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I was emailed by an HR representative about an executive assistant job for an up and coming wine company that was expanding to the U.S. I have administrative experience and am applying online, so I was not surprised to see an offer. The job would have me work remotely while the CEO and his team can't travel to the U.S from Italy (because of COVID travel restrictions.) Its been about 2.5 weeks since the email correspondence has begun with my "employer" and he is now asking me for bank details to wire me money for bitcoin purchases. I ignored some of my bad gut feelings because there were "explanations" to some of the things I found strange but this is a huge red flag that and I want to get others' input. My list of concerns/explanations are as follows:

  1. Only phone interview- had legit +34 number that came from Spain/Italy
  2. No background check- It was for imminent hire (they told me that they couldn't give me the 2 weeks) and maybe it's not possible to do a background from Italy for someone in the U.S
  3. I couldn't find any information on the company- they had a @bussnesname.com email address that I'm assuming not everyone can just get for a few $1000 scams
  4. Not very good at English- If they really are native to Italy I would expect it, I used to work with people from Spain that were very professional but didn't always translate everything perfectly. (English is hard!)
  5. The website they gave me had no contact numbers or way to contact anyone within the company- It was a very nice website, professional looking.
  6. There was no in-person interview- Again they're in Italy so it would make sense for them not to have an office space yet.
  7. I can not find the HR person or my boss online- if they really are a small business they may not be as plugged in yet because they never had to be.
  8. The job description was very copy-pasted and included a "payment option" as if I would like to get payed monthly or bi-weekly- I have never seen the payment option but there was an offer letter so that's something right? The bottom also included a company name with copyright.
  9. The salary was more than I expected for "small business" to be able to afford- almost 100k. Most executive assists are in the 100k range and maybe the company got a large loan or is owned by a rich person.
  10. The task that I am given feels like more of a choir, find storage spaces, office equipment, cleaning companies, find hotel quotes for me and the 6 team member etc.- The guy is kind of on me, he asks for updates on the task and will call me out if I reply too late and wants a breakdown of how I spent my time.
  11. Last one. The bitcoin thing, he asked me to visit 2 ATMs that sell bitcoin but told me to not try to search it because most have expensive charges. He said the company needed bitcoin to pay a company for stands to hold wine in storage. I really can't justify this because it just too weird. Also, he keeps saying how important this is and that he is putting his reputation on the line, so it's up to me to follow through. Please help! I gave them my routing number and account number so they could set up a direct deposit but now he is saying that money will be wired in for my salary and bitcoin. He was also very clear and said: "Also please remember the main thing, *****: the type of your bank account is "personal", so during the first four weeks, when you work remotely, all our remittances will be sent with the marks: "for personal use" only. To avoid any questions from the Tax Department. Your salary remittance will be sent with a personal mark as well."
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    It seems like you already know this is a scam. Walk away. – glibdud Jul 7 at 14:02
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    Obviously point 12 makes this a scam, but I have to point out with regard to point 1 that “Spain/Italy” is not a single entity. They are different countries, don’t even border each other, and have different dialling codes. If they said they’re calling from Italy on a +34 number they are lying as the dialling code for Italy +39. – Darren Jul 8 at 2:16
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    The easiest way to think of this is to ask yourself why they would trust you with the money. They supposedly have money and say they want bitcoin, and they want to accomplish that by wiring you, a stranger thousands of miles away, their money? No legitimate business would do that because no legitimate business would trust you to not keep the money for yourself and disappear on them. The only reason they'd do it is if the money is fake or stolen to begin with, which it is. – Zach Lipton Jul 8 at 3:38
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    Even if it wasn't a scam (which I'm pretty sure it is), you would be in trouble for tax fraud. Using a personal account to do company business, "to avoid any questions from the Tax Department" is pretty much the same as "we are laundering money and need your account to perform it with, so that when they find out, you'll be the one taking the blame". – vsz Jul 8 at 4:58
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    "they had a @bussnesname.com email address that I'm assuming not everyone can just get for a few $1000 scams" - a .com domain of your choice (so long as it's not taken already), with email, can probably be gotten for around $10 or less. There's no checking it's a legitimate business and it's a trivial expense for scammers trying to look legitimate. – timday Jul 8 at 9:58
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It was a scam because they need you, and only you, to buy bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency). Cryptocurrencies can be purchased almost anywhere in the world. There is no need to wire you money across international borders, so that you can turn it into something that is supposed to be hard to trace by authorities.

