Fraudsters on the Prowl

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Desperate job seekers are being hoodwinked by fraudsters, who employ different tactics to fleece their victims. Sunday Ehigiator, who extensively investigated the trend, reports

Picture this scenario: you are a young, budding degree holder. To pass through the higher institution, you have had to combine odd jobs here and there to complement the lean cash allowances that came from home, and still found a way to create time for your academics. You strove and strained, and eventually, you got your degree.

You went through the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and after months (sometimes years) of being unable to secure a job commensurate with your qualifications and experience, you got a message like this: “Hi, how are you, I hope fine (sic) my name is Ikhiena Faith, your Edo Corper mate, 2015/2016 Batch ‘A’ Edo State, my state code is ED/15A/1659, Ikpoba-Okha LGA. I work with Shell SPDC Oil Company, Bonny Branch, Rivers State. Have you gotten a job? If no, call me because Shell is recruiting presently, so call me if interested.”

Any unsuspecting job seeker would jump at the seeming opportunity. Indeed, many unemployed youths have fallen victim to this dubious scheme in their desperation to get a job. This is the ever-present fate that seems to await many unemployed youths that roam the streets of Nigeria in search of employment.

‘Unending Suffering’

“Miracle job” was what 27-year-old Ezekiel Orji called it when he received the message quoted above. For Orji, this was the stars finally aligning for him. The message aroused no suspicion because he had, indeed, served in Ikpoba-Okha local government and had successfully passed out from the programme a few months earlier. He concluded that the message was, indeed, meant for him, and decided to call.

But that call has brought about “unending suffering” for him and his family, Orji says. Speaking to THISDAY, Orji said he had exchanged many more phone calls with the so-called Faith, even though there were tell-tale signs that something was amiss. For instance, the fact that he still could not recall meeting her during the entire service year, or the fact that she was not even familiar with any of their supposed colleagues as at the time of service. But he still fell for the scam.

Orji said, “I guess I should have known, she didn’t know much about me or about the area where I served and which she claimed she served in as well. I should have suspected that something was wrong but I was really focused on securing a job that I neglected all of the obvious errors facing me. Whenever we spoke on the phone, especially the initial calls that were made, I tried to ask her questions to figure out if I could recall her face or something.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Orji reveals that Faith always found a way to wriggle out of such tight situations and eventually gained his trust. Orji had asked her a few questions but perhaps failed to ask the most important question: why me?

Orji lost over N150, 000 sent in two instalments within a short period, potentially to pave way for his application to be accepted. According to him, the money was borrowed by his parents on his behalf from family friends.

Experience tends to prove that many of those who succumb easily to fraudulent schemes in Nigeria (popularly called 419) are the people and lowly.

Modus operandi

More than ever before, fraudulent individuals and groups are using the terrible unemployment situation as an opportunity to avail themselves of ill-gotten wealth from the countless job seekers.

Young and inexperienced people usually fall victim of this because of the anxiety to get a good job and begin a life in order to make ends meet. Checks revealed that the fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated in the way they operate and it is becoming more difficult to differentiate between them and genuine recruiters.

Of a truth, Orji’s case is not an isolated one, almost on a daily basis, many Nigerians report that they receive what appear to be fraudulent messages or calls from fellow Nigerians looking to make dishonest living and take advantage of the painfully high rate of youth unemployment by offering fictitious employment offers. For instance, it is now a norm to find a lot of these fictitious job vacancies being advertised even on many job recruitment websites.

These job scammers pose daily on different social media impersonating real organisations by putting out vacancies in their names; although with any extra phrase; for instance using the name Prudential Groups instead of Prudential Insurance, for a disguise, with an aim of getting eligible candidate to fall victim of their craftiness, as they are neither registered as a real company, nor existing; hence untraceable.

The mode by which they advertise their vacancies are diverse and deceptive whereby anyone can fall into the trap. The sole aim of these scammers is just to make people part with their hard earned money. These fraudsters are becoming more and craftier in the way they operate, and it’s becoming more difficult to differentiate between a scam and a legitimate job vacancy.

Spotting the Fake Recruiters

To spot the fake recruiters, a human resources manager at an upstart IT company in Lagos, Mr. Festus Ayobami, offered some tips. Ayobami told THISDAY that it usually took two to three weeks to process the numerous job applications that came into his company, before the company eventually got back to the applicants on the status of their applications. He noted that most scam jobs had a few features that distinguished them and made them easy to flag.

According to him, “No reputable company will ask you to come in for an interview when you only applied for the job the day before. It doesn’t work like that. Unemployed youths out there have to be careful because, it usually takes two to three weeks before you will get an invite for an interview from any genuine organisation. Even at that, it is still sensible to do a simple search of the company on the internet.

