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I just recently got a freelance job as a virtual assistant. The employer I have looks like a reputable person with his own agency and everything. I'm new to it, so he asked for my bank account number, the swift number, my name phone number and the address of a bank. I however was a little irked when he said "if you don't mind I'd like online access to keep track of the account." It's only a $600 a week job, and I mean he wasn't forcing it and didn't ask for my Social Security number or anything like that. What should I do?

  • 43
    By "online access", you mean they were actually asking for your online banking password? – Nat May 24 at 6:01
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    Why should they want track your account? – glglgl May 24 at 6:51
  • 25
    Are both you and the employer in the United Sates? You mention swift code, but most Americans never deal with swift codes. – mhoran_psprep May 24 at 9:59
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    I bet part of the "job responsibilities" would be receiving money to the account then sending them out by Western Union, bitcoin and such. – mustaccio May 24 at 15:04
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    "The employer I have looks like a reputable person with his own agency and everything" - well, yes, criminals usually try to look like reputable people. Copying a professional website belonging to an agency that is reputable, and changing a few names and contact details, only takes half a day to set up. If you have never seen this "virtual employer" in person, you don't even know if the reputable looking person in the picture on the website is him/her, or somebody else! – alephzero May 24 at 19:57
74

In the United States, an employer is required to verify identity and citizenship as part of the hiring process. The way that they do that is that they ask for documents. There are three lists. One list has documents that verify identity and employment status at the same time, e.g. a passport. A second list verifies just identity, e.g. a driver's license. A third list verifies employment status, e.g. a Social Security card. You either provide one document from the first list or two documents, one each from the other two lists.

Beyond that, an employer also has to withhold taxes. To do so, the employer has to tell the IRS your Social Security number. Even if you are being hired as a contractor and not a W-2 employee, your employer still needs your Taxpayer Identification Number, which for an individual is ... your SSN (businesses may have an Employer Identification Number instead, but as an individual you can use an SSN).

Not asking for your SSN is a red flag, as a real employer would.

As you already expect, asking for access to your bank account is also a red flag. A real employer doesn't need access to your bank account. For the kind of job that you have, it would make more sense for you to have access to the employer's business account. Obviously the employer would also have access to that.

If you have already given this person bank account information like your account number, then you should call the police and tell them that you suspect an attempt at identity theft. You should probably also close your bank account and create a new one. The bank could help with that. But I would call the police first. Perhaps they would like to operate a sting or something. You can start with local police, but they may refer you to someone else.

It is barely possible that the person is just an idiot and not a scammer. But if so, then a visit from the police will help the next assistant hired. I'm assuming that your employment offer would be rescinded.

I take it that all your communication has been online or by phone. So you don't actually know where this person is located. I would not have high hopes for an arrest in that situation. But the police might at least burn some of the scammer's accounts.

  • 5
    I would ask that you edit this for SSN or EIN. Since this person was hired as a independent contractor, either would be suitable for a 1099. Otherwise it is a great answer. – Pete B. May 24 at 10:59
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    Minor nitpick, but social security card does not prove citizenship - it only proves eligibility to be employed, unless it is a restricted card ("Valid for employment with DHS authorization only"). – void_ptr May 24 at 15:48
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    @void_ptr To give a specific example, I am not a US citizen but I have a Social Security card. – David Richerby May 24 at 18:13
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    A US employer asking for a SWIFT code in this situation is potentially another red flag. Even ignoring the part where they wanted online access, the employer would need a Routing number instead of a SWIFT code for domestic direct deposit payments (the rest of the data minus the online access seems relatively normal for direct deposit). – SamYonnou May 25 at 21:30
  • "As you already expect, asking for access to your bank account is also a red flag." - That's the crux of the answer, but this post takes too long to get there IMO. For anyone who stopped reading after the first couple of paragraphs, yes it's quite normal for a U.S. employer to verify your identity/citizenship/tax details, but no, they absolutely don't need access to your bank account(s) to do that, and no, it's NOT normal for them to ask. – aroth May 27 at 12:40
40

An employer has absolutely no business in looking at the private bank accounts of their employees. Even suggesting this is a pretty outrageous demand.

Maybe it's a misunderstanding and the account he would like access to is not actually your personal bank account on which you receive your personal salary, but a bank account with his money which you access on his behalf as part of your personal assistant duties? In that case, joint access would be pretty reasonable.

But in that case, the account should be in the employer's name, not in yours. If the account is in your name, you will be personally liable if that account balance goes negative. The debt collectors will then pester you personally, not your employer. Your personal credit score will be damaged, not his. And if your employer asks you to do illegal stuff (which you might not recognize as illegal), then you will have a much harder time to get out of personal criminal liability if the account is in your name.

Also, if the account is in your name, then you would actually have a pretty easy time to just steal the money. Your employer should be aware of that. So it would be in their interest for the account to be in their name. That means if they insist on the account being in your name, that's a red flag. They obviously want to avoid being connected to that account. The only reason why they would want to avoid that, is if they are doing something shady. And they want you to take the fall if it blows up!

