Karen Cariaga couldn’t believe her luck. She had just secured a glamorous British Airways job and found love at the same time. The possibility that she might be caught up in an internet scam never crossed her mind.
But in her excitement, the young woman had let her guard down. That was a mistake.
Cariaga’s story points to an unfortunate truth: Internet scam artists prey on vulnerable, often naive targets. And the World Wide Web, where true identities can easily be obscured, provides a perfect stalking ground for the hunt. So it’s critical to view all unsolicited online offers with suspicious eyes. That includes offers of jobs, gift cards, prizes and, as Cariaga discovered, even love.
She missed the warning signs of this online job scam
Cariaga was hoping to leave her home in the Philippines to start a new life abroad. So when a handsome British Airways recruiter called “Jeff W***” contacted her through Instagram, she was thrilled. (I’m hiding the last name used by this online scammer since there is an actual person with this last name at British Airways.)
Jeff told Cariaga that he had a fantastic job opportunity for her at British Airways. According to him, British Airways was looking for new employees and would pay all expenses to fly her to the United Kingdom. She would be perfect for the position. And when Jeff’s emails and texts became flirtatious, she didn’t discourage him.
Cariaga began making plans to quit her current job and make the move to England.
Then Jeff gave her some unexpected news that should have set off alarm bells for Cariaga.
As the Federal Trade Commission highlights in its article about job scams, no one should ever have to pay to apply for a job. If a potential “employer” asks you for money, that’s a warning sign that you’re likely the target of a scam.
However, Jeff told Cariaga that to process her application, she would need to send him at least $200. Cariaga didn’t have that type of money. But Jeff suggested that she borrow it so that she didn’t miss out on the opportunity.
Eventually, Jeff was able to persuade Cariaga to borrow $200 from a friend. He then gave her wire transfer instructions.
Wire transfers: the preferred payment method for every internet scam
Wire transfers are a fabulous way for internet scam artists to receive money from their victims. The system allows both sides to remain almost entirely anonymous. And once the victim sends the money, there is no way to reverse the transaction.
Unfortunately, every month our advocacy team receives pleas for help from trusting consumers who have lost money through some internet scam. And in virtually every case the victim made the payment via wire transfer.
Take, for instance, the case of Michele Turner, who was recently drawn in by the Mystery Shopper scam. She lost thousands of dollars sending money by wire transfer to a stranger as an assignment for her new job. There never was a job — it was all an elaborate internet scam — and she learned a costly lesson.
Since Cariaga isn’t a regular reader of Elliott.org, she wasn’t familiar with the dangers of making a wire transfer. She sent the “processing fee” of $200 to a stranger in Montana — for a job with British Airways.
When she asked Jeff when she would receive a confirmation from British Airways, she soon received this text from “Official britishairways.”:
Although the significant grammatical errors should have been a tip-off that this message wasn’t coming from an official source, Cariaga missed this warning too.
This internet scam artist knew he had a victim on the hook
Now Jeff turned up the pressure on Cariaga. He told her to get the visa she would need to send an additional $300 immediately or the job wouldn’t happen.
And then “official britishairways” chimed in that it needed a $510 “acceptance” fee:
Cariaga was afraid of losing this opportunity. She had already told all her friends of her good fortune. And so she chose to believe that Jeff had her best interest at heart. She borrowed more money and sent it to the fake accountant of the fake British Airways — in the United States.
A final insult from this online scammer
At this point, Cariaga was becoming suspicious of Jeff. His texts became less frequent and less friendly. And he was unable to give her a specific date for her departure from the Philippines.
Then she received an email from the “CEO” of “Official britishairways” asking her for passport photos. That text was followed by a strange announcement that she had suddenly been approved for a job at the “embassy” in the United States. A job for which she hadn’t even applied. That message included a request for more money and her bank details.
And finally, Jeff told Cariaga to complete the last step of her application, she needed to buy 12 iTunes cards. Confused and hopeful this was the final hurdle to jump for this job, she bought the cards. She scratched the privacy code off the back and sent a photo of them to Jeff.
And with that, this online scammer was finally done with Cariaga. She never heard from Jeff again.
Can anyone help this internet scam victim?
Soon after Cariaga sent the photo of the backs of all the iTunes cards, she discovered that Jeff had disappeared from Instagram. She was no longer able to reach him through email either. He was gone. And “Official britishairways” stopped responding to her as well.
The awful truth started to become apparent. She wasn’t going to England for a new job or a new relationship. And she turned all of her anger on “Jeff,” who she still believed to be a real person working for British Airways.
That’s when she reached out to the Elliott Advocacy team’s helpline.
When Cariaga sent me her massive paper trail, it was immediately apparent that she had fallen victim to an internet scam. However, she wanted me to contact British Airways, report Jeff and get her money back.
“Can you find out if that Jeff **** is truly working at British Airways,” she asked. “Please help me. Please. I have no one can else to contact. Maybe he has many victims too — not only me. I just want justice for this.”
Contacting the Official British Airways team — not the online scammer
Although I knew I couldn’t get justice for Cariaga, I did contact British Airways to discuss this case. Obviously, there is nothing official about this Jeff or the “Official britishairways,” but Cariaga is right, there are probably other victims of this internet scam.
I contacted the security team at British Airways on Cariaga’s behalf. The director confirmed that this person did not act on behalf of British Airways:
This does appear to be an internet scam. We do not charge any sort of application fee for a candidate to apply for a role with us. Under the circumstances, I would advise Ms. Cariaga report this matter to the police. I would be happy to discuss this further with her directly.
Cariaga has learned a harsh lesson. As Elliott Advocacy has seen through our own recent experience with internet attacks, the World Wide Web is filled with good and evil. Unfortunately, many scammers are scrolling through the internet right now looking for new victims. So it’s vital to remain vigilant and always regard uninvited contact with scrutiny.