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Someone reached out to my friend (whom I will refer to as Riley) over LinkedIn and invited them to a job interview. The job was for an executive assistant. The job description was vague and did not have much in the way of requirements.

Riley has a good work history, but never went to college and has never had a real career. They have mostly worked in retail jobs and have worked as an assistant in a small office for the last few years. Riley’s salary is not great, there are no benefits and there is no way for them to advance their career without switching jobs. Riley created a LinkedIn account and has been applying to jobs for a few months.

After a phone interview with the recruiter, they had an in person interview (at an apartment building). Riley said the interview went well and the company offered to hire them a few days after. It sounds like the company wanted them to immediately quit their job and start working for them. When they expressed reluctance, they told them it would be okay to give noticed at their current job first.

I have noticed a lot of red flags,

  • The recruiter who contacted my friend lists herself as currently working (as a recruiter) for a company unrelated to the one offering the job to my friend.
  • There has been no written offer.
  • Everything moved very fast, the initial contact to job offer happened in a week.
  • There is no company website that I can find.
  • There is a different company with a very similar name. The logos are similar enough that they could be mistaken for each other.
  • The job seems too good to be true. Much better paying than the average job in our area despite not having any requirements.

On the other had, the company with the similar name and logo works in a different industry. The name and logo are generic enough that the similarity could be a coincidence.The recruiter’s LinkedIn page looks legitimate, lots of connects and history. Looks just like you would expect a real recruiter’s page to look like.

This also seems like a lot of effort for a scam. At the apartment, Riley claims to have met multiple people who worked for this company. I don’t understand what they would gain out of this. I have heard of scams where fake employers would ask for money for background checks, but given the level of effort here with multiple people I cannot image them trying just that.

I have tried talking to Riley about my concerns. I urged them to not quit their current job until they at least get a formal written offer. Most of Riley’s past jobs have come from personal connects and I don’t think Riley is aware of the typical job search and interview process.

Because of the concerns I expressed, Riley believes I am being negative. They think that I am jealous of their success and see this has a wonderful opportunity. To be fair, if people could just walk into high paying jobs without any qualifications I would question my career path. I am worried that this job is some kind of scam and if Riley quits their current job they won’t want to back out or admit that they were wrong.

How can I convince Riley to be more careful and delay quitting their job? At the very least I would like them to get a written offer before giving notice at their current job. If Riley does quit their current job and this job offer is a scam, how can I convince them to back out and not waste any of their time or money on this? If this is a scam, what would the scam be and how would they profit from this? What would they try to convince Riley to do? Is it possible that I am wrong and this is a real job offer?

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    This might sound silly, but a relative of mine was on a very closely related situation. The company was actually a facade for a porn studio - the generic website, the vague job description and the "executive assistant" role are just red herrings. Once the applicant gets to the place - usually a house or an apartment building, they are introduced to the real business. This is a tactic to use Linked in and other career spaces to find attractive people which might be interested in a better-paying job without raising suspicion or embarrassment. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 19:50
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    You need to tell your friend to get a job offer in writing as the very first step. That still doesn't mean this is a legit job (the apartment interview is a massive red flag) but without a written document your friend shouldn't start working even if the offer is otherwise legit. – xxbbcc Nov 4 at 20:02
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    @T.Sar-ReinstateMonica This is where my thoughts went as well. Not porn, per say, but sex trafficking. In many areas of the world it is an absolute epidemic and even in a number of 1st world countries you wouldn't expect, girls and women go missing in alarming numbers. If Riley fits certain markers she could be at high risk for getting involved with a criminal organization who will take advantage of her. If I was her friend, these red flags would terrify me. – DanK Nov 4 at 20:34
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    There are plenty of multi-person scams for the purpose of legitimizing the scam. In this case, identity theft seems the easiest. Apply for job, accept job, hand over your name/address/ssn for background checks, etc. Boom credit destroyed; massive debt; and warrants out for your friend’s arrest. – vol7ron Nov 4 at 20:57
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    If you don't have an offer letter in writing from a named individual at a company you can verify, you don't have a job offer... – Basic Nov 4 at 21:11

11 Answers 11

88

An interview for a job as an Executive Assistant should be performed in an office.

