College students beware: the Better Business Bureau and the FBI have both issued warnings about a new work-at-home scam targeting students through their school email accounts. This latest scam is a bad one even by scam standards: with most such scams, the victims “only” need worry about losing their money or personal-computer security. But anyone who falls for this latest work-at-home scam risks being arrested and prosecuted for various felonies!
Most work-at-home scams are actually check scams, and most check scams try to cheat their victims by asking them to deposit bad checks in their bank accounts, then withdraw a small portion of that money and give it to the scammer before the check clears – or, more specifically, before the bank informs you that the check did not clear, because it's a fake.
Suppose you have $1,000 in your bank account, and receive a scam check for $500; the scammer asks you to send him $50, and you can keep the rest. So you deposit the $500 check in your account, still having no idea it is fraudulent.
Now, your account's “current balance” is $1,500 — that's the combined amount of the $1,000 you definitely have, plus the $500 you might have, if and when the check clears. But your “available balance,” the money actually available for withdrawal, remains only $1,000, and won't increase unless and until that $500 check clears.
You withdraw $50 to send to the scammer, bringing your current and available balances down to $1,450 and $950, respectively — but when your bank finds out there's no money to back up that $500 check, your current and available balances both say $950 – and the $50 you gave the scammer is gone.
That's why you should never trust a deposited check until after the bank confirms that the funds did indeed go through, and your current and available balances match. However, that will not protect college students from falling for this particular variant of the work-at-home scam.
Here's how it seems to work, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) : the would-be victim gets an email offering a job with a fictitious company, usually a job in the “payroll” or “human resources” department. Should you accept the job, here's what happens next:
The “position” simply requires the student to provide his/her bank account number to receive a deposit and then transfer a portion of the funds to another bank account. Unbeknownst to the student, the other account is involved in the scam that the student has now helped perpetrate. The funds the student receives and is directed elsewhere have been stolen by cyber criminals. Participating in the scam is a crime and could lead to the student’s bank account being closed due to fraudulent activity or federal charges.
In other words, your scam-boss is not asking you to deposit a fake check so he can extract money from your account; he's sending you real money which he stole from someone else! And your “job description” basically boils down to money laundering.
The easiest way to protect yourself from this scam (and other forms of check scams) is to remember that in legitimate, non-scammy jobs, money only ever flows in one direction: from the boss to the worker, from employer to employee.
No honest employer will ask you to reverse that flow of money, not even in the event of overpayment: if someone in your payroll department made a typo and gave you an extra hundred bucks this week, chances are you'll either receive $100 less in your next paycheck, or (depending on the timing), that initial, too-large paycheck will be cancelled and a new one for the proper amount issued immediately.