In today's job search, applicants give up a lot of personal information to get a job: phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses and even driver's license numbers. And for freelancers who want to find side jobs, there may be a matter of security working with companies, such as Elance or oDesk, which suggest having a Skype account.
Elance specifically recommends using a verification company called Aristotle, which requires that freelancers complete a live video chat with a person's voice and no image shown of who they're talking to. The anonymous Aristotle verification company either wants a picture of a driver's license or takes a photo of the freelancer holding a driver's license. And while Elance may be accredited by Better Business Bureau, Aristotle, Inc. is not. (Aristotle Inc., is commonly confused with Aristotle.net, but the first company's footer explains that they're two different companies.)
And while other freelancing companies, such as oDesk, do not require this same verification process, the security risks with using services, such as Skype, still leave job applicants open for scams. The biggest issue is with the phone number (661) 748-0240, a California number that could realistically be purchased from anywhere around the world. The alternative number is (661) 748-0241.
The following story is a first-hand experience* the Chicago Personal Finance Examiner had with this caller today at 2:04 a.m.
A call came through from this company explaining that a guy (sounded like he was in his early 20s) wanted to hire me for a writing job for ExxonMobil. Not only had I not applied for a job with ExxonMobil, but I couldn't believe that a company this huge would call me this late. The guy explained that he was on deadline to fill the position, but he knew my last name and my career field. I asked him where he was calling from, and he said Texas. The first alarm went off because there is no Texas area code that is 661. He told me the pay for this job was $80K. There's no way I'd ever forget applying for a job that pays $80K. I told him I didn't believe this was a real company. He said he'd have his boss call me tomorrow to confirm that it was, and I informed him that that should've been the case to begin with -- to call me at a decent time. He demanded to know whether I wanted the job or not and emphasized how huge ExxonMobil is. I said I would pass. I told him that for a company paying $80K for a job and with the current unemployment rate, I find it very odd that he was so desperate to hire me. He again emphasized the pay. I said no and when I got ready to hang up, he yelled out "F--k you, n--ger."
Now not only did the language stun me, but the venom in which he said it threw me completely off. And this number called back four more times, but I did not answer. I'd never received these kinds of calls on my cell phone, and the irony was I'd just changed my phone number the week before because of excessive telemarketing calls to my mobile number. I'm still unsure of how this person got my mobile number after I'd changed it less than a week ago, but the only connection between him knowing my career field, my new cell number and my last name was Skype. Although the police dispatcher I talked to after I got off the phone with him felt that changing my number would eliminate the issue, I still did an official police report, explaining every piece of the conversation. One dispatcher claimed all Smartphones should have an option to block numbers. But for those of you who must pay cell phone providers to block numbers, you know this is not always true for every phone. File a report. Change the number. Once hackers get ahold of your number you should be very prepared for return calls. Don't risk it.
Had this Skype caller contacted someone during regular business hours, it would've been much easier to believe this was a legitimate call. Employers commonly will post jobs on sites, such as Craigslist, CareerBuilder and Monster, without releasing the name of the company. They don't want applicants calling nonstop harassing them about open positions. Makes sense. The problem is when applying to anonymous job posts, especially on Craigslist, it's too difficult to know whether these are real companies.
So how can you help avoid identity theft and crank callers from Skype numbers such as this one?
1. Do not give out your mailing address on resumes to any anonymous email address. No matter how important the company is, if they're interested in your resume, they'll call you if your resume is attractive to them. At that point, then you can give out your mailing address. Or, just apply to companies' sites directly to eliminate the secrecy.
2. Create filters for vulgar language. Never let it even get to your inbox.
3. Skype has a public directory for all Skype users. Set all of your settings to private if you do not want people to be able to find you by your email address, Skype username and/or mobile number. Even if you block a Skype user, all that user has to do is log in as someone else to see your Skype account info in the public directory. Make sure your mobile number isn't public when making Skype calls.
4. Skype currently doesn't have an efficient way to monitor incoming and outgoing calls. For example, if a user shuts down her Skype account and changes her mobile number, Skype still will not check the outgoing call from a spammer. Their rationale is the recipient's Skype account is closed so they can no longer see the account. However, even if the offensive call was made to a recipient's mobile number that wasn't redirected through Skype or a mobile phone that doesn't have a Skype app, the site still won't check outgoing calls. Even providing the time, date and mobile/business/home number will not change the situation. The Skype account must stay active for an investigation into the spam call.
5. There are several community boards, including on Skype, complaining about this phone number. Most complaints describe the caller as someone with an Indian accent. However, the call above sounded like a young, white male. Do not assume since the accent doesn't fit that this is not a scam caller.
6. Do not give out any bank information, driver's license information or other confidential information via phone or email unless you absolutely know the company. And even if you do, it's still better to do this in person. Never give out a Social Security number or even the last four digits of it. That is a number combination commonly used by bill collectors.
7. Change phone numbers if the calls continue.
8. File a report with the Federal Communications Commission if this continues to be a pattern even if changing phone numbers.
9. Keep track of companies where you've applied. In the case of the call above, there were only a few companies that could've possibly had the new cell number so it was easier to track down which of those anonymous Craigslist posts or Elance jobs that the Skype call could've come from.* But for job applicants who are a little less choosey or don't keep track of every possible contact, this makes narrowing down the offender much more difficult to do.
10. For freelancers whose clients insist on talking via Skype, consider explaining your situation and why you feel more comfortable talking on other platforms, such as G-chat or through the freelancing messaging system. The biggest downside of using Skype for business conversations isn't just the spamming and scamming. Another obstacle is that Elance and oDesk can't track the conversation once it's taken to an outside messaging system, specifically for hourly jobs. So your entire conversation would then have to be copied and pasted into their message board to keep track of any changes.
* Update on Aug. 23: It only took a good night's sleep to realize who the spam call came from. I was able to narrow down my spam caller from Canada and recognize who he was. Spammers and scammers are rarely very bright. However, for applicants posting to anonymous accounts or those who don't have regular interaction with a client, it can be much more difficult to narrow the offender down.
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