[Update 7/14/2010: Another update from a commenter. This time the site is appