September 1, 2007 in Business

Job ad cons woman, newspaper

By The Spokesman-Review

The lure of travel and a chance to earn good money conned 21-year-old Chelsea Buckner into sending nearly $300 to someone offering her a job as a flight attendant.

Buckner, who lives in Spokane and works three part-time jobs, saw a classified ad in last Sunday’s Spokesman-Review. It offered her the chance to earn $950 a week, working with a company that flew corporate customers to Caribbean destinations. All she had to do was call a long-distance number and leave her name and number.

A man who never gave his name called her back, asked some questions, then called back the next day to say she was a job finalist. But he said she needed to fly to Atlanta for an interview.

The hook was this: She had to wire the company half the price of the airplane ticket. The reason they gave, said Buckner, was their ability to get discount tickets through a separate broker.

On Wednesday Buckner wired $287 by Western Union to someone named Paul Stanley, in Orlando, Fla. The man who interviewed her on the phone said he would send her, by overnight mail, other materials needed for the interview. He called back a short time later and gave her a Friday morning, Spokane-to-Atlanta flight number.

He said he’d call again on Thursday to make sure she got the materials.

Thursday’s mail produced no paperwork, and Buckner realized she’d been taken.

“It was partly the money offer of the job,” said Buckner. Plus, Buckner said she loves the idea of traveling.

“I am spontaneous and somewhat impulsive. So when something good comes along, I don’t think as clearly as I should,” Buckner said.

The money, once picked up, was essentially gone, said Kristin Kelly, media relations manager for Colorado-based Western Union.

Buckner wasn’t the only one bilked. The scammers placed the ad to run for four days and to be billed later. The name and Spokane phone number they gave were bogus, said Diane Bobiak, classified advertising manager at The Spokesman-Review.

“So we’re not going to get paid either,” said Bobiak, who received no other complaints.

Advertising staff are trained to verify and not accept ads that don’t look right, she added. In many cases, advertising reps use phone directories or an Internet search engine to verify names or phone numbers.

In this case, verification of the company name apparently was not done, Bobiak said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the ads we get are legitimate,” she added, “and of that 1 percent that isn’t, we catch 90 percent of them and keep them from ever appearing.”

The number used in the ad, (303) 571-9391, appears to be used frequently by scammers in job ads across the country. A Google search found the same number in online job ads offering positions as security guards, couriers and truck drivers.

It’s still working and continues inviting people to leave information for the same job listing that lured Buckner.

After learning she’d been scammed, Buckner contacted Western Union’s fraud office and sent a complaint to the Washington state Attorney General’s office.

Western Union’s Kelly said the episode is one of many her company sees on a regular basis. It underlines the main advice Western Union preaches to customers: “Never send money by wire to someone you don’t personally know,” she said.

Kristin Alexander, spokeswoman for Washington’s attorney general, said the state consumer fraud office gets frequent reports of offers tempting people with jobs or high-wage stay-at-home work deals.

“It’s the same old statement,” she said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is likely a scam.”

The Spokane advertisement was the first she’d seen involving work as a flight attendant. “That’s the kind of con that would be targeted at younger people, someone who needs to make more money and would like that kind of work,” she said.

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