Tony Monize was tired of waiting to be called back to work.
The Toronto man had been temporarily laid off from his job in the telecom industry when the COVID-19 crisis hit, so when he saw a job posting on LinkedIn on June 20 for a key account coordinator at Sobeys, he decided to apply.
“I want to work,” said Monize, 54. “Sitting at home and doing little projects, it doesn’t do well for me. I wasn’t brought up that way.”
Monize completed an application on the LinkedIn site, and two hours later was on the phone with a man who identified himself as a human resources manager at Sobeys’ head office.
“He had a few more questions, like, if I was employed, my history on my resumé,” Monize said. “He said, ‘We’re still talking to a few more applicants, we’ll get back to you.'”
After another conversation with a different interviewer later that day, Monize was offered the position. First thing Monday morning, he resigned from the telecom job he’d held for three years.
But within 24 hours, he discovered the new job offer was part of a scam.
On Tuesday, Monize was asked to send almost $4,000 to another company to pay for home office equipment. He agreed to e-transfer the funds, because he’d received a cheque with the Sobeys logo to cover the cost.
“They said, just so you know, we looked at those email addresses where you’re sending money. They’re on the blacklist. It’s fraud.'”
And the cheque he’d received? It was counterfeit.
COVID an opportunity for scammers
Employment scams are on the rise in Canada. As of May 31, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre had received close to 2,000 reports about job scams. That’s more than in all of 2019, when there were 1,757 reports.
The centre says the 2019 cases represented $3.2 million in reported losses. There’s been no tally yet of the losses in 2020.
“It’s definitely something we’ve been tracking since the COVID-19 pandemic has happened,” said Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence officer with the Anti-Fraud Centre. “A lot of people are out of work, they will be looking for work and it’s ripe for fraud right now.”
More than three million Canadians lost their jobs in March and April of this year, as businesses closed or suspended operations due to the pandemic. Statistics Canada has described it as the fastest decline in employment in the country’s history.
Thomson said fraudsters see this as an opportunity to switch tactics and dupe those eager for work. They use sophisticated techniques in order to create fake websites and use counterfeit financial instruments, such as bogus cheques.
He said another tactic is “caller ID spoofing,” in which the caller will “use an area code that’s in the same jurisdiction as the victim, because people are more likely to answer the phone if a call comes from their own jurisdiction.”
Scammers in Canada
Monize said the calls he got from the people posing as Sobeys managers came from the 902 area code, which is the same code as the company’s head office in Stellarton, N.S.
Monize also noted that “the man I spoke to had a South African accent.”
Insp. Peter Callaghan, commander of the financial crimes unit of the Toronto Police, said not all fraudsters are offshore.
“I’d like to reassure people and tell them scammers are in some faraway place,” said Callaghan, “But the reality is they’re here as well. They’re all across Canada.”
The financial crimes unit works with other agencies here and in the U.S. to shut down teams of operators, but Callaghan said they typically “pop up” again with a new scheme in another location.
Sobeys is hardly the only company to be used as bait. “I would say that if you can think of a major corporation, their name has been used at one time or another,” said Callaghan.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Sobeys acknowledged it is aware of “fake Sobeys career websites.”
“We are working hard to stop this fraudulent online activity,” the statement reads, emphasizing, “All of our current career opportunities can be found at https://jobs.sobeyscareers.com/.”
Monize believes the company should be making more of an effort to let Canadians know about the scam. He also blames LinkedIn.
“LinkedIn didn’t do a background check on the company that I submitted the application to,” he said.
The online network says it has monitoring tools to help prevent fraudulent job postings, and is “constantly evaluating” its policies.
“When this job posting was brought to our attention, we immediately removed it from LinkedIn, as it violates our Terms of Service,” says a LinkedIn statement sent to CBC News.
‘Recognize, reject, report’
Thomson at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said it’s important to try and authenticate job offers. “You might want to reach out to the companies directly, to research the employer that you’re looking to get hired by and do your diligence to make sure everything’s OK.”
He also encourages Canadians to notify the centre of any cases of fraud. “We always say, ‘Recognize, reject, report.'”
Tony Monize has reported his case, saying it was yet another challenge in a hard year for him. He lost his wife to cancer in January.
“This latest situation touches me a little bit more because of what I’ve been through,” he said.
He’s thankful he didn’t lose any money to the scam, but he has had to change his bank account and driver’s licence after sending that information to the fraudsters.
“I didn’t send my social insurance number,” Monize said. “I’m smarter than that.”
In the meantime, he’s been in touch with his former employer about getting his old job back. Most staff at the firm are still laid off, but Monize is eager to return to work as soon as possible.
“I talked to HR to say I wanted to recant my resignation,” he said. “And they said, ‘Just hang in there, we’ll work something out.’ So that was positive. It just goes to show: Don’t burn your bridges.”