College student gets lured into scam on Care.com

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The last thing a struggling college student needs is a con-artist, stealing her money. But that's what nearly happened to a Bay Area woman.

This is such a heartbreaker. This student is working so hard to put herself through school. All she wanted was a part time job. Instead, she got caught in a scam that is targeting a new group -- babysitters.

Like most students here at San Francisco State University, Lauren Well struggles to get by. She carries a full load of classes, studies long hours and squeezes in a part time job at Whole Foods Market. Still cash is short.

"I did need a little bit of extra money, so I signed up on Care.com," Well said.

She decided to look for babysitting jobs through Care.com, a website which connects families with caregivers. Right away, she got an exciting offer for $18 an hour on the weekends.

A woman was moving to San Francisco and needed a nanny. She offered good pay, but what really got to Wells was her heartbreaking story.

Well read the listing that said, "I lost my husband and a 4-month-old baby in April. Joe happens to be the only survivor of the accident, but he currently uses a wheelchair."

The woman said she is deaf, her son is disabled and she needed help.

"I wanted to cry. I think I did cry a little bit just because she had just lost a husband, she had just lost a baby," Well said.

She emailed back saying she'd love the job.

"And then without meeting me she said that I was hired," Well said.

That seemed odd. Her boyfriend told her to back out.

Well said her boyfriend said, "'This isn't real, get your head out of your butt.' I was, 'No, this is totally real.' And I did really want to help this woman out."

Next, the woman told Well she should order a wheelchair for the boy and sent her a check through FedEx for $3,000. Well was supposed to deposit the check, keep $300 for herself and send the rest to the wheelchair company.

She deposited the check and was about to quit her other job when she noticed what the ATM receipt said; the deposit was delayed three weeks. Well texted the woman and the woman said she needed a loan of $500. That's when Well got really skeptical.

It turned out to be a big scam: the check was fake, the family was fake and the Internet is full of reports of the same wheelchair con.

We asked Care.com about crooks posing as employers on its site. The company said it has added security measures -- like a message system that looks for fraud. A spokesperson said: "Overpayment scams are often targeted at Internet job sites and job seekers, including caregivers, and we continuously research processes to improve the safety of our site."

All Well knows is, she came close to disaster. She told 7 On Your Side, "I'd have to sell my car, probably have to find a much cheaper apartment. I'd have to get another part time job. I don't have $3,000."

Any time someone sends you a big check and tells you to send part of it somewhere else, it is certainly a fraud. Don't fall for it!

Care.com does not screen all users but has information on how to protect yourself on the site.

Care.com Safety Center

What is Care.com doing to protect members from scams?

Care.com is an online marketplace that allows families to meet and connect with providers of caregiving services. Overpayment scams are often targeted at Internet job sites and job seekers, including caregivers, and we continuously research processes to improve the safety of our site for our members. To that end, we have implemented a number of features, including: proactive email communications to caregivers on our site with tips on how to spot and avoid scams; resources on how to avoid consumer fraud scams; a monitored messaging system for all communications; and fraud detection tools to create a safer environment. Equally as important to the measures we have instituted is for families and caregivers to exercise their own appropriate steps in safety. There are four keys steps we urge our members to follow:

1. Use the Monitored Messaging System on Care.com when communicating with a potential employer. Why? Because it protects your privacy and we can then monitor all electronic exchanges for fraudulent activity, enhancing our ability to remove fraudsters from the site.

2. Be vigilant. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Never accept payment by check in advance or for an amount which is greater than what you agreed upon and never wire money back to someone who pays you by check. This is a common Internet job scam, which occasionally targets sites offering the services of babysitters, nannies and other care providers.

3. Have an In-Person Interview. It's always important to meet with the family or individual before you accept a job. Make sure your interview is in a public place and ask to see an ID so you can confirm who you're meeting with. If a prospective employer claims to be relocating to your area and therefore is unavailable to meet for an interview, delay accepting the job - or any payment - until the individual is in your area and can meet for the in-person interview. And again, never accept advance payment from a family or individual without having first met them and gone through the interview process.

4. Talk to Care.com. Contact us immediately if you think a job post or message is spam, a scam or suggestive. Simply click the "Report" flag located in all messages and job posts. We take reports from our members very seriously and work hard to respond quickly. When Care.com becomes aware of information regarding a member or prospective member that we believe makes them a potential danger to our community, we promptly remove them from our site and notify anyone with whom we know they've had contact.
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