With the countdown to the Winter Olympics, athletes are working hard in preparation, and so are some con artists.
An offer posted on a college job board promises applicants up to $300 a week if they are willing to wrap their car with advertisements, and drive at least 100 miles a week.
In a post shared on the Northeastern Illinois University campus, the job offer purports to be hiring drivers to help advertise this year’s Olympic Games.
This past fall, Richard Sockol was among those intrigued by this pitch, from a company calling itself "Transit Medias." The company promised future employees they could “Earn Money by Driving."
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"They were going to pay you $300 a week as long as you traveled 100 miles,” Richard said. "I thought okay, I could do that for three months. That's 1,200 bucks a month extra coming into Christmas."
And since the pitch came from a seemingly good source – the job postings board at NEIU, where Richard’s wife works – Richard said he thought it was trustworthy.
"It looked so legit," Richard said, so he contacted the person listed on the job offer and applied. He said he almost immediately heard back, and was hired.
It didn’t take long for Richard to notice some glaring red flags about how the company conducted business.
“They were going to pay for the car wrap,” Richard said. “But then it was, ‘OK, we’re going to send you a check for you to give to this car wrap supervisor.”
A person instructed Richard that he would be paid by check before his car was wrapped, and would need to deposit the check into his account. Then, he was told he should withdraw cash from his account in order to pay the car wrap “supervisor.”
“They sent me a check for $3,400.50,” RIchard explained. “And then he text messaged me saying, ‘Hey, deposit this into your account, and then you can pay him.’”
At this point, Richard said he knew something was fishy, so he took the check to the bank it was written from. Sure enough, staff there confirmed his suspicions.
“She goes, ‘A lot of it looks right, but the signatures are wrong.’ And then they looked at the account and they said, ‘No, this is not a real account.’”
NBC 5 Responds attempted to contact the company – Transit Medias – at its emails and phone numbers, which are no longer in service.
In response to questions regarding the job offer shared with its staff and students, a spokesperson for Northeastern Illinois University said it is, “aware of this incident and has conducted an investigation into the issue… As of today, Public Relations is not aware of any faculty member or student that fell victim to this scam."
Northeastern Illinois University is not alone.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has alerted colleges nationwide of the car wrap con in years past, just as the Olympics were about to begin.
While Richard sees the warning signs, he worries for other college students looking for an opportunity for quick cash.
“It was so convincing. If I was a college student, I'd think, ‘$300? Oh I got a check now? Let me deposit this, get the cash out,’” Richard said. “The advice is just do your homework. If it doesn't seem quite right, check it out.”