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The Milk House: Scammed

Ryan Dennis for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 October 2020

I was in elementary school when I first heard reports about this new technology called the internet. Having grown up with it as it evolved, it was up to me to tell my grandmother that Nigerian princes weren’t going to send her money or let my father know that no one from Scotland was going to put a down payment for the truck he was selling on Craigslist in upstate New York.

I always figured scammers were going to go hungry once the pre-web generations had passed on. Surely my peers and I were too up on the game to ever fall for anything like that.

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(He says now, blushing.)

May 1, 2020, 9:36 p.m. I rushed downstairs to tell my parents that I was just hired by MacMillan Publishers as a remote copy editor for a pay rate of $46 per hour. Reading through the written Skype conversation that detailed the hour-and-a-half before that moment, I can now see over 20 clues I missed – any one of which should have saved me from embarrassment.

My girlfriend and I were temporarily staying at my parents’ house after having to cut short a trip to South America. Because we are from different nationalities and visas are tricky, we didn’t yet know which country we would be living in. Hence, the only type of work I could seek out at that point was remote – and because getting out of South America at the onset of a pandemic was expensive, work was necessary.

My girlfriend passed by my desk and found me hunched over the laptop. “Wow, you’re really focused,” she says.

I waved her away. “I’m applying for a good job,” I said. “I need to concentrate.”

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It all started when I responded to a few editing gigs posted on the freelancing site Upwork. One read that in order to apply for a copyediting project, I needed to go through an interview. The person who contacted me said they were from MacMillan Publishers and told me to send a message to their hiring manager’s Skype account. They apologized if a written interview came across as unseemly or unprofessional, but they wanted to stay abreast of changing methods and, after all, the position would require strong writing skills.

In my defense, when I see an opportunity, I tend to get hyper-tuned in and have blinders to everything else – and I was aware of what the job market looked like in a pandemic, and my judgment might have been clouded by a smidgen of desperation.

The interviewer asked me how I was. I said “Well, thanks,” and returned the question. The hiring manager of one of the world’s largest publishers responded: “Am good.”

(Come on, Dennis. You’re better than this.)

To give the scammers credit, there were elements of the con that were thought out. They took the time to explain the details of the position and then had me answer 10 typical interview questions. After that, they asked 10 HR-related questions, such as when I was available to start and how many hours a week I was willing to work. By the end of all of that, it had been over an hour, and I was fully invested into the process. In fact, too far into it to realize the questions had strange formatting and were pasted from a script, and that sometimes the scammer accidentally went out of order on that script.

I simply wanted a job with MacMillan.

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The interviewer said that he needed half-an-hour to confer with his colleagues, after which he came back and said I had the position. I told my girlfriend to get ready to celebrate: I was gainfully employed.

After a few more HR-style questions, the supposed MacMillan employee gave me a list of items I needed to start the training process the following week. They included a MacBook Pro laptop, a new HP Laser Jet printer and expensive software. Did I have these things? I was asked.

I didn’t.

Apparently that wasn’t a problem because the company was willing to send me a check to print out and cash with my mobile banking app. They wanted to give me the money directly so I could buy the necessary materials locally and start right away. It was to avoid damages that might occur with the MacBook Pro being shipped. They simply needed the details of my mobile banking app.

I told my girlfriend to go ahead and pour the gin. We were going to drink that night, but for a different reason.

Just to be sure, I asked for an employment contract first. It took them 25 minutes to send one along. It had over 15 typos and a faint box around the MacMillan logo where it had been pasted into another document. In total, that poorly constructed PDF represented the two-and-a-half hours of my Friday evening that were gone for good.

Although they didn’t get my banking details, they did empty out any pride I had left. In hindsight, it is only a desperate man that, despite everything he knows about the world, would believe one of the largest book publishers in the world would hold a written interview on Skype and award the job half-an-hour later. There was no honourable recourse after that. My girlfriend told me not to bother sending the following message, but I sent it anyway:

I received the contract, thanks. One final question ... How are you going to pass the time in jail? My uncle works in cyber security, and he has traced your IP address. I suspect you’ll get a knock on the door from local authorities before too long.

Apparently that did little to scare them because they simply responded, “your papa.” Since then, my girlfriend and I have debated what exactly they meant by that but, in short, the outcome is the same: They got me.  end mark

Ryan Dennis is the son of a former dairy farmer from western New York and a literary writer. He tweets at @PenOfRyanDennis.

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