Every virtual assistant’s nightmare - a con artist for a client, stiffing you on payment or (worse) ripping you off by emptying your bank account! Some of these virtual assistant scams have been around for years, some are more modern - as Emma’s story below shows.
Emma’s Case Study:
Don’t get hit by frauds & scams:
Hi, my name is Emma, I have worked in the Fraud and Credit Industry for over ten years. Fraudsters are adapting and the schemes to con you are becoming more complex.
It really surprised me to be a target of a scam this week.
I am fairly new to being a Virtual assistant, imagine my excitement when a company contacted me and asked me to tender for a retainer contract. The rate wasn’t great but that didn’t put me off.
I was asked to discuss the project on google hangouts and asked for my ID. This information is publicly available, so I passed it over. I accepted the chat and started to find out about the post. I broke my first rule, I did not carry out due diligence on the company or the person asking me to tender. If I had I may have spotted that it was a Gmail address and not a company email.
The ladies first sentence is what triggered my scam bell. She introduced herself with her full name including title and age. People rarely use their title nowadays and why would she give me her age?
I decided to continue the conversation, just in case, it was a cultural difference. The lady went on to explain the type of work they need to be covered, how they pay etc. The lady was in a rush to sign me up, they had a massive backlog and lots of flattery about how I was just the kind of experienced candidate they needed to save them.
I was advised I would have to pay upfront for the specialist software to be installed on my machine remotely by their software engineer. I was reassured that I would get this money back in my first pay and they would write a line in the contract to confirm this.
However, if I had submitted an invoice to this company, they would not have paid me because after some digging and completing my due diligence, it was very clear this lady was not from the company she was supposedly representing.
I still accepted the post and asked for the contract. It was a shocking one-page document that wasn’t even signed. I questioned this, and she reassured me as it was on headed paper and had the director’s details that would be enough.
I had heard enough, I called I called Fraud Actionline and reported it.
If you do come across a scam it is so important to report it, not only to make things more difficult for the scammer but to protect others who might not be aware they are being conned. ActionFraud is available 24/7 on either 0300 123 2040 or you can report on their website: actionfraud.police.uk
It is also a great chance to build relationships. I contacted the company the lady was using as her front and was put through to one of the directors. He was grateful for my time and effort. I was cheeky and asked if they do have home workers, he advised me they don’t come up very often, however, he will keep my details on file.
I wanted to write this article to help other VA`s protect themselves from losing time and money, both precious resources.
The site is a great mine of information on different types of fraud and tricks used and how to protect yourself.
My top tips for protecting yourself as a VA are:
Know who you are dealing with -
• Be cautious about unsolicited emails.
• Complete due diligence on any company or individual asking you to complete work for them, this includes checking email addresses, web addresses and phone number are for the company you are in touch with and confirming the company is a legitimate company. Phone numbers and email addresses used by scammers will often only be slightly different.
• Really pay attention to the language and words used from the person contacting you.
• Don’t pay up front for anything, if they need you to have special software they should be able to give you a licence key.
• Be careful about allowing someone remote access to your machine, you have no idea what they could be installing behind the scenes.
Resist pressure – a legitimate company will understand you need time to complete your checks and prepare for onboarding.
Talk to someone – ask other VA`s you know and trust if they have heard of the company or if they think it sounds plausible.
Be wary of anyone asking you to sell good and or send and receive money on their behalf without being given the physical goods (this is a common scam on low-cost freelance websites).
Finally, and most importantly, if it seems too good to be true it probably is. Listen to your gut instincts.
If you are unsure about completing checks I can complete due diligence on a company for you for £7.50 or ask me for more info on checking a sole trader or individual.
I am happy to discuss fraud and scams with you further, get in touch.
Virtual Assistant, Your-PA.online
07922 884787 | email@example.com
Virtual Assistant Scam 1: The PayPal refund
PayPal are great at protecting buyers - they refund pretty much every claim made, which is handy if you haven’t received an eBay item or some software you bought doesn’t do what it was supposed to.
But as a virtual assistant this feature can have dire consequences - the client will ask if they can pay via PayPal, they may even pay you in advance. And then once you’ve sent the work through they request a refund, which PayPal almost always grants and removes the money from your bank account. We’ve known people who have Small Claims Court judgements still not be able to get a refund from PayPal, they always side with the customer.
Resolve the situation: Make sure your PayPal account is connected to a separate bank account and move funds out of it into your normal business bank account as soon as it gets paid. Try to get clients to pay via DD or BACS transfer instead.
Virtual Assistant Scam 2: Long Fraud
One I got caught out by a long time ago... I never expected the Fraud Squad to be knocking at my virtual assistant door! We used to offer virtual offices facilities - people would have mail delivered to us as a mailing address and would come pick up their mail or we could forward it onto them.
The scam worked like this: the client sets up several virtual offices for different company names and creates fake trading history between the different companies to get trade references and get credit from legitimate companies. They may even pay for several deliveries with the suppliers to get a good amount of credit built up.
As the virtual office provider, you would sign for these deliveries, and may even be liable for the payment (depending on the paperwork) since you took delivery. The client picks up the goods, doesn’t pay the bills and disappears. The next you hear is when bailiffs turn up looking for the unpaid for goods - or in my case, the Fraud Squad had been watching these clients for a while and contacted me before I got caught out.
Resolve the situation: You need special insurance to offer a mailing address and should do a proper identity check on the people taking out the virtual office (photo ID and address ID). Do not sign your name on delivery notes - sign “on behalf of their company name” or “pp client name” - that way you aren’t personally liable for the goods. Check your clients’ addresses - they should not be another mailing address provider.
Virtual Assistant Scam 3: I’ll pay later
Lots of genuine clients will struggle to afford hiring you - it’s a big investment for a new start business. My stance has always been that if they can’t afford to pay me, I can’t afford to work for them... I have bills to pay!
But there are a number of serial scammers who do this with a series of VAs... they claim poverty, promising big chunks of hours when the business gets established, and just when you start to see results... they drop off the face of the planet, and you never hear from them again. They will have moved onto the next VA who they promise loads of hours “when the business takes off”.
Resolve the situation: Always charge what you need to charge... you might offer longer credit terms or offer free advice until they are able to afford you. But working for free without an agreement in place is a risky practice. Spider senses tingling? Ask on the forums to see if anyone else has had an enquiry from the same client. Try not to name and shame but do mention their industry and what they were after e.g. “Has anyone had an enquiry from a guy in sportswear looking for bookkeeping help and then not paying?” That will be enough to flag if there’s an ongoing issue!
Whilst clients being virtual assistant scammers is a risk, it’s a very small risk and in the vast majority of cases, something will have set your alarm bells ringing long before it rips you off. Do not ignore those warning signs!