Money has been tight lately. Higher education seems to be a horrific negotiation between a bloated debt and an empty fridge. My most recent bank statement and my third straight meal of canned tuna had me at my wit's end. Luckily, with a glance through my inbox, a message came offering relief.
Smith Lisa, one Dr. Paige Lindhal-Lewis, and a person wanting to be known only as “Official Supervisor” had all reached out to me personally for employment, and as a personal assistant no less!
As an insipid journalist, I’m as wary as the next job seeker about potential hucksters, no matter how official a supervisor claims to be. Veracity being the key to news writing, I decided to apply a bit of vetting to those who seemed so desperate for my personal assistance.
The danger of the situation was not lost on me. So far this year, the Federal Trade Commission reports that nearly $100 million has been lost to internet scams in just the United States. Nearly 10% of that involved bogus bosses fronting a job involving a convoluted exchange of checks that left the would-be employee duped and short of potentially thousands of dollars.
Even at the University of Montana, the campus police department has averaged one report a month of deceptive practices through the UM email system since January.
These facts notwithstanding, I gave Smith Lisa and the gang the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I had rent to pay. The following saga took place over the past week:
Having earned my first-aid certification in the army, I decided to first respond to Dr. Lindhal-Lewis. I wrote a brief message saying I was interested and hit send. I waited in suspense, wondering if I should have been more thoughtful in my introduction.
My fears vanished when I saw a response. Although she asked for my name, address, phone number and a photo of my ID, I thought I’d break the ice a little more.
“Howdy there, sawbones!” I wrote. “I’m contacting you because I read you’re in need of a personal assistant. While I’m no surgeon, some of my best friends are organs (jk). But seriously, if a PA is what you’re asking, look no further!”
In her next email, she thanked me for my interest. Along with once again demanding my personal information, she asked that I send a picture of a blank check.
“How’s this?” I wrote, sending a picture of some spaghetti I was reheating in my microwave.
“Now you will only need to purchase a Business Check Paper for printing of the check, it's sold for ($25) at any Stationery store's, Office Depot or Staples. I will re-reimburse you for the cost of supplies. Get the Business Check Paper then email me . Please Note that you need a Printer OK,” the doctor said.
“Oh, OK,” I said, and responded with a snapshot of some old coffee grounds in my trash.
During my negotiations with Doc, I started receiving text messages from someone named Kelly. She claimed to have an incredible deal on hearing aids, but insisted on calling me Richard. In order to take advantage of the offer, I had to call her.
“Try it out-Call now!!-I respect your time… This is too amazing to pass up, Richard,” she wrote.
Knowing a good deal when I see one, I called Kelly immediately. After several attempts, she answered the phone. To avoid any awkwardness, I assumed my new Dick persona.
“Yes, hello?” she said.
“Hello?” I said.
“This is Richard?” she said.
“Hello?” I said.
“Yes, this is Richard?” she said.
“Hello?” I said.
She hung up.
My stabs at becoming a personal assistant had brought me to a personal low. After days of attempts, Richard or not, I was no closer to paying my rent. Plus, I was now out of a free hearing aid.
Abandoning my chance at some easy merchandise, I looked back at some more job offers trickling into my inbox. After cycling through PA job after PA job, the opportunity of a lifetime flashed in front of me: dog sitting for an incoming professor from Puerto Rico, recently injured and in desperate need of help.
“I will be offering you $300 weekly bonus will be paid if there are any overtime if you believe you are fit for this position in as much you will prove yourself to be a reliable and good person,” said the responding email.
I saw a number below, and promptly called, paranoid that I’d missed my chance. Between each hum of a dial tone, however, panic set in. I didn’t trust myself to win over this pet owner in peril. I let Dick take over.
“Hi,” she said.
“Yeah, hi back. Is this the dog sitting job?” I said.
“Yes, if you’re interested.”
“Great. First you’ll need — “
“Am I going to have to walk this thing?” I said.
“The dogs. Do I need to walk the dogs?”
“OK, well I don’t have any arms.”
“You don’t have arms?”
“Nope. Not a phalange or humerus to speak of,” I said.
I could hear a conversation in the background. I had a feeling that Dick had ruined me once again.
“I could put the leash in my mouth, I suppose.”
She hung up the phone.