“If the company has no website with descriptions of what they are doing, then it is probably not legit. Sometimes these scammers take advantage of the frustrations of job seekers by offering unbelievable monetary packages. That’s when youths should be careful. If what you will be earning is incredibly higher than what other companies are paying for that same position, suspect it.”

One unmistakable way of fishing out scam job interview messages is to check for how well written (or not well; as is usually the case) it is. Usually, according to Ayobami, “many scam interview emails are not well written. Most of the emails they send, usually contain punctuation, spelling or grammatical errors. No reputable company will send you an email that will leave you scratching your head. It is always important to check for all of these.”

Scamming Trends

Indeed, many youths have received con messages and despite their initial suspicion, still went ahead to call or even attend the supposed interviews. THISDAY investigations revealed that many youths have fallen prey to these scammers, with some of the victims duped, raped, robbed, kidnapped, or even killed.

Pius Odey, a graduate of Civil Engineering, attests to attending one of such interviews. According to him, after applying for the job through an online job portal, he got an SMS and a mail in the latter part of the same day he had sent his application, requesting him to make himself available for a scheduled interview session at 10a.m. the following day.

Odey said, “I knew there was something suspicious about it because I have been at home for seven months after I finished NYSC and could not secure a job, but received an interview invite within such a short span of sending my resume. So what I did was to go online and type the company’s name, but I didn’t see anything on it. I decided not to go but my friend whom I was squatting with convinced me to attend but to take good mental note of the place when I get there and send him a message of the address so that he could trace me if anything went wrong.”

After Odey arrived at the venue for the purported interview, he observed that the building was not fit to host a company; “it was rusty and had an acrid smell.”

Odey continued, “I made enquiries and I was told to proceed to the top floor. I opened the door to find about 20 or so people crammed in an unpolished room, with about three other young men, whom were in their early 40s addressing them. He was asking us to partner him on an online networking business.

“He had such grandiose ideas. Our fake prospective employers told us that we would have to pay for their working materials, a laptop, book manuals on the basics of online networking, among others, but more importantly, pay a princely sum of N45, 000 as per registration and training fee. This would be paid upfront before we would be allowed to undergo a three-week training to familiarise us with the job.”

Odey left that day and never returned or paid a dime. He admitted that he needed to be more circumspect in handling future job applications and interview invites.

New Tactic

Working undercover, this reporter recently infiltrated some of the fake job invite venues located at Palm-Groove, Yaba, Mushin, Ajah, Ajao Estate and Anthony areas of Lagos. The investigation unearthed another means of scamming.

These scammers now pose as recruitment agencies aiming to help people seeking employment. They distribute fliers, write on walls in noticeable places and post handbills with information about companies that are employing eligible job seekers.

Upon calling the number, these scammers, who pose as human resource agents or recruiters for the said companies offer attractive employment opportunities, which requires the job seeker to pay money in advance.

This is usually under the guise of medicals, training, travel expenses, background checks, certificate acquisition, or even work visas that are required for the job. Once the job seeker pays the money, the perpetrator disappears, and the job seeker is left with no job.

THISDAY Investigation revealed that they converge unsuspecting job seekers at a secluded location they hired on a short term basis, and after making them sit for long hours on the pretence that they are awaiting for the chairman or sometimes the head of HR of the company, the supposed chairman finally comes and further engages them in a longer hour of lectures, whereby they try to brainwash the job seekers with how they have made it big in life despite once being the rejected stone of the family.

While the supposed chairman goes on a long speech about his success, he conveniently omits his responsibility in the said company. They often describe the business as one for networking without stating what product or services they are networking. Some even have a more sophisticated style by arranging a personal interview with the supposed head of HR or putting the job seekers to a written test, just after the long hours of verbal brainwashing, thereby promising the job seekers that only successful candidates would be contacted.

Eventually, everyone would be contacted with a message that they passed, and then be re-invited for the second phase of the exercise which is where the billings would commence. They restrict job seekers from interacting with themselves or receiving phone calls or chatting while they are within the confine of the recruitment venue. They always install a guard or an accomplice to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

In another of such locations visited by THISDAY at 7/8 off Airport Road by Ajao Estate, their own style can never be easily fished out. They are that professional. This is because they don’t extort unemployed youths in cash but in labour.

They made use of the event space of a popular hotel along the express road, with a banner of several vacant positions spread permanently on a stand at the entrance of the hotel. On arrival, job seekers were delayed with the excuse that their chairman was on his way to address them. Based on the location, unsuspecting job seekers are made to think that it was the hotel directly employing. Within the almost two hours of waiting, different staff of the organisation came in to announce that those that had earlier been interviewed for any of the positions should stand up and leave. About five six people (of cause, as planted by them) stood up and excused the remaining crowd. This made all believe there was really an interview.