Having it in an apartment is a big fat red flag.

  • 13
    That would be "Assistant to the Property Manager", not Executive Assistant. – RonJohn Nov 5 at 0:34
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    The "executive" in the job description does not exclusively mean they are an assistant to an "executive", it means they will have decision making responsibilities with a degree of autonomy. – mckenzm Nov 5 at 2:56
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    @mckenzm I'm not too sure about that. – RonJohn Nov 5 at 3:07
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    Property Managers that needs an assistant are big enough to have an office. Otherwise what do you expect her to do? Go to your home to work on your company? That's just weird. Big enough to need an assistant, but not big enough to have an office? – Nelson Nov 5 at 6:59
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    Not an answer at all... – Cloud Nov 5 at 15:12
32

The iron rule is: 1. Any scammer will at some point ask for money. 2. No real company that offers you a real job will ever ask you for money.

So as soon as they are asking for money, you know one hundred million billion percent sure it is a scam. We know 100% sure that it is a scam from your description, but Riley has his/her greedy little eyes on the price and can't think clearly. You won't be able to convince them. Riley invented meetings with people at that company to convince themselves, after all.

You may be able to persuade Riley to show that excellent job offer to their current boss before giving notice, then at least there is a small but realist chance that Riley gets their old job back.

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    I disagree with this. They might just want her for money laundering. – RonJohn Nov 3 at 23:10
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    Having read more about job scam, my concern is that Riley might end up involved in money laundering. If not, if might some check scam where they send lots of money and have her transfer most of it. Then the original check turns out to be counterfeit. – WorriedFriend89 Nov 4 at 2:37
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    I think you need a rule 3: A real company only needs your routing and account number to pay you. They don't need your login or password or mother's maiden name. – Ethan Nov 4 at 17:00
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    "We know 100% sure that it is a scam from your description" I don't understand. I don't see any place in the description where the company is asking for money. – Buge Nov 5 at 4:03
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    @CaptainMan "they" might say that it's part of her job description to "disburse" money to different people using her own account. That would not sound like "asking for money". – RonJohn Nov 5 at 17:47
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I've heard about things like this before. The job itself was real enough, but the actual work turned out to be connecting calls for a black market network (i.e. drug runners, etc). It paid well enough, but then the person ended up going to jail for supporting the illegal activities (c.f. Alice Marie Johnson). My advice, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Tell your friend to steer clear of this one.

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    Alice Marie Johnson admitted that she knew she was working for drug dealers. – RonJohn Nov 4 at 22:37
13

None of these per se are red flags, but the combination of them seems odd.

No requirements is quite possible for an assistant whose job is basically to help out with everything that lands on his/her desk. Typically, job experience is requested, but very often chemistry between the assistant and the person he/she is assisting is the key, so they might have given up on finding a perfect match and are looking for someone who at least stands the boss, or manages the workload, or fits into the team, etc.

The appartment is quite odd, but I've had job interviews in hotel rooms and in an airport lobby, either because the office was still under construction or due to scheduling issues (it just happened we attended the same meeting and both went to the airport after, so we used the lobby).

IMHO, the recruiter is somewhat shaddy and the job is probably problematic, but so far no real red flags were raised - such as them asking for money, or for your friend doing a free, sorry, "trial" work day or something.

If the job seems interesting, one option would be to go ahead but not burn the bridge to the current job without a written and signed offer or contract. Always remember that at the end of the day, verbal agreements are worth the paper they're written on.

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    I would say that an interview in an apartment building without a really good explanation why is definitely a major red flag. Or going from initial contact to job offer (with no contract!) in less than a week -- this is a gigantic red flag. – eps Nov 4 at 16:48
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    The fact that the company name and logo are very similar to another company, to the point of being able to be confused between the two, is also a major red flag. I've had interviews in coffee shops when the employer worked in a restricted area, but an apartment isn't professional. Even a 1 person company shouldn't interview at their apartment. – computercarguy Nov 4 at 17:36
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    All of those could have an explanation. All together, however, as I said: Don't move forward without something written. – Tom Nov 4 at 18:54
  • @eps An interview in an apartment is weird, but I've had them in hotel rooms more than once and "virtual offices" are becoming more common so that, by itself, wouldn't prove anything (though an explanation should be available if requested). Going from contact to offer in a week is not odd for an entry level position, and most EA positions are entry level. The biggest flag her for me is not anticipating that the new person will want to give 2-weeks notice to the last employer, but if they need someone fast even that is not shocking. This merits investigation, but nothing proves it is a scam. – TimothyAWiseman Nov 6 at 17:20
  • shaddy -> shady, appartment -> apartment – Faheem Mitha Nov 7 at 8:38
7

