit emotions, instil fear or urgency, and employ persuasive tactics to deceive their victims. They often create a sense of urgency to pressure individuals into making impulsive decisions.

What are the telltale signs?

Scammers are extremely manipulative and are constantly adapting to bypass human inhibition and cyber security measures through social engineering. However, there are a few telltale signs to help identify a potential work-from-home scam.

In a scam, job offers come unsolicited or a little too easily, and the job listing promotes good wages, easy tasks, and little experience required. The job description is often vague, and information online is sparse or nonexistent.

The interview process is short, and all communication takes place over a messaging app. The employer is out of the state or country and cannot do a video or in-person interview. Besides, a candidate will not be able to find credible information about the company online.

Starting pay may not match up with industry standards for the role — especially for part-time work. Another sign is a lack of company employees on LinkedIn, and no company reviews online.

The recruiter also seems unusual, uses strange language, or has poor grammar, and uses a personal or unofficial email address. Communications are missing important details or contact information.

A candidate may be asked to provide personal information or banking details early in the process. Besides, the recruiter may ask to pay for supplies, training, or certification. Part of the job may involve recruiting other people to join.

In a recent report, USA’s Better Business Bureau stated that an estimated 14 million job seekers are confronted with job scams annually in the country. Though Bangladesh lacks any such statistics, there is certainly an uptick in work-from-home scammers in recent months.

The ongoing economic headwinds and choking inflation have made Bangladesh ripe for the scammers from both home and abroad. Caution, and seeking immediate law enforcement assistance in case of a possible scam, should be the default course of action for everyone.