How I Almost Got Scammed on Care.com

It’s no secret that college kids go through money like it’s water. So, it’s always nice to have some kind of income flowing in whether you’ve got a part time job at a coffee shop or you’re getting federal work-study. Side jobs like babysitting are common in college. After all, it’s fast cash! You’ve probably heard of Care.com from the constant commercials on television featuring cute kids saying what they look for in a babysitter. Sounds legit, right? Well I learned the hard way that you need to be on your guard even with renowned sites like this one. Here’s what happened…

I’ve had an account with Care.com since high school when I started looking for babysitting gigs to make a little extra gas money. When I signed up, I had to provide all of my basic information – name, address, birthday, etc. But, in addition to that, if I really wanted to get hired I needed to get references and ratings from families I’ve worked for and undergo a background check. This kind of security screening makes sense because you are, in fact, caring for children and parents want to make sure that they know whom they’re allowing around their children. So, I added some pictures of me playing with my cousins and dogs, wrote a brief bio, went through a background check and got some references to add flair to my profile. I got a couple messages inquiring about my hours and rates, but ultimately, I found a babysitting job through family connections at home that I kept up until I left for college.

Now that I’m in school and out of work (and money), I decided to put Care.com to the test again. The way that the site works is that you add your availabilities and qualifications (i.e. CPR training, languages spoken) and your location, then you can search through the jobs near you for which you meet the criteria. Once you find a job you like, you can apply by sending a brief message to the parents, who will then review your profile. Alternatively, the parents can reach out to your first via Care.com if they like your profile. I applied to a few jobs by messaging the parents, but didn’t hear back from anyone.

About a week later, I started getting inquiries from quite a few people via text message. I thought this was a bit odd because I was used to messaging through the site and couldn’t remember if I had entered my phone number upon signing up all those years ago (red flag number one). The messages all stated that they had found me through Care.com and went on to state how many days a week they needed a sitter for their child(ren). I responded back to one woman in particular and began to work out the details of what she needed. Her story went a little something like this:

“I’m a single mother with a 6-year-old son from Florida. We are moving to the Philadelphia area in a few weeks as I got relocated for work. I need a sitter for five hours a day, three days a week. I’m looking for someone trustworthy and reliable. Here’s a little bit about myself. I am hard of hearing and attended a school for the deaf. I work at a bank and my son is my world.”

Image via Care.com of another common scam story

All that sounded pretty legit to me so I responded with a bit about myself including my experience with children, my availability and rates. She then asked me to email her with my résumé, a reference, and more extensive details about me. I complied and she responded saying that she would love to hire me. I assumed that she would want to interview me in person beforehand, but she made no arrangements to do so (red flag number two). Instead she said that she would need me to do a couple of errands for her prior to her arrival in Philly such as buying groceries and signing off for furniture deliveries. She said she would send me a check in the mail with the first week’s payment as well as a bit of money for the errands (red flag number three). Don’t be as gullible as me: nine times out of ten no one credible is ever going to pay you upfront especially when they haven’t even met you in person. But, I was broke and enamored by the idea of securing this job so I allowed myself to believe what ended up being a lie. The next day, the woman said she had mailed out the check and for me to let her know when I had received it.

Two days later, I got the check in the mail. I had class that day until pretty late so I hadn’t gotten around to opening it. When I finally returned to my apartment at the end of the day I had several text messages from a new number. It was the woman messaging me consistently throughout the day saying that the tracking said the check was delivered, inquiring if I had received it and why I was not responding (red flag number four). I should have known by that point that something was up, but again I was naïve. I opened the envelope that strangely had no return address listed to find a check for $1,999.45 – WAY too much for a first week’s payment and errand money. There was no name on the check, just Boston University’s address and the address for a Citizens Bank in Rhode Island. The woman said she was from Florida so I was a little thrown off by this (red flag number five, six and seven).

I messaged her back saying that I had just gotten home from class and that I received a check but that it didn’t have a name on it. She said that that was correct and that the check came from her company’s payroll department. Stupidly, I deposited the check electronically and told the woman I would let her know when the funds became available.

That night, I ran into a friend and we started catching up. I told her about this impending babysitting gig. Saying it aloud made me realize just how sketchy it was. She told me that someone she knew had been scammed through Care.com and that I should call my bank and inquire about the check. At this point, I knew that there was a huge chance I was being scammed. After googling “Care.com scams”, one of the top sites was a page entitled “Care.com and Scams: How to Avoid Babysitting Scams”. Guess what site the article was published on? Care.com. The article described almost the same exact scenario I was in and explained that these “overpayment scams”, as they are called, are extremely common nowadays.

If Care.com knows that this is going on you think that they would take action to protect the sitters! All this information about frequent babysitting scams was on their own page, but I had never even heard of it, which is why I am writing this article to get the word out about these types of scams. There are so many precautions for the parents, and rightfully so, but virtually no protection for the sitters who are providing the services that keep their site going. Are you serious?! They could at least protect my phone number and personal information. You usually only receive messages using their messaging system and they supposedly use firewalls and encryption to protect personal information, but obviously this isn't enough as people are accessing my name and phone number to contact me.

Image via Care.com of what a text message scam may look like

I googled what the repercussions of depositing a fraudulent check were and was traumatized by articles saying that I might have to file a police report, go to court and that my bank account could be shut down due to suspicious activity. Terrified that I was in legal trouble or at risk of being robbed, I dialed the 24-hour hotline number for my bank and told them the situation. They explained that the check has not yet been approved and that it was under review by both the sending and receiving banks. The representative said that the money is currently being “fronted” in my account, which means that the bank is pretending that it’s there. So this means that if I use my debit card and touch that money by overdrawing what’s actually in my account, my account will most likely be closed because it looks as though I was involved in the scam. She said to be careful of what I was spending until the bank returns the check to the sender.

The scam artist then messaged me asking about the status of the funds. I told her that I figured out that this was a scam and that she shouldn’t contact me anymore. She then started getting rude with me and demanded that I wire her the money back via MoneyGram or Western Union. I told her I would do no such thing, but that if the money ever did become available in my account I would write a check and send it back to her company. I asked for the company address and she wouldn’t give me one. I asked for the name of her employer, the address of her home in Philadelphia and the date of her son’s birthday because I was angry and now knew with 110 percent certainty that this was a scam. Nothing. She responded, “Stop all this rubbish questions all I need is my money back is that clear. And stop telling I wanna scam you cos I am real.”  I blocked the number.

After a few days, the check was sure enough found to be fraud and the money was removed from my account along with a $12 fee for the inconvenience of having to review and return the fraudulent check. I submitted a lengthy complaint to Care.com about the lack of privacy and protection for the people who keep their site up and running and I plan on deleting my account with them as soon as I receive a response. Moral of the story? Trust your intuition if you think that a situation seems sketchy. Don’t accept any money upfront, especially if you haven’t met your employer in person. I learned the hard way, but hopefully you’ll be smarter than I was.

For more information about overpayment scams and how to recognize the signs of one, click here.