This happened to my wife. She was being interviewed for a position as a technician at a laboratory. That was what the ad was for. However, the person doing the hiring held the follow up or initial interview (don't recall) at a flat, and started presenting her with some pyramid/multi-level marketing scheme (something like Amway, but not Amway, something dodgy I don't recall now). Turned out this whole lab was a kind of shell. The day job was people doing routine lab work, with a very loose work hours policy, but the main focus was this multi-level sales scheme.

7

This sounds VERY similar to a known scam, where someone can "work from home" and is given an "expense account" to buy office supplies with. Here's how the scam typically works:

The fake company sends a check that they know will bounce to the victim, typically for more money than is reasonable (~$10,000 is common), and tells the victim to purchase office supplies with it, then return the difference.

The victim cashes the check, and after a few days, they see $10,000 show up in their account. They assume that all is well, and they go on their merry way to buy $500 worth of office supplies or so. Then, they wire the remaining $9500 back to the fake employer.

A little while later (up to a month after they cashed the bad check), the victim's bank says, "Hey, we just checked, and that check wasn't legitimate. We're taking back the $10,000 we put in there previously." The scammer has now made $9,500 without spending anything, while the victim has now spent $10,000 and given it all to this unscrupulous individual.

Please tell your friend to be wary of anything where they will be "paid back" for their work. The check thing is NOT standard business practice for anyone. Standard practice would be to ask someone to fill out an expense report after they conclude their purchases.

With all of the other red flags you've mentioned, I think you're more than justified in being wary of this job offer.

6

It sounds like a scam, but apparently Riley doesn't want to hear it from you. If all else fails and you know Riley is about to quit her current job and accept the new one, unless you're worried that she could end up being harmed, perhaps you could propose this:

  1. Riley accepts the new job offer and begins working.
  2. She doesn't tell her current job she is leaving, but instead takes a vacation, or personal time, or sick time while she tries out the new position.
  3. If at any time she can confirm the new job is a scam she can quit and go back to her current job. (Confirmation may be in the form of Riley being asked to pay money, or doing obviously illegal activities, or the job is commission based and the promised pay was conditional, etc.)
  4. If by some stroke of luck Riley is able to confirm the job is legit then she can quit her current job. And maybe she could also whip the new employer into shape about how to conduct more professional interviews in the future.

Normally I would never recommend testing out a new job while still employed at another, especially if it involves lying to your current employer and maybe even pretending to be sick. But in this case I think it's probably better than the alternative...

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    I don‘t know where Riley is located but it is unlawful in some places to start another job without your current employer knowing and/or allowing it and without notice to health insurance, pension fund, etc. – lejonet Nov 5 at 7:28
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    @lejonet I've never heard of such a rule before. What location are you referring to and do you have an example reference? – TTT Nov 5 at 7:38
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    @TTT Germany, for example. You have to inform your employer if you work in another job. And you may not use all your vacation days to do (professional) work, because those are granted by your employer so you can relax and recover from your job. (Be aware that employees in Germany are entitled to at least 24 working days of vacation per year, average is 29!) – Dubu Nov 5 at 8:23
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    @TTT The punishment is having to do a more diffcult tax return, which is worse than jail :D – Christian Nov 5 at 11:31
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    Another jurisdiction where this would not work (assuming, for the moment, that the new employer is legit) is India. You typically need a "releaving letter" from your old employer that certifies you have left him before you can start working for a different employer. Workplace.SE regularly has questions about withheld relieving letters. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 17:01
5

Everything moved very fast, the initial contact to job offer happened in a week.

This, to me, is beyond red flag territory and more like a blaring foghorn. Was the offer contingent on a background check? Because if it wasn't I cannot imagine any way for this to be a legitimate opportunity. No one hires an executive assistant without dotting i's and crossing t's anymore, even if there is a personal reference.

