Call Christina consumer alert: The nanny scam

Caregiver receives suspicious response to Care.com listing

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – A heartfelt plea from an out-of-state mom to a South Florida nanny to help her secure a wheelchair for her injured child ended up being a scam.

The savvy caregiver got three of those requests back-to-back, so she became suspicious and Called Christina to alert others.

Federal regulators said they are aware of con-artists posing as mothers who are trying to cheat caregivers with a fake check fraud scheme.

The Persuasive Plea:

Shortly after professional nanny Beatriz Donoso created a listing on Care.com several moms responded.

As she began to engage them to work out the details, three of the moms who reached out to her made the same unique request.

All three pulled at the heart-strings, saying they needed her help buying their child a wheelchair. They said they would send her money to deposit into her checking account and asked her to send a portion along to a wheelchair supplier with the remainder being payment for Donoso's first week of pay.

Donoso called Local 10 News one day after a check for more than $2,000 arrived via priority mail.

Although it looked like a real check, to receive the same special request, the same pitch from three different moms seemed odd.

"One from Canada, one from Texas, the other one from New York," Donoso said. "I knew this was not right. I said, 'I better tell somebody.'"

All three women also told Donoso that they were hearing impaired, "so the only way to communicate was via email or text." They also told her they would interview with her upon arrival to South Florida.

Fake Check Fraud Scheme:

Federal regulators have been tracking this so-called nanny or caregiver scam. They are cropping up on sites that can match you with potential clients.

It often involves a fake check fraud scheme. If you were to deposit the check and send the money along to a fictitious third party, your bank would soon learn the check was a fake.

"It takes only a day or two for your bank to make the money available to you, but it can take weeks for your bank to determine a check is phony," Carol Kando-Pineda from the Federal Trade Commission said. "If you already withdrew that money, you're on the hook to pay back the bank. If you've already transferred the money to the third party, it's gone -- like sending cash. And, since the recipient can pick up the money from a different money transfer location than the one you sent it to, it's nearly impossible to find the recipient. That's how these con artists avoid detection."

In this case, Donoso would have been out thousands of dollars if she fell for it.

Luckily, the savvy nanny was able to sniff out the scammers, in part because they were so overt and the pitch so similar.

"I just want them aware of the situation," Donoso said about why she decided to share her story. "I wanted the community to know (that) they need to pay attention to these kinds of things."

Protect Yourself:

Fake check scams can surface in different ways. While in this case the target was caregivers, in other schemes you may be convinced you won the lottery or a prize. The take away here, if anyone ever sends you a check asking you to send part of it somewhere else, don't do it.

Click here for more information from Care.com about consumer protection.

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.

FTC: Here's how to avoid a counterfeit check scam

  • Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. If it's free or a gift, you shouldn't have to pay for it. Free is free.
  • Resist the urge to enter foreign lotteries. It's illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or the telephone, and most foreign lottery solicitations are phony.
  • Know who you're dealing with and never wire money to strangers.
  • If you're selling something, don't accept a check for more than the selling price, no matter how tempting the offer or how convincing the story. Ask the buyer to write the check for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the check. Don't send the merchandise.
  • As a seller, you can suggest an alternative way for the buyer to pay, like an escrow service or online payment service. There may be a charge for an escrow service. If the buyer insists on using a particular escrow or online payment service you've never heard of, check it out. Visit its website, and read its terms of agreement and privacy policy. Call the customer service line. If there isn't one or if you call and can't get answers about the service's reliability, don't use the service.
  • If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that's not possible, call the bank where the check was purchased, and ask if it is valid. Get the bank's phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the check or from the person who gave you the check.
  • If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don't pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there's a problem with a wire transaction.
  • Resist any pressure to "act now." If the buyer's offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.