Finally, the said chairman arrived with his entourage flocking him, and he started flaying some of the job seekers that were not properly dressed on corporate wears; even though most of them were just ushered in to join the supposed interview when they came in that same day to submit their application.

Afterwards, he regaled the room with how connected he is and a friend to governor of thirteen states in Nigeria. Thereafter, he told the job seekers that he doesn’t believe in interviews being the tool of getting the best of staff but training. He said he would rather engage them in training for three weeks, where they would learn how to dress and properly, use cutlery, learn good eating and drinking habits, as they would be stationed to work in that branch of the hotel for three weeks. For the training, he said he would provide them with a shoe, white shirt, black tie and pant trousers, which is the uniform of the downstream staff of the hotel. He added that he would not be paying them for the time of training but would provide a token of N3000 for their transportation, which would be paid in installment of N1,000 per week. He likewise affirmed that, only those deemed fit for the job after the three weeks of training would be officially employed and be earning a pay of N30,000 monthly.

He proceeded to bring out an agreement form for the job seekers to fill and sign and a form to be filled by two of their guarantors. He told those not interested to leave immediately and those interested to pick up the form. Again, some of the planted moles among the job seekers left immediately, while others stood to request for the form, thus encouraging the unsuspecting ones to follow suit.

Again, checks revealed that none of the real job seekers were eventually employed but about three moles after the three weeks training. After the three weeks, the rest were all laid off, and replaced by fresh unsuspecting job seekers. And the circle goes thus till date.

Another set of scammers are those group of persons who extort money from job seekers, promising to secure employment for them. This is very rampant when government agencies are recruiting. First, the victims are scammed into believing there is existing vacancy within the agencies, whereas no such vacancy exists.

The second phase of the scam is the documentation process that seemingly looks real. The scam recruiters go as far as creating a story of how they can influence the process of getting the candidates into the service, riding on the influence of a certain retired military officer or influential person. These extortionists are either insiders (employees of the recruiting organisation) or outsiders who have or claim connection to the top echelon of the organisation.

Occasionally, they deliver on their promises, but most times they fail and also hardly refund the monies collected; leaving the applicants disappointed and frustrated.

For jobs in federal bodies, a job seeker may be required to part with as much as N300,000. In successful cases, the victims do not complain about the high fee paid. In their reckoning, “the job is worth the price”.

Another group will send their victims an email with exceptional offers and packages, and of course with requirements, experience and certifications which they are sure the job seeker doesn’t possess. Their target victim will now be required to pay for such certifications before they receive an employment letter. Most job seekers that prefer federal jobs due to the stability and security fall prey to this kind of scams. Although government agencies would usually release statements denouncing such fake or non-existent recruitment exercises, the scam has thrived over a period of time simply because, the government has failed in apprehending the perpetrators. To lure more unsuspecting victims into the web of deceit, the perpetrators of this scam go as far as reeling out specific vacancies that require being filled.

Another deceptive tool used is fake success stories and referrals from those who claim to have received help from inside sources within such fake firms

Another trend is sending bulk SMS or emails out to random people about an interview they have been selected for when they didn’t even apply for one. This trend often results in victims meeting themselves in networking companies and marketing and distributorship firms who feel they can’t get the attention of the public except through scam schemes. Some of these scam jobs and text messages have led to kidnapping of job seekers to request for ransom.

Solution

Though, there is a rise in the rate of job scams in the country, there are also genuine companies and adverts everywhere. These scammers just take advantage of the gullibility of the affected public to initiate a fast one on them.

For many experts, the situation is in black and white. The rise of scam employment opportunities cannot be extricated from the high rate of youth unemployment in the country. Worse still, it seems to work both ways. Unemployment can be attributed as a factor pushing youths into seeking dishonest living by fleecing their ‘desperate’ job-seeking compatriots of their hard earned money. On the flip side, many fall for scam employment opportunities because the genuine available jobs are few and far between and hard to come by. The National Bureau of Statistics pegs the rate of youth unemployment at 58.1 per cent, so youths within the 15-34 age bracket fall under this category of unemployed.

With such a massive percentage of unemployed youths, it is easy to see why scam employment has festered even further. This being so, is there a middle ground? Olalekan Olude believes there might be.

Olude, who is the co-founder of popular HR Company, Jobberman.com, says, “The rising rate of job scams in Nigeria is greatly due to the high level of unemployment in the country. This can also be attributed to the high level of competition for available jobs, and desperation of getting well-paying jobs outside of the due process of applying for a job and securing an interview. This creates an avenue for opportunists to take advantage of unsuspecting job seekers with the aim of generating revenue.

“The way to put a stop to it is simply for government to try and invest in the youths. They need to create jobs, and also ensure that they monitor through the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, and all of these employment agencies so that there can be a bit of sanity, especially in the formal sector.”