While the internet and job search websites are making it easier than ever for nannies, babysitters, pet sitters and other caregivers to find potential gigs, it also leaves the door wide open for scammers trying to trick you out of money.
For Virginia nanny Kattia Morales, it all seemed a little too good to be true. When she was searching for a child care job, a guy reached out and told her his family was moving in from out of state. Not only did they want to hire her as a nanny — no interview necessary! — but they also wanted to pay her in advance.
“He was very generous and very trusting, offering me everything just like that without knowing me,” Morales says. “It was a very weird situation.”
Sensing something fishy about this job offer, she stopped responding to the man and reported the messages, potentially avoiding a common tactic used to scam nannies and other caregivers for money.
Protect yourself by knowing what warning signs to look for and what to do if you spot a job scam while looking for work.
Common job scams to be aware of
Many online job offer scams play out roughly the same way, but with some slight variations. The two most common scams either ask prospective employees to pay a third party or return an original payment. They often shake out like this:
- Someone reaches out to you online, or by text, saying they want to hire you, sight unseen.
- They offer to pay you upfront, give you a cash advance and/or ask you to accept deliveries or make purchases on their behalf.
- They send you a big check (which turns out to be fake).
- They then either:
- Ask you to keep a portion of the money and forward the rest on to someone else you’ve never met.
- Tell you they overpaid or changed their minds and instruct you to return some or all of the money as soon as possible.
- Ask you to accept deliveries or purchase items, and tell you to send on payment to a third party (via check, wire transfer, gift cards, etc.) to cover the cost of the materials.
- The original check bounces, and you’re out all of the money you paid back or sent on.
Red flag language or requests
Not all caregiver scams are identical, but they do often have a few key things in common that you should watch out for. These include:
- The family is “relocating” or “out of town” and hires you without meeting you first. There are some very real, non-scammy families looking to shore up child care before they move to a new city, but hiring you without some sort of interview — if not in person, then at least over the phone or via Skype or Zoom — is a bad sign.
- Payment is upfront and/or unnecessarily complicated. Be wary of anyone asking you to accept payment before you start a nanny or caregiver job, or requesting you fork over money for any reason.
- It all seems really rushed. Scammers will typically insist on a fast turnaround to pressure you into acting quickly and limit the time you have to think things through.
- They insist on getting your personal information. Perfectly legitimate employers will ask you for your social security number and banking info in order to complete tax forms and arrange your payroll. But this all happens once you’ve officially been hired. That is, after the interviews and signed nanny contracts — not before.
- There’s a sob story involved. Some scammers will tell you a sad story to get you to lower your guard. These generally are designed to play on your sympathies as a caregiver, such as saying their requests or rushed timelines are due to a sick child.
- The pay is too high. If the supposed job is offering a lot of money for part-time or is way above average pay rates for nannies in your area, the job offer is probably not legit.
Tips for staying safe while job hunting
You might not be able to avoid these scams entirely, but you can take steps to protect yourself if you come across one, says Juliana Gruenwald of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. She suggests when job hunting:
- Google the potential client’s info (name, email address, phone number, etc.) to see if others have linked them to a scam.
- Don’t cash or deposit checks from any potential employers and then send money on or wire it back.
- Don’t accept payment from anyone you haven’t met in person or don’t already know.
How to report a caregiver scam
Because scam messages are often sent via job posting sites, it’s important to notify the site of the scam as soon as you suspect something fishy. If you received a scam offer on Care.com, you can report it by clicking on the top right-hand corner of the message. You can also report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
If you’ve been the victim of a caregiver job scam, there are steps you can take to try and get your money back and help stop the people who scammed you. You should:
- Report the scam to the job listing site where you received the message, as well as to the FTC.
- Stop all contact with the scammer. On Care.com, you can block someone from contacting you again by clicking the upper right-hand corner of a message. [NOTE: This will not report the scam to Care.com; you should also separately report suspicious members]
- Contact the company you used to send money to tell them the transaction was fraudulent and ask them to reverse it or for a refund. You might not get your money back, but it’s always worth asking.