Run away. Don't contact them again. If you gave them any banking or financial details change them.

I didn't read the list. All those explanations are designed to make you doubt your gut feeling.

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24

Standard-issue scam: they send you money in a revocable format (in this case, wire transfers). You send the money back in an irrevocable format (in this case, Bitcoin). The payment to you gets revoked, and you get left holding the bag. And possibly facing criminal charges for money laundering, bank fraud, or other financial crimes.

Assuming no actual money has gotten involved yet, cut off all further contact with these people immediately, and get in touch with your bank to see what steps you nee to take in securing your account. If it has, contact a lawyer and/or the police.

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    Don't just cut off further contact: call your bank immediately and take steps to secure your account, as you've given out your account details to scammers. – Zach Lipton Jul 8 at 3:32
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    @Alex it's almost certainly not their money to begin with. The transfer will likely be reversed eventually due to being fraudulent, so there's no point. – Kat Jul 8 at 15:47
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    @Alex: In the unlikely event that OP would be able to do that, they would not be scamming the scammers. They'd be scamming their own bank. Banks don't like to be scammed, so I would not recommend this course of action unless you have retained legal counsel and are 110% sure that it's legally your money. – Kevin Jul 8 at 16:36
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    @Alex, the money is probably either stolen or the proceeds from illegal activity. Withdrawing the money and closing the account will land the OP in serious legal trouble. – Mark Jul 8 at 19:47
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    @Alex: Quite aside from the legality, supposing you do try to scam some scammers that way, the practical problem is that "taking the money and closing the account" is not irrevocable, so it doesn't fulfil the same role as "taking the bitcoin and vanishing" does when scammers do that. The bank knows your name and address, so when the payment from the scammers is revoked, they'll come asking you for the money you owe them. – Steve Jessop Jul 9 at 19:24
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Risk analysis

You are in the US and the world is in the Covid era.

Only phone interview- had legit +34 number that came from Spain/Italy

Not relevant. +34 is Spain, for the record. I wouldn't be surprise if they called from a mobile phone rather from a landline

No background check- It was for imminent hire (they told me that they couldn't give me the 2 weeks) and maybe it's not possible to do a background from Italy for someone in the U.S

Background check can be done by US companies who are paid for that. Yellow flag

I couldn't find any information on the company- they had a @bussnesname.com email address that I'm assuming not everyone can just get for a few $1000 scams

You may also want to try to see how long ago (whois search) they created the domain. If it is too young, it's a red flag. If this company is in business since long time, you may find it online. Also they should be required to supply for a public registration number which can be verified. EU VAT numberss can be verified as well online, but maybe you need to hire an agency for a detailed inspection on the business history.

Not very good at English- If they really are native to Italy I would expect it, I usto work with people from Spain that were very professional but didn't always translate everything perfectly. (English is hard!)

Can be taken into consideration, but you are correct. You are talking with non-native speakers and this can be reasonable

The website they gave me had no contact numbers or way to contact anyone within the company

Red flag. Businesses want to be contacted

It was a very nice website, professional looking.

Irrelevant, you can reuse any online template to make a professional site. You may want to hire a highly paid designer for a €100k+ scam

There was no in-person interview- Again there in Italy so it would make sense for them not to have an office space yet.

They can't fly to the US because of Covid-19. Nor you can get a Schengen visa (for visiting). And less likely getting a Spanish/Italian working visa with full travel access to Schengen area (edited: you still need a visa to work in EU)

I can not find the HR person or my boss online- if they really are a small business they may not be as plugged in yet because they never had to be.

This is another flag. Real businessmen at least want the most visibility. Not finding someone on Linkedin is a concern. Yes, not everyone is obligated to use Linkedin, but it's a de facto standard for business visibility

The job description was very copied past and included a "payment option" as if I would like to get payed money of bi-weekly- I have never seen the payment option but there was an offer letter so that something right? The bottom also included a company name with copyright.

I personally don't have enough information. In Europe, companies don't normally offer options.

The salary was more than I expected for "small business" can afford almost 100k- most executive assists are in the 100k range and maybe the company got a large lone or is own by a rich person.

Red flag here.

Glassdoor said that an Excutive Asisstant in Madrid is paid in the range 35-40k euros. European salaries are hugely different from US salaries because of different taxes and cost of life. Spain in particular is a cheaper country compared at least with Italy, not to mention Germany (55-60 according to Glassdoor).

