Janet Monk February’21

Finding Fraud Instead of a Job

By Janet Monk

Young people are desperate to secure work and advanced education during the pandemic, but that has only made it easy for fraudulent businesses to take advantage of them. After one year and over two hundred job applications, I was relieved to finally receive a positive response from an employer. Like thousands of other victims, however, my excitement made me blind to the red flags.

Our correspondence began when I applied for a position as an “Application Editor” with the so-called “academic” company on Indeed. My first warning should have been the listed salary: $17 to $68 per hour. The company’s recruiter contacted me shortly after I applied, saying that they would like to explain the selection process to me over the phone.

“I wanted to clear up something on the website; our services are paid by the word, not by the hour,” said the recruiter.

“Would I be considered an employee of your company or a contractor, then?”

“An independent contractor, you must fill out invoices to us. The faster you submit your work back to us, the higher your rate of pay is.”

The position was described as an “Editor and Proof-reader for applicants.” It was not stated, however, that the applicants in question were those applying for post-secondary programs.

“We are partners with all sorts of Ontario institutions. International students use our services to apply to their programs,” said the recruiter. When I asked the recruiter which academic institutions used their company’s services, they specifically mentioned The University of Toronto, Western University, and the University of Waterloo. “I need to send you an assessment to complete over the next 24 hours, a written evaluation to see how you handle the average application. Could I have a different email to send it to?”

“I’m not particularly comfortable with that. My other email is personal, for friends and family.”

“I’m sorry but I can’t send it to the email you have on your resume.”

“My Alumni email? Why not?”

“It’s a conflict of interest.”

Filled with doubt, I wondered why it was a conflict of interest to contact me through the Alumni email of one of their purported affiliated schools. I gave another email to the recruiter and received the assessment about an hour later.

The assessment was formatted as if a prospective student was applying for a Master of Business Analytics at Western University. I was provided three or four bullet points for each question that required a 300 to 500 word essay response. One provided response totalled an appalling 78 words. As for the level of writing provided, one point unfortunately read: “Big data use a lot by company like amazon, google and YouTube.” After working on the assessment for several hours, it became quite clear that the average proofreading job with this company was actually ghostwriting.

Suspicion finally overshadowed my hopes. I spent the weekend sending out inquiries to the schools the recruiter claimed their business was affiliated with, beginning with the University of Toronto – Scarborough.

“U of T Scarborough is not affiliated with any third-party services that write or edit the applications/application essays of prospective students. Students are responsible for completing their own application…” answered a UTSC representative. “We are aware of some agencies that assist with informing students of the admission requirements to certain schools across the world, but the University of Toronto does not contract with agents for the purpose of undergraduate student recruitment.”

A representative of Western University claimed that they have no affiliations with any service like the one I mistakenly applied for. A representative from the University of Waterloo responded that they consider the use of such application writing or editing services application fraud.

While they may seem helpful to the average student at first, the use of application editing services could result in far worse circumstances than rejection. The University of Toronto’s website states that if an application is found to be untrue, false, or otherwise fraudulent, “… your admission to the University may be rescinded, your registration may be revoked, or you could be subject to additional academic penalties. Other universities may also be notified.” Additionally, you could be charged hundreds of dollars for the editing service regardless of whether or not you are accepted into your desired program.

As for those in the market for work, one must be mindful of the following red flags:
• A recruiter that lies or knowingly omits information in a job description may be hiding much more information from potential hires. It could be a sign that it is a scam.
• If there is no pay rate listed, or if the range is questionable, it is reasonable to ask for an estimate. Never assume a company’s pay rate is competitive or fair.
• If the recruiter mentions affiliations or partnerships with a well-known business or institution, it is reasonable to reach out to them to confirm. This may help you identify fraudulent offers.
• If the recruiter asks you to fill out personal information or an assessment in a very short timeframe, it may be because they want to have as little contact with you as possible before proceeding with a scam. This has been the case with several scams in Toronto wherein victims are sent paycheques that bounce after they send the scammers money for “supplies.”

Ultimately, I withdrew my application and learned a valuable lesson. While we must remain cautious of advantageous fraudsters, it is arguably more worthwhile to stay hopeful, honest, and optimistic in these difficult times.

~ Janet Monk is an Author and Copy Editor with an HBA in Creative Writing, History, and Music and Culture from the University of Toronto – Scarborough. To make an inquiry or leave a comment, please send an email to janet.monk@alum.utoronto.ca.