The story of a deaf mother in need of assistance for her son who uses a wheelchair compelled one SF State student into accepting a part-time nanny job. But her empathy almost cost her $3,000 in an online scam.
Sophomore Lauren Well signed up for Care.com, a third party website that employs users for family and home care, last November. Two weeks after she signed up, a person under the alias “Julia” contacted her about a caretaker job for her son “Joe.”
The woman told Well through email that she and her son were moving to San Francisco from New York for a fresh start because she had lost her husband and a nine-month-old baby in the car crash that left her son bound to a wheelchair.
“I felt my heart just kind of crunch up at this because I really wanted to help this woman out,” Well said. “I thought that she had gone through this huge ordeal and that she really needed somebody for her and her son while they were going through this really hard time.”
“Julia” hired Well without conducting a phone or in-person interview and gave Well the assignment of purchasing a wheelchair for her son as a first task. When “Julia” sent a $3,000 check in the mail, Well said she became skeptical.
“She sent me the check via FedEx and when I got the check, it looked extremely suspicious,” Well said. “It came from a bank in New Orleans and when I tried to Google the bank, I couldn’t really find anything.”
Well went to the bank to deposit the check and the bank teller said that the money would not be available for two weeks because it had to go through a security clearance.
After an extensive Google search, Well learned that she was one of several people lured into the same wheelchair scam. A user posted in an online scam forum the names, phone numbers and email addresses used as well as the content of emails from the scammer to the caretaker. Well said she immediately cancelled the check and blocked the woman’s number.
“I was just kind of in shock because I didn’t think this was going to happen,” Well said. “I almost sent $3,000 away to an unknown company. And then when the check would have bounced, it would have been on me to pay that money.”
SF State student Seazzia Castillo found herself involved in a different scam from the same website in January. Castillo said she accepted her first job at Care from a man who needed a personal assistant to run errands for him in the U.S. while he was in Australia.
“I was under the impression that they (the employers) go through background checks as well,” Castillo said. “I don’t know how he got my mobile banking information but he had sent me over a copy of a check and said, ‘I’m depositing this over to your account.'”
He sent Castillo a $2,500 check and told her to pocket $400 as her salary.
According to Castillo, the check didn’t clear but $200 of her salary did. She spent the money and later found out that her account dropped to -$171, the amount spent from her salary.
The next day, her account dropped to -$2,500. After Castillo filed a police report, her account dropped to -$4,000.
“Apparently the guy had deposited money into my account and then took it out before they could catch that it wasn’t a real check,” Castillo said. “I don’t know how he was able to do that but it was just so annoying.”
Castillo said the bank reversed the overdraft fees and sent her what was in her savings and her last direct deposit. According to Castillo, the police said they couldn’t do much because they had to attend to more pressing issues.
“These people come off innocent, needing help,” Castillo said. “Any college student is desperate for money so we want to help in any way we can but it’s just no. You can’t trust people on the internet at all.”
SF State freshman and Care.com user Meredith Coon said she heard about the wheelchair scam through three of her friends who were contacted by a wheelchair scammer, one of whom lost $150.
Coon requires all of her employers at Care.com to go through a mandatory background check before she accepts any babysitting or nanny offers since she received an email from the wheelchair scammer. Coon said that she has encountered many employers who refused to comply.
“Most of the time, it’s either because they aren’t who they say they are or it’s just because they don’t want to go through the trouble,” Coon said.
In the safety guide outlined on the website, Care.com urges members to use the monitored messaging system provided, be vigilant, conduct in-person interviews and contact Care.com when a message or job offer seems like spam or a scam.
Care.com’s safety guide also advises users to never accept advanced payments by check in amounts greater than agreed upon and never transfer funds paid by check back to someone since that is a recognized Internet scamming technique.
A representative of Care.com declined to be interviewed.
Well continues to search for babysitting jobs through another third-party website, Urban Sitter, while maintaining her cashier job at Whole Foods.
“I’ve had friends who have had great experiences with Care.com and I’ve had friends who have had less than wonderful experiences with Care.com so I don’t know,” Well said. “I think there’s always going to be people out there that are willing to go to lengths to scam people that are just trying to find a job.”