Covid scams: how landing a ‘well-paid’ job nearly became a costly mistake

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After years working in a pub, Kelly finally found a position that suited her art degree and became an assistant in a props house. Collecting dirty plates was replaced with finding the perfect designer plate to photograph a famous chef’s recipe on. Then, like hundreds of thousands of others, Kelly lost her job because of Covid-19.

For months she managed to get by, while applying for work similar to her previous role. But with her redundancy money running out, she started to look for other work. One job sounded as if it could be just the thing to tide her over.

Advertised on Indeed, which claims to be “the #1 job site in the world”, it was a remote role doing Covid-19 testing admin. The company said it needed “people from all walks of life to help us as we reach this epic milestone in our fight against the virus”. The role would involve tasks such as “accessing and maintaining accurate patients’ records” and “providing admin support by sorting test results”.

She says: “It was working remotely, so it felt really safe. The hourly rate was great; £14 an hour. I thought it must be so high because you don’t get many hours and it was data-related, so seemed realistic. I spent a few hours writing a cover letter and filled in their application form.”

The next day she heard back. “I then had to send loads of details to their email: my current address and two previous ones, my education and all my previous employment. Five days later I got a reply from a man named Daniel saying I had been shortlisted for a month-long trial period and to fill in a form starting the enrolment period. They wanted my current address, contact details and my bank account number and sort code for a payment.”

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After clicking confirm, Kelly felt very uneasy. “Something didn’t feel right,” she says. “I reread the email and there were some grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. I rang my bank and they told me the worst they could do was start a direct debit which they would look out for.”

Kelly Googled the company the job was supposedly for, IQVIA, a healthcare tech company – and discovered that far from being potential employers, those behind the ad she had seen were fraudsters. Searching for “IQVIA” and “fraud” she found a page headed “Protect yourself from fraudulent job offers”, which said the firm was aware its name was being misused by scammers.

“I transferred what I had in my current account to my boyfriend’s straight away and rang my bank. Luckily, they didn’t take anything. If they had they could have easily wiped me out,” she says. “Looking back at it, it’s really weird to hire me without speaking to me on the phone. It was all too good to be true.”

IQVIA told Guardian Money it had heard from dozens of people who had seen the fake ads using its name, including some who had lost money to the fraudsters. “IQVIA has become aware of job scams in which fraudsters impersonate company representatives and make fraudulent job offers,” it says. “To be clear, IQVIA does not make unsolicited job offers, nor require any banking information from job applicants.”

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Action Fraud, which is the UK’s national reporting agency for scams, says it has been alerted to 4,540 Covid-19 related fraud and cybercrimes, resulting in total losses of £21.8m. It has received 23 reports about fraudulent job ads using IQVIA’s name, although there were no losses associated with these reports.

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Action Fraud said scams were getting harder to spot: “Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and will use every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people.”

The incident has shaken Kelly’s confidence. “I would definitely want to at least speak to someone, ideally in person, before taking a job,” she says. “I didn’t think just anyone would be able to post on Indeed; I would at least think there was an accreditation process.”

Indeed says it removed the advert after jobseekers complained. It adds that when posts are removed because of suspected fraud, applicants are usually notified but that this had not happened in Kelly’s case.

“There’s a set of criteria jobs must meet before they go live but there’s also manual and automatic processes in place once jobs are published to remove those that breach our policies,” it says. “We take rule violations very seriously and have a team dedicated to search quality that uses automatic and manual means of identifying and removing fraudulent accounts from our site as quickly as possible.”

It adds: “We encourage people to report any suspect job advertisements to us, or if they feel it necessary, to make a report to the police.”

How can you protect yourself ? Tips from Action Fraud

  • Check any documents for incorrect spelling or grammar as this is often a sign that the job might be fake.

  • Check with Companies House to confirm that the organisation offering you the job actually exists. If it does, contact the organisation directly through officially listed contact details to confirm the job offer is genuine.

  • For further information, visit the SAFERjobs website, which is designed to support jobseekers, agency staff and contractors with any suspected fraud, malpractice, breach of legislation or poor experience they may encounter.