When dozens of eager job applicants started dropping by Park Line Coffee with resumes and prepared for an interview with a person named Kenny last Sunday, owner Janis Urniezius was perplexed.
It wasn’t surprising to her that folks wanted to join the staff at the small coffee shop on Osborne Street. It’s just that she hadn’t advertised any open positions and didn’t know anyone named Kenny.
"I felt terrible for them," Urniezius said. "It was a bit of an inconvenience for me, but you can see the look on someone’s face when they’re there for something and you have to say ‘Sorry, that’s not happening.’"
Urniezius soon learned from job seekers that they were responding to an ad posted on indeed.com, an online job board that allows employers to post positions for free.
The fake advertisement requested applications for a barista and cashier for Park Line Coffee and directed interested candidates to send their resume to a person named Kenny by email.
The post read like one Urniezius might have used if she was hiring, with the exception of a few details that would have raised the eyebrows of people familiar with the business.
"I was surprised and I didn't understand why someone would do that at first," she said. "I can only suspect they’re trying to collect people’s information."
And when applicants didn’t immediately hear back from Kenny by email, they instead reached out to Urniezius by phone and in person. She had to field roughly 50 inquiries, and Urniezius said it’s unclear what information the poster solicited from potential applicants — including banking information, social security numbers, and addresses — before they got in touch with her.
"Late Monday, I reported it as not a real ad, as inaccurate," she said. "And still with people coming in and calling on Tuesday, I changed my phone message and I stopped answering the phone, and I put it on social media just in case someone was researching us."
The ad has since been taken down from the job board.
Urniezius said she’s aware of two other local businesses targeted in the same way. Thom Bargen Coffee co-owner Graham Bargen confirmed a similiar fake job advertisement was posted last year to indeed.com for a position at the coffee shop and job seekers arrived at his business believing they had been hired over email.
Employment scams are a successful and well-used ploy by fraudsters seeking personal information and cash transfers, said Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said.
However, fraudsters posing as legitimate, small local businesses is out of the norm.
Typically, a scammer will create a fake business and build a web presence to make it appear legitimate, he said.
"When we see job scams, normally there’s some sort of job and it leads to somebody cashing a counterfeit cheque or being a money mule," Thomson said. "To see one where there’s no actual job and their spoofing a real company, it is a bit curious."
"At the very least, it provides some level of personal information," Thomson said. "So certainly identity theft would be a concern."
Other scams include fraudsters posing as large corporations offering cash to consumers who wrap their vehicles with logos, or posting a financial assistant position that requires people to unwittingly accept e-transfers from compromised bank accounts and exchange the money into e-currency.
"Maybe they’re changing it up," he said. "They’re always looking for these money mules. It’s a huge part of fraud and cyber crime today."
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there have been 1,251 reported employment scams as of Aug. 31, 2019. Of those scams, 452 reported victims having lost a cumulative $1.5 million.
Len Andrusiak, chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau serving Manitoba and Northwest Ontario, said job seekers ought to do their due diligence before sharing personal information with potential employers online.
“I felt terrible for them. It was a bit of an inconvenience for me, but you can see the look on someone’s face when they’re there for something and you have to say ‘Sorry, that’s not happening.’” – Janis Urniezius
"Where we run into issues, or where we get reports of consumers who have been taken advantage of, is where they follow the process of the scam," Andrusiak said. "There’s a wide range of different ways that they can try and milk money out of somebody."
Andrusiak said there’s little stopping someone from impersonating a brand on the internet for nefarious purposes.
"Technology has made scamming so complicated, and it really has given individuals the ability to leverage electronic communications to their advantage," Andrusiak said.
"If a scammer really wants to take advantage and target your business there’s not much you can do other than making sure information about your business is well documented and published."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.