A company would never ever hire an executive assistant from the US for a larger salary than a Spanish, or Romanian EA. Hiring a Harvard post-doc and giving them 6-figures is another thing, but we are talking just about EAs.

The task that I am given feel like more of a choir, find storage spaces, office equipment, cleaning companies, find hotel quotes for me and the 6 team member etc.- The guy is kind of on me, he asks for updates on the task will call me out if I relay to late and wants a breakdown of how I sent my time.

But that's exactly a legit task. Unfortunately, we are going to discover that it might be a cover for something else.

Last one. The bitcoin thing, he asked me to visit 2 ATM that sell bitcoin but told me to not try to search it because most have expensive charges. He said the company needed bitcoin to pay a company for stands to hole wine in storage. I really can't justify this because it just to weird.

And it is. Most companies want to use bank transfers and invoices to discharge VAT from their suppliers.

He was also very clear and said: "Also please remember the main thing, *****: the type of your bank account is "personal", so during the first four weeks, when you work remotely, all our remittances will be sent with the marks: "for personal use" only. To avoid any questions from the Tax Department. Your salary remittance will be sent with a personal mark as well."

Here it is. There is just no real job behind this. Salaries must be paid with a single transfer. I guess this will completely end after 4 weeks, when your account may become red in debt. See other answers.

And even if the company is really buying Bitcoins, they woulg give you, the secretary, access to their corporate bank details to work on their business accounts. They would buy Bitcoin online out of their business account. Not ask you to buy Bitcoins with your own cash.

If you already gave them your personal information and haven't yet started to trade, you should go to police and report yourself. IANAL about US law but acting here will very likely protect you from criminal consequences. Cops appreciate collaboration, usually.

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This is a very classic scam. The crux is to create the illusion of having sent you money, to motivate you to send money onward to them.

Doing that “straight” isn’t working anymore, so this gang is putting a whole lot of “window dressing” on it, so you feel like a real employee and let your guard down.

The money you send is anonymous and irreversible. After you’ve done this, the money they sent you turns into a pumpkin. E.G. the check bounces after it apparently cleared, the wire transfer is reversed, etc.

But notice how the scam is “scalable” i.e. is designed for a small crew to work on a bunch of victims all at once. Every single “job” they’ve given you is designed to be easy to assign to all the victims at once, or requires very little overhead on their part (e.g. do an ATM search for ATMs in your location).

Let’s go through all the red flags.

Only phone interview

And only phone, never ever Zoom or other videochat? Because they don’t look Italian!

  • had legit +34 number that came from Spain/Italy

Let me guess. They always call you. They are spoofing caller-ID. That is so easy to do that I don’t know why they even bother offering Caller ID anymore.

But even then, getting a phone number in any country is as easy as firing up a “Virtual Number” service like Google Voice, which is free.

No background check

Those papers employers normally want, aren’t a background check, they’re to affirm you are a US citizen or invitee (e.g. asylum seeker) whose visa allows employment. Violating is a serious crime, the penalty is so high because some employers make insane amounts of money violating it, and the human rights abuses associated with it are horrible.

It may not be a crime for the job applicant, but it proves you’re dealing with crooks.

By the way, lack of these formalities also means you won’t qualify for unemployment, or to be more precise, an unregistered “job” like this doesn’t toward being employed.

I couldn't find any information on the company- they had a @bussnesname.com email address that I'm assuming not everyone can just get for a few $1000 scams

Domain names are $13/year. Hosting and email are free.

A lot of people think scammers are super small time, like one jackass with a stolen laptop sitting in an Internet cafe. In fact they are serious enterprises, so a $1000 website wouldn’t be a problem.

Further, the “obvious mistakes” you see scammers make, that let you spot them so easily — they do them on purpose to screen out the savvy. That leaves only the gullible. Microsoft Research wrote a very good paper on this.

Not very good at English- If they really are native to Italy I would expect it...

I bet they don’t know a single word of Italian. You could test that lol... by learning a little, and speak a sentence whose meaning turns on a single word, like “the job is going really well”... and substitute a not-well-known Italian word there.

It was a very nice website, professional looking. ... I can not find the HR person or my boss online

Well, first, they’re using common templates. Second, the technical skill to do that is readily found in these poor countries, since many people are well educated but their economy is very poor, e.g. because of economic sanctions.

They don’t want too much data anyway; they don’t want to give you physical addresses you’ll just punch into Google Street View, or social media networks that you might figure out are fake.

