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Yesterday I got an email from a friend offering an amazingly lucrative part-time job opportunity (and who couldn't use extra money in this economy?) -- $350 per week, and all I have to do is let an energy-drink company put advertising decals on my car! Unless I don't have a car, in which case I can use a bicycle instead.

The “car wrap” scam is a new-ish twist on the old bad-check or advance-fee scam; an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Consumer and Business Education posted a warning about it in July 2013.

Here at ConsumerAffairs, especially in the past few months, we've heard from lots of job-hunting people who warned us about various advance-fee fraudsters they've encountered. Earlier in July we told you about Ryan in California, who initially thought he'd landed a job as a personal assistant to an interior designer. Then Kevin commented on Ryan's story to report landing a similarly scammy job as a Walmart “test shopper.”

In April, we shared the story of Suzanne in Hawaii, who thought she'd found a part-time job cleaning houses, and then Kelly in Virginia posted a comment on that story about a similar nanny position she'd been offered.

What do these varied people scattered all over the country have in common — and what do part-time housekeeping, childcare, personal assistant and “test shopping” gigs share with the car-advertising opportunity I supposedly got yesterday?

Advance-fee scams

Advance-fee job scams work like this: the scammer, your “new boss,” sends you a check that looks real – in Ryan's case, an apparent payroll check drawn on a [non-existent] account at Chase Bank, which the scammer sent from Boston via FedEx. But the check is for considerably more money than your own supposed salary. Your “boss” tells you to deposit it into your own bank account, keep some of the money for yourself, then use a wire transfer or some other untraceable method to send the remainder of the balance on to a third party.

If you do this, then a couple of days later your bank will tell you that the deposited check is no good and has no funds backing it up — and any money you withdrew from your own account to send to that “third party” is gone.

Though familiar with advance-fee scams in general, I hadn't known about the specific car-wrap variant until yesterday, when I received an email supposedly from a friend (whom I'll call “David” because that actually is his name).

Confession: In hindsight it was very careless of me to immediately open an email, just because I thought I recognized the sender. And I'm extremely lucky the email only contained a scammy job offer, rather than dangerous malware or worse.

Because, of course, David never sent that email at all. Instead, he'd fallen for a phishing scam, and the phisher then managed to spoof his account, sending emails allegedly from him to every email in his address book, including mine.

Car-wrap variant

Photo (c) 804wraps

“I got an email saying my sister had sent a document in Google Drive,” David explained later. “I signed in to view it and it was a pointless press release. I got a message from Google saying they noticed suspicious activity and suggesting I change my password, which I did. Then I started receiving emails from people wondering why I was sending emails about a business opportunity.”

That email had this subject heading (all errors lifted verbatim, and those alone should've let me know David had nothing to do with this nonsense): “FWD: Street King Energy Drink(R) Car Wrap Offer, $350 weekly! You might be Interested!”

But I opened it anyway and found a badly written paragraph extolling the virtues of car-wrap advertising for drivers and sellers alike, followed by this:

We are currently seeking to employ individuals in the United States of America, How would you like to make money by simply driving your car or banner wrapped for Street King Energy Drink®

How it works?

       Here’s the basic premise of the “paid to drive” concept: Street King Energy Drink® seek residents in the United States who drives to go about their normal routine as they usually do, only with a big advert for “Street King Energy Drink®” plastered on your car. The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as “auto wraps,”that almost seem to be painted on the vehicle, and which will cover any portion of your car’s exterior surface. … If you don’t have a car, you can also participate if you have a bike. … You will be compensated with $350.00 per week which is essentially a “rental”payment for letting Street King Energy Drink® use the space and no fee is required from you. Street King Energy Drink® shall provide experts that would handle the advert placing on your car. You will receive an upfront payment of $350.00 in form of a Cash, Western union, Certified bank checks, or Direct deposit for accepting to carry this advert on your car.

Warning signs

Even that small excerpt from the email is filled with scam warning signs, some more subtle than others. Advertising cars plastered with decals for various companies genuinely do exist – I've seen a few myself (though I've never seen such ads on a bicycle or motorcycle).

Offhand, I don't actually know how to get such a job, or how much it pays, but I guarantee this -- if there are companies offering decent sums of money for essentially no work at all, especially in this none-too-good economy, those companies are not mass-emailing strangers in a desperate attempt to find job candidates — such a company would already have plenty of applicants, and can damned well afford to be picky about who it hires.

Also, the language has too many errors to actually be from a real business. Look again at that first cut-n-pasted sentence: “We are currently seeking to employ individuals in the United States of America, How would you like to make money by simply driving your car or banner wrapped for Street King Energy Drink®”

Think about it: when was the last time you saw a legitimate job ad whose primary listed qualification was, “must be in the U.S.A.?” And there's two majorly boneheaded grammatical errors as well: what should be two separate sentences are jammed together with a comma splice, while the second sentence is missing a question mark (or any sort of sentence-ending punctuation at all).

The repeated use of the word “advert” is a subtler tip-off – that particular shorthand for “advertisement” is mainly used by speakers of British English, whereas American English speakers or writers will say “ad.” Some companies, no doubt, will use British English to appeal to certain U.S. audiences — even in America, it wouldn't be too surprising to encounter English accents in an ad (or advert) pushing imported English lager or sitcoms. Street King, however, is owned by American hip-hop mogul 50 Cent.

Not that Street King has any connection with this scam – the email address the scammer listed as a contact is not an actual Street King corporate account. Most such scammers today hide behind the names of legitimate businesses: it's ridiculously easy for a scammer to copy names and logos from company websites for use in their own scambait.

And, arguably, the single most obvious scam indicator in that unsolicited car-wrap email is when the scammer says that payment will be made “in form of a Cash, Western union, Certified bank checks, or Direct deposit” — even without all those grammatical and capitalization errors, when have you ever heard of a legitimate employer offering payment in “a Cash [sic]” or Western Union transfer?

Be skeptical

Had I responded to the car-wrap scammer, I would eventually have received a check for several thousand dollars. The scammer would instruct me to deposit it in my account, keep some of it for my own payment, then use a wire transfer to forward the rest to the supposed “graphic artist” or “decal specialist” who would put the decals on my car.

Except, of course, no such graphic artist actually exists; a few days later the check would bounce, and any money I'd wired to the scammer would be gone.

If you are looking for any sort of job, whether it's part-time for extra money or a full-time career, remember that no honest, non-scammy employer will ever use wire transfers as payment. Also remember that in the workplace, money only ever flows in one direction: from boss to worker, from employer to employee. Never believe any would-be employer who would overpay you by check and then demand immediate cash repayment of the balance, especially if it is your first paycheck.

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