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Fare Catch

Scam:   Job seekers are lured into wiring part of the cost of their airfare for travel to exotic interview location.

REAL FRAUD WHICH GENERALLY COSTS ITS VICTIMS BETWEEN $200 AND $500

Origins:   Typically, employment frauds in which gullible job seekers are duped into handing some of their money to con artists are designed to appeal to those seeking easy part-time work that can be performed at home (e.g., the reshipper scam, or various envelope stuffing cons). This swindle, however, uses a different lure to entice the overly trusting down the primrose path: it holds out the prospect of glamorous work, often to be performed in exotic locales.

The scam is simple: Newspaper ads offering high-paying travel-related positions are simultaneously run in a number of cities, or such job postings are listed online. Whoever answers these ads is told he will be interviewed in a distant city for his dream job. Almost as an afterthought, he will be informed the company requires him to wire money to cover a portion of his airfare, this being the corporation's way of ensuring it isn't wasting its resources on candidates that don't bother to show up. The job prospect is given the promise of this sum's being returned to him at his interview, making it seem to the pigeon that he will merely be out of pocket for a few days rather than lose the money permanently. All the while, the about-to-be-gulled is blinded with ongoing patter about fat pay checks, exotic locales, first-class accommodations, and life among the beautiful people.

Once the dupe has wired the specified sum to the thief working the con, he will either never again be contacted by the swindler (who will ditch whichever disposable cell phone he used to make and receive these calls), or he will be told there has been a change of plan, that instead of being jetted to some distant place for his tete-a-tete with higher management, he will be interviewed locally by a company representative sent to look him over. The local interview will, of course, fall through — it will either never be set up or it will be arranged then canceled. Such additional back-and-forthing gives those running the con time to finish fleecing the other job seekers they're working — by keeping the already-swindled from figuring out they've
been had, the risk is greatly reduced of some of them running to the police and so tipping the gendarmes to the need to stake out a particular Western Union office. By the time the police are summoned by irate job hunters intent upon recovering their money from the con artists who took them, the flim-flam men are long gone. And so is the cash.

The scheme has been successfully run both on those seeking employment as flight attendants serving aboard corporate jets and on those looking to work as security personnel servicing the rich and famous on very exclusive cruise lines. For instance, in October 2005, a number of the denizens of the message boards at the Robb Report narrated their encounters with representatives of "Xanadu Clubs International," an entity that presented itself through advertisements on a job search site (Careerbuilder) as a private cruise club not available to the general public. According to the come-ons received from Xanadu, this mysterious company was intent upon hiring people to provide security to the rich and famous on exclusive cruise lines. The catch was the hiring interviews were to take place in the Turks and Caicos Islands, an island grouping 575 miles southeast of Miami. While air travel to this location would be arranged by Xanadu, applicants were required to wire the value of half the airfare to a company representative in advance of the interview, this condition being explained as the corporation's way of ensuring it wasn't squandering its resources on air tickets that would not get used. These monies would be refunded to the applicants at their interviews.

Those who fell for the con wired the amounts requested (often $268) to a Western Union in Orlando, Florida. They were subsequently told there had been a change of plans, that the interviews would instead be held locally. The funds advanced by the job seekers were not returned to them and the promised interviews never took place.

In another version of the same fraud, in the summer of 2005, those answering newspaper ads for flight attendants for corporate jets offering $850 a week with full benefits were asked to send money orders via Western Union to cover half the cost of their airfare to the location where the interviews were being held, the Bahamas. Again, the promise of reimbursement at the interview was given. Again, subsequent to the funds being sent, applicants were informed the interviews would instead be held locally, their monies not returned to them, and the interviews never took place.

Earlier in 2005, the scam was run in central Florida, that time via advertisements for security guards for upscale cruise ships. Security and jail guards sent money by Western Union to pay half the cost of plane tickets to Miami or the Philippines. They were told the company they would be interviewing with needed to ensure applicants were serious. Then the interviews were canceled, and the money was gone.

Although one might conclude from hearing of these recent defraudings the "reimbursement for part of the airfare to the interview spot" con was new on the street, we found evidence that it was used to fleece job seekers in 1992. A six-line ad in California's Modesto Bee announced that Xanadu International needed flight attendants to staff its billion dollar fleet of new Boeing 737s. "Airline flight attendants needed for our corporate aircraft," said the 15 June 1992 ad for the non-existent company. Those who called the Sacramento phone number listed in the ad were interviewed briefly over the phone, then directed to a number in Chicago to speak with someone higher up in the company. Another brief phone interview was held, then applicants were asked to come to the windy city for a final in-person interview. Then came the hook: "Just to be on the safe side," prospective hires were told, "we'll require you to pay one-third of the round-trip airfare ($181), with that money to be refunded to you when you get here." This payment was to be sent via Western Union. When it was, it was never seen again.

While this con is known to have been applied to job postings for security personnel, flight attendants, and models, there is no reason to suppose only those offers of employment need to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. Stay alert to the possibility of this swindle being used in connection with other job ads. Don't let your desire for the career of your dreams cause you to not recognize the same old wolf just because he's dressed in a new sheepskin.

Barbara "woolly bully" Mikkelson

How To Avoid Falling Victim To 'Front a Portion of Your Airfare' Scams:
  • Remember that anyone can place a newspaper or online ad. Do not confuse the appearance of such solicitations in reputable forums with proof of the offers having been vetted by those publications or job search services.
  • Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by official-sounding corporate names. Some scam artists operate under business names that can be confused with those of long-standing, reputable firms. Others choose impressive-sounding evocative names that roll satisfyingly off the tongue. In both instances, they count on their pigeons being mollified by the sound of the name rather than inspired to research the company on their own.
  • Never pay a company to hire you, not even if such payment is presented as a "proof of candidate's seriousness" gambit. Shun all dealings that involve your sending money to the people who are supposedly interested in offering you a job. Disbelieve even the most earnest of claims that you will be reimbursed later in the hiring process.
  • Do not wire money to strangers, neither when you are buying something privately nor when arranging for an au pair or housekeeper to come work for you. Use entities such as Western Union only when you know the person who will be receiving your money very, very well. Remember, that while a charge made against a credit card can be disputed and a check can have a stop-payment order issued against it, once cash is out the door, it is gone forever. Since wiring money is sending cash, treat it that way.
  • If you have questions about the legitimacy of a job listing, contact your Better Business Bureau, your state or local consumer agency, or the Federal Trade Commission.
Last updated:   11 July 2011

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Sources:

    Bahari, Sarah.   "Applicants Lose Money in Flight-Attendant Job Scam."
    Fort Worth Star-Telegram.   20 August 2005.

    Lewis, Michael.   "Turlock Woman Spots Scam Trading on Travel."
    Modesto Bee.   22 June 1992   (p. B1).