Are freelancers the new prey for money laundering scammers?

When, a seemingly great opportunity comes your way, with nothing to lose you are going to follow it through aren’t you?  This is what happened to us at Virtu@dmin; read on for all the details and how to NOT let it happen to you, a freelancer or not.

Freelancing as Virtu@dmin for a few years now, predominantly transcribing, I was very excited to receive a message on the freelance platform Truelancer, on the 4th October 2017.  A person by the name of ‘Catlin Tracey’ claiming to be on the hiring board of a very well know global insurance company sent me a direct message me to inform me that my profile had been thoroughly reviewed and selected for an interview via Google Hangouts.  (I have been invited to send a proposal for many jobs, but either they are for silly money or the job is awarded to someone else.)

I duly was on Hangouts at the time they wanted me to be, which was approximately 15-20 minutes later, of the mind I had nothing to lose.  My partner said to me just end the conversation if they want you to pay out any money.  In fact, after being interviewed on Hangouts, I was successful, earning $20 an hour whilst training, $35 an hour once the training was complete.  I wasn’t to pay out any money, they were, in fact, to pay me, for software.

Having spent a lot of time researching this, the pay and type of questions they asked, there was nothing on Google (where I did my research) to suggest this was a potential money laundering scam. 

I made notes, looked up the software I would be using and still nothing.  (Although at the time of writing, Monday 13th November 2017, Truelancer have now deleted all the messages and a note to say, “Note: Kindly do not reply to this client.  It was a Spam message”.)  Shame they were not quick enough to do that back at the beginning of October when I was contacted.  The profile had been active on there for approximately 3-4 months at the time of being approached.

Offer Letter

After being successful in my interview, I was sent an offer letter by email the next day, for what I thought was one of the biggest leading global insurance companies.  I signed and emailed back to this guy, as requested.

Warning

So, if you are a freelancer and registered on freelancing platforms like Truelancer, and you get approached by a message directly, offering you this fantastic job opportunity, it is a money lanundering scam. 

How do I know this?  Well, as advised by the guy on Hangouts, (all of our conversations were on Hangouts, so another thing to watch out for)  he said they would be paying money into my bank account for me to download software from a vendor they deal with directly.

Money laundering via freelancers
How a typical money laundering scam works

He/they paid the money into the bank account as advised, but it all changed from downloading software to collecting office equipment and I had better have enough office space.  The instructions were to withdraw a large sum IN CASH and pay into their vendor’s bank account.  This is when alarm bells were rining loudly.

Upon advising him that we would have to order this sort of money he/they began to panic, and then requested we do it online, into a different bank account because this vendor was not accepting online payments at this time!

My partner (and partner of Virtu@dmin) and I knew then that this was indeed what appeared to be money laundering, and as I did a lot of research into the insurance company he ‘so-called’ represented, phone calls confirming they did have not that person working for them, the email addresses did not exist we have gone to the authorities.

Conclusion

As the jobs for life have virtually gone now, and in the UK having zero-hour contracts, and many part-time positions, that do not pay a living wage, more and more people are turning what skills they have to freelancing.

As a freelancer, getting work is hard, I/we have been freelancing enough years now to know how up and down it can be.  Obviously, the more skills you have, the more freelance opportunities you can apply for.

Because of the insecurity in freelancing, the ‘not knowing’ of how much you will earn from one month to the next, I believe now that criminals and fraudsters are targeting freelancers to ‘clean’ their dirty criminal money.  From one vendor not accepting online payments at the moment, to another bank account with all the details,including BIC and IBAN details, it became obvious what was going on.  We simply do not want anyone, freelancer or not, to get stung by this new trick of theirs.

* For more information about money transfer scams please see this post from the Financial Conduct Authority.