31

This is 100% a scam

This is how it works:

You recently got a job online, as an "assistant". You don't know your employer personally (you say he "looks reputable" which means nothing), you've never seen them in person, in a way that let's you 100% confirm their identity or genuineness. What you have is someone who has set things up to appear genuine online - some social media, an agency, a website, whatever. Then they advertise for an employee - maybe to process payments, maybe an "assistant". From there, it goes one of 2 ways (yours is the second of these)

  • The person's "job" is to receive money and make payments, keeping some as of it as salary. The money is often by cheque, the payments by untraceable methods such as bitcoin or Western Union. Time passes. The "employer" vanishes, and a while later the "employees" bank tells them that the cheques they had used to fund the payments were fake or bounced (unpaid). This takes weeks or months to happen, long past the time a bank allows you to draw against them, because the cheques are routed cunningly by the scammer. Result: the "employer" gains £7,000 of untraceable bitcoin, and the "employee" ends up £10,000 out of pocket because their bank eventually discovers the cheques were bad, and deducts back from their bank balance, all the "cheques" which had been deposited while the scam was running. (Optional bonus feature - a police visit for suspicion of money laundering.)

  • The "employer" asks for personal information, or bank information, requires use of TeamViewer/AnyDesk remote software "for supervision", or provides a special "app" needed to do the work. Time passes. The "employer" vanishes and the "employee" discovers the information was used to hack them, withdrawn money from their account, the app was used to disable antivirus or to plant ransomware on their computer, or similar.

The giveaway here is the combination of a request for information+access that few if any legitimate employers ask for - but scammers routinely want to get, no evidence of a genuine employer, a common kind of scam setup, all corroborated by an online obtained "job" where you actually don't have any idea at all who the "employer" really is.

If you believe your "employer" may be genuine, please update your question to provide the details you've been told about them or which make them look "reputable", and add a comment to say you've done so (so I notice) - people may be able to look into it and give you a good idea what the info says. If you have received emails, look up for your email client how to display the full email headers for one or two of their emails, and add those as well, if you can (they are often informative in scam contexts, although often it's clear without them).

  • 5
    Even if meeting someone in person, that does not "100% confirm their genuineness". Con artists exist, and in fact, wearing a nice suit and renting a nice office can actually contribute to successful fraud. – gerrit May 25 at 17:00
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    Worth noting, indeed. – Stilez May 25 at 17:16
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This is a money laundering or advance fee scam

It's not a real job. You will discover that your "job" is "money handler" - He wants to transfer money into your personal account, and transfer that money out again. Right off the bat, this would be money laundering, but it's worse than that.

The transfer out of your account will be good money. However the transfers into your account will have a problem.

  • It is stolen money, he stole by accessing the account of someone else, e.g. phished credentials or another "virtual assistant" like yourself. Someone will want that money back, and they will take it, leaving you holding the bag.

  • It is fake money that never existed in the first place, e.g. from fake cashier's checks.

Any way it goes, it is rigged so he gets the money and you are left holding the bag (since you are reachable and he is not). Further, because you willingly did things you should know better than to do (launder money, hello), you're an accomplice not a victim. This will be held over your head to assure you pay the money back.

How do fake cashier's checks work? Banks don't know how long checks take to definitely clear, and so they "put a hold" on deposited money for a certain number of days. These checks are rigged to take longer than that to wind their way thorough the international banking system and be refused as a fake. By then, the bank has released its hold and he has whisked the money away.

14

If you're getting your paycheck direct deposited into your account, they would need your bank's routing number and your account number.

However, there's no reason why an employer needs to access the details of your bank account, so they shouldn't need any more information. You should definitely not give them your ATM PIN or online username/password.

And if you're not using direct deposit, they don't need any bank information.

8

Please note that in answering your question there is some part that is applicable to all/any workplaces.

The employer would obviously know your pay because they're paying you, but no one legit can ask for access to your online account. This may or may not be a scam but this is certainly inappropriate in a workplace (online or on location) in any context.

So don't share your online account access info or any account information other than the bank account number and routing code for legally paying you for your work.

For the scam aspect, I'd recommend you that look up the prospective employer for reviews and any information you may get. My suspicion is (if you haven't already started working) that this is a scam and you should look for a different opportunity.

4

It's a scam! You'll never get paid. The Swift number is used for international bank deposits. Nothing else. If the scammer gets your online login, he'll have money wired to your account from some other country and use online access to send that money from you to himself or another criminal. If you give him online access, he can change everything in your bank's records including your password! He can take complete control of your account. He can change your address and have credit cards in your name sent to him. He'll have new plastic, new CC account number and the security code on the back. Do not communicate further with this guy. He's not going to pay you, anyway.

  • Surely all online banking uses two factor authentication? – gerrit May 25 at 17:01
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    @gerrit All online banking should use 2FA. Many banks, however, do not. – duskwuff May 25 at 22:00
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    Please don't SHOUT. – pipe May 25 at 23:55
  • @duskwuff There should be a plaintextoffenders counterpart for banks, 1FAoffenders... – gerrit May 26 at 14:36
2

Any legitimate employer will need to know the account number and routing numbers for your bank in order to set up a direct deposit. If we are talking about a chequing account, it is information printed on the face of the cheque, so many employers simply ask for a void cheque. That tells them everything they need to know to deposit money into the account but otherwise offers no access. You should never give anyone access to your bank account, online or otherwise - never share PINs or passwords with anyone, for any reason.

As outlined in one of the other answers, this smells like a scam.

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protected by Ganesh Sittampalam May 26 at 9:10

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