Scammers posing as parents are targeting would-be nannies and baby sitters with a scheme that's taking their money and leaving them jobless.
Investigators say criminals are tricking child care candidates searching for jobs on the popular website Care.com.
Online scammers will email care providers whose applications are posted on the site, saying they're writing from overseas and need a sitter or nanny for an upcoming trip to the United States. Once the baby-sitting schedule and price has been negotiated, the scammer promises to send a check to cover the caretaker's salary.
The check, however, has extra money attached to it for "added expenses" like toys or other child care supplies.
From there, the scam can unfold in different ways.
In some cases, the "parent" asks the caretaker to deposit half of the payment into their checking account at an ATM, and take out the remaining cash to bring to a designated store. A store employee (an accomplice to the crime) will send the children the toys after receiving the payment. Because the check is fraudulent, the cash is the caretaker's own.
In other incidents, the "parent" sends a check for much more than the negotiated amount; then, the caretaker is asked to cash it, and wire the extra money back. Again, the caretaker ends up footing the bill for any cash withdrawn on the fraudulent check.
Aleesha Wachtel, a 19-year-old Lancaster college student, was a recent target of this cyber crime, after posting her resume on Care.com. The first response she got was an email from a woman claiming to be Australian, saying her family was relocating to Southern California and needed a baby sitter for her toddler.
"She wouldn’t tell me like if it was in Palmdale or Lancaster or something that would say that it was real, Wachtel told NBC4. "Then, when I asked where did they live they wouldn’t tell me."
Wachtel's father Michael became suspicious when the "mother" sent a check for $2850, after originally negotiating a payment of just $300.
"That's when it started setting off the red flags," Michael Wachtel said.
Michael Wachtel told his daughter not to cash the check.
"(I warned her that]) they’re going to empty out your account and you’re going to be left with nothing, with no recourse or nothing," Michael Wachtel said.
Care.com spokeswoman Nancy Bushkin told the I-Team the company has implemented a number of features to protect caregivers, including emails and posted information on its website 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.
Rebecca Stewart, owner of VIP Nanny Agency in Studio City, told the NBC4 I-Team that the "overseas parent" scam is proof that applying for a caretaker position — or hiring a caretaker — sight unseen can be risky.
"You don’t know what you’re getting, you really don't," Stewart said. "You don’t even know if it’s the person’s name that you’re talking to on the other end of the phone or other end of the email."
Stewart said her agency makes it a priority to establish relationships with both families and caregivers.
Care.com recommends that babysitter candidates always schedule an in-person meeting with a prospective employer before accepting a job. The site also suggests the meeting take place in a public setting, and urges candidates to ask to see identification.
Aleesha Wachtel said from now on, she'll take that advice to heart.
"I’m not baby-sitting unless I know the person already," she said.