United Kingdom

The great fake job scam: Our probe exposes the most callous fraud

Tricked: Job-seeker Chelsea Cowling says she now feels very insecure

Against all odds, Evgeniya Kiseleva managed to land a job at the start of the first lockdown after being unemployed for a year. The 29-year-old couldn't believe her luck - and the fact that her new job involved helping other people find employment was an added bonus.

'I'd been looking for work for so long that I'd almost given up,' she says.

But fast forward three months and Evgeniya's joy turned to tears after she discovered she was, in fact, the victim of a cruel scam. Not only did she never receive a wage for the work she did, she'd also unknowingly been interviewing others for non-existent jobs. Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that UK unemployment could soar from 1.6 million to 2.6 million by this time next year. Cynical fraudsters are seeking to cash in on the growing panic among those looking for work by flooding the recruitment market with fake job advertisements.

Their aim is to lure job-seekers into parting with hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds for bogus courses, dud criminal record checks and a host of other fraudulent services.

Or they try to trick them into handing over personal details that they can use to drain their bank accounts.

Since the pandemic began, SAFERjobs, a not-for-profit campaign group set up by the Metropolitan Police to combat recruitment fraud, has received 800 reports of job scams - a 65 per cent rise on last year. 

And the true number of victims is believed to be far higher, as just 5-10 per cent of people report the cons.

For Evgeniya, who lives in East London with her husband Guy Murgatroyd, a concert pianist, the scam began with a phone call from a recruitment company called Nova Marketing Systems Ltd, supposedly based in the City of London.

She had been applying for jobs on legitimate social network and recruitment websites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, CV-Library and Totaljobs and had no reason to think the call wasn't genuine.

She was asked to do a short telephone interview and a longer video one a few days later.

 Cynical fraudsters are seeking to cash in on the growing panic among those looking for work by flooding the recruitment market with fake job advertisements.

Evgeniya says: 'The woman who interviewed me was very professional. It lasted about 30 to 40 minutes and was just like any other. She asked about my experience, my strengths, weaknesses and so on.'

Evgeniya then received an email to say that she had the job, which paid a starting salary of £27,000, with a promised raise after a probation period.

She says: 'I was so happy. I had been searching for so long. I thought finally, yes, I can live! I can pay for my life!'

At first, everything seemed above board. Her boss, who called himself Robert McIntyre - now thought to be a false name - provided her with a company email account and she got straight to work.

'It was all recruitment,' says Evgeniya. 'Working from home, I had to call people, post vacancies online, contact job sites and applicants and conduct interviews. I'd say I spoke to between 200 and 300 applicants over three months.'

Most of these were then offered fake jobs on the proviso they took an online course to top up their qualifications. 

These were supposedly approved by the respected Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

'The online courses seemed genuine,' says Evgeniya. 'Most people paid £280 for human resources assistant level courses, but for management level courses, some paid up to £800, depending on the seniority of the job.

'You got a certificate after completing the course. A real CIPD qualification is valuable, but these websites and study materials had nothing to do with the CIPD.'

The CIPD confirmed it has never heard of Nova Marketing Systems. The fraudsters had arranged it in such a way that the course provider, Training Management 101, was based in the U.S., making it difficult to verify.

Since the pandemic began, SAFERjobs, a not-for-profit campaign group set up by the Metropolitan Police to combat recruitment fraud, has received 800 reports of job scams

After repeatedly promising Evgeniya that her wages would be paid, 'Robert McIntyre' disappeared, owing her in the region of £5,000 for her work and expenses.

'I think it's terrible that there are people in this world who exploit other's vulnerability during hard and really sad times,' she says.

Nova Marketing Systems Ltd was incorporated on December 19, 2019, and has just one director, David Laforce, a 64-year-old American who describes himself as a business executive.

In Companies House documentation, he says he lives in America but has a registered office in Kington, Herefordshire. Mr Laforce did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Keith Rosser, chair of SAFERjobs, industry recruitment scams come in two groups. The first, the 'advanced fee fraud', includes selling fake courses supposedly needed to get a job.

Other examples include applicants being told they need to improve their CV and offered a fake service costing as much as £500. 

You may also be offered a bogus criminal record check, for £50, or told to pay up front for visas and flights for non-existent jobs abroad.

And then there are jobs where you believe you are selling goods online for a company.

Mr Rosser says: 'We've had cases where a customer buys £5,000 worth of products and the victim of the scam has to send a £2,000 share of that to the sales company.

'The victim then expects the company to send the product to the customer. But there is no product and the victim loses £2,000, realises they have no job and then has to repay the angry customer £5,000.'

The second type of scam involves stealing personal details that job seekers freely give to prospective employers, such as bank details, proof of address and copies of passports.

According to SAFERjobs, industry recruitment scams come in two groups. The first, the 'advanced fee fraud', includes selling fake courses supposedly needed to get a job

Fraudsters can then use these details to access your bank account, apply for loans and mobile phone contracts or set up companies.

Chelsea Cowling, 21, from Leeds, feared her identity might have been stolen when, at the end of July, she was offered a fake customer services position by a company called Materials on Top.

She was told to enter her name, date of birth, email address and a copy of her passport onto a copycat Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) website for a criminal record check and pay £29. The site also requested her PayPal details, including her password.

Chelsea says: 'It's left me feeling really insecure. I'm worried about what they could do with all my information.'

The Mail emailed two supposed employees at Materials on Top who were involved in offering Chelsea her job, 'Vicky Anderson' and 'Mark Parsons'. Neither of them replied.

SAFERjobs says that the DBS website Chelsea was told to use (ukdbs.org) has been involved in a number of reported scams. It does not feature in the Home Office's list of approved DBS checking companies.

The Mail received no response to requests for comment.

In another worrying case, Mohammed Hussain, 22, from Bow, East London, was overjoyed when he landed a job at a human resources company in July. 

He says: 'I'd just graduated with a degree in accounting and finance, and while I'd had temporary jobs and work experience, this was my first proper job. I was so excited,

'For that entry-level, the salary was fantastic at £26,000. Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have realised it was too good to be true.'

Indeed, the company was bogus. After being tricked into paying £260 for a fake CIPD course, Mohammed was strung along for several weeks without ever being provided with proper work.

Eventually they tried to charge him £50 for a bundle of CVs from people he was supposed to interview for other roles.

Mohammed refused to pay up, realising the whole exercise was an elaborate scam.

It is likely he was in line to be set up as a 'recruiter' like Evgeniya. The company's website and the email addresses no longer work.

One email he received had the suffix 'Novastaffing' but there is no record of such a company online, nor any evidence it is connected to Nova Marketing Systems.

'I wouldn't wish this on anyone,' Mohammed says. 'Being offered a job like this in these difficult times brought my confidence levels up and made me feel good about myself. To find out that it was all just a scam has left me feeling badly cheated.'

Mr Rosser says: 'Before Covid-19, we used to say that recruitment fraud was a nasty one because it would prey on people's hopes.

'But now, when there are so many people desperately looking for work and trying to put food on the table, it feels far worse and people are far more vulnerable.'

Before the pandemic, jobseekers would expect to have a face-to-face meeting in an office. But now interviews are being conducted over phone and video, which is working in the fraudster's favour.

'And with so many people being desperately in need of work, they will suspend disbelief and suspicion because they so want good news to be true.'

When SAFERjobs receives a report of a fake job posted on a respectable recruitment website, it flags them to the site for removal.

Yet while websites claim they work as quickly as they can, Mr Rosser says that action is often not taken fast enough.

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