I once chased a supposedly 90 year old US-German electronics manufacturer to an apartment in Sunnyvale, a tiny 700sf walk-up flat in Germany (both far too small to even be a marketing department), and a sprawling industrial park in China. Uh huh!

The job description was very copy-pasted and included a "payment option" as if I would like to get payed monthly or bi-weekly- I have never seen the payment option but there was an offer letter so that's something right? The bottom also included a company name with copyright.

Sounds like a whole lot of nothing, but if I were desperate for work, I might choose to see something that isn’t there. That’s what they’re banking on.

The salary was more than I expected... almost 100k.

That’s ludicrous for Italy. For that money they could get 2-3 real human Italians in their own town. If they were in India, Nigeria or other scam hotspots, they could get ten.

So why aren’t they? This makes it exceedingly likely that the salary money is not real. They’re holding it out on the end of a stick for you to chase, but it’s completely fake. There is no money.

The only money in play will be your own, or someone else’s stolen money. Trick someone else into sending you money; you wire the bitcoin onward; the next week the other victim files a complaint, the money is yanked back out of your account, and you’re left holding the bag.

The task that I am given feels like more of a chore, find storage spaces, office equipment, cleaning companies, find hotel quotes... The guy is kind of on me...

This type of scam is called a “Confidence Game” or Con Game. The goal is to increase your level of confidence in the relationship, so they can later ask you to do something you would never do for a stranger.

Yes, it’s a bunch of busy “make-work”. These are all tasks that cost them nothing to ask, and make you do a significant amount of work, so that you feel like a real employee. The purpose is to make the relationship feel normal, to increase your trust. They don’t even care about your work product, and are simply throwing it away.

They are cracking the whip on you, again, to make the employment relationship feel real and legit.

Last one. The bitcoin thing, he asked me to visit 2 ATMs that sell bitcoin but told me to not try to search it because most have expensive charges.

We’ve heard that one before: “Visit Bitcoin ATMs and do nothing”.

Yeah, again, that’s a confidence game, designed to increase trust, and move your comfort zone. Before you would have never approached a Bitcoin ATM, certainly not for Internet strangers... but they make it feel like part of your job... make it seem routine... have you do nothing simply to get you comfortable with interacting with the machine.

And once again, the task they had you do (check fees, was it??) is meaningless make-work; again they throw away your work product. It’s only there as a confidence builder, to make you drop your guard.

He said the company needed bitcoin to pay a company for stands to hold wine in storage. I really can't justify this because it just too weird.

Quite correct, any legit company would cheerfully take money the time-tested way. Again, chiseling away at your skepticism... hoping you will just roll with it.

Also, he keeps saying how important this is and that he is putting his reputation on the line, so it's up to me to follow through.

Actually, it’s your reputation on the line. If their “mistake” overdraws your checking account, the bank will look to you to cover the difference. If you can’t, you’ll be added to a bank blacklist called ChexSystems, and barred for 7 years from holding a checking account at banks that use that blacklist.

But by pressing you about their reputation, they are attempting to fluster you into not thinking about yours.

Please help! I gave them my routing number and account number so they could set up a direct deposit but now he is saying that money will be wired in for my salary and bitcoin.

That was a very, very foolish thing to do, and only goes to show how effective their confidence game is. Now they can do a bunch of bad things with that information, that involve potentially taking your money directly.

Or, it may be a reverse game: the want you to worry, but then, they will choose to do nothing, hoping you’ll start feeling foolish for worrying and then trust them further.

Go straight to your bank and tell them you need to close the checking account right away and get one with a different number. “Because someone got ahold of my info”.

all our remittances will be sent with the marks: "for personal use" only. To avoid any questions from the Tax Department.

OK, so money laundering and tax fraud to boot. Wow. Here’s the problem. This will make you an accomplice because you are participating full knowing.

And they will turn and use that against you; threatening to get you in trouble if you don’t keep complying further, which digs your hole deeper with every iteration. Same scam that creeps work on young girls, “Found your mildly scandalous nude photo, I’ll publish it unless you make me worse photos, repeat, repeat, repeat forever”.

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It's too bad that you already sent them your account number. For one thing, wire transfers may arrive there. While those are generally irrevocable, that doesn't mean that when they are made with stolen credentials that you are not required to repay them when the police comes knocking. Also your own account details will get used for draft transfers.

There may be some point for you going proactively to the police before more **** hits the fan.

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