Sure, the labor market is great for workers now, but nothing adds up here. Riley has no obvious educational or experiential credentials for this type of work yet someone wants to hire them for significantly more money than average? This is either some multilevel marketing scam or worse.

Unfortunately for you there might not be anything you can do unless you can dig up some rock solid proof. Some people just really don't have that internal scam-radar that screams WARNING when to-good-to-be-true things are presented to them. Scammers are also very good at playing to insecurities and probably even preemptively warned them that people like you would try to stop them because of 'jealousy'.

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    I agree this is a suspect job, but I've also had a temp job that made contact one day, the interview was 2 days later, I got the offer during the interview, and started the same day. However, the interview was at an office, I researched the recruiting company ahead of time, the job description was complete, and they were under a major time crunch. I didn't have a job at the time, so I was willing to take the risk, and I would have left had they not actually paid me. Speed isn't a red flag on it's own (definitely yellow), but combined with the other problems described, yes, it is a red flag. – computercarguy Nov 4 at 17:43
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    @computercarguy yeah, the speed is probably the least sketchy part of this – Kevin Nov 4 at 21:08
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    I've gotten most of my offers within hours of the final (sometimes just one) interview, so time is not necessarily suspicious – Fred Stark Nov 5 at 5:07
5

I agree with all the other reasons why this doesn't sound legit, ranging from best case scam of some commission based sales job ('by selling X from home you get 2% commission so easy to earn up to a million a month!') to the much worse 'scam' possibilities. One 'scam' option that wasn't mentioned happend to a friend of a friend of mine: lots of detailed interviews and job offer that was accepted but only once the friend showed up for the first day of work did become clear that the company didn't have the 'job' but are a contracting company and the friend would be hired out eventually. Pay was real and not contingent on a project (they would get the promised salary) but the work was whatever comes up. In Riley's case it might mean 'well, we thought we could hire you out part time and pay you what we promised but turns out no one wants a 'research assistant' at the price we were hoping for so we have to let you go even though it has only been a few weeks'.

In terms of conveying the red flags productively to Riley, I would suggest the following:

Try to enlist the help of another friend or friends that could come at this fresh and completely positive but by asking the right questions, help Riley to ask some of the right questions herself.

"Riley, Joe told me about your job search and that you got an offer. That is great. Did you meet your new boss? Did you feel comfortable with him? Being an 'executive assistant' can be great or a nightmare depending on your executive? Do you think you'll like the work that he'll have you doing? What did he say the job entailed? Strange you didn't meet the boss or bosses you will be the assistant to since how can you decide to take the job if you haven't met them? Did you like the office? Is it a good commute for you? Can you picture yourself there and being happpy? What does the company do? Believe me, a great boss is one thing but you want to make sure your next job/company has growth potential that you are excited about.... The pay sounds fantastic; is it straight salary or is it bonus/commission based?... You should keep your options open though in this economy and get an offer letter in writing before committing; with an offer letter you could then even use it in a discussion with your current boss or in salary discussion with another job. Do they have other job openings... maybe I could get a job there. Can you give me the recruiter's number who I could talk to?"

Shorter version would be that it sounds like you probably can't now get Riley to say 'hey, you are right, it was a total scam' but with enough positive questions you could get her to 'I decided the job wasn't the right fit for me and will keep my options open by looking for another job'.

BTW, Kudos to you for being a good friend and looking out for her even when it isn't immediately welcomed. Think of all the bad cases and keep at it!

3

That sounds like a very weird situation, but I wouldn't necessarily discard the opportunity that it's a legitimate business that is being run poorly just yet.
A lot of smaller companies don't see HR / recruiting as a priority, and can have some very wonky-feeling recruiting processes.

That said, I would never give notice without having seen a contract.
If this is a legitimate, above board situation that should be no real hindrance for the company, and it helps formalise some details that might not have come up during the interview, like how the salary is paid (evenly distributed per month or a portion withheld based on performance to be handed out as a bonus, etc.).

3

It may not even be a scam, but an attempt at human trafficking.

Meeting at an apartment is an enormous red flag. Maybe the first job as an assistant is to fly on the company jet out of the country to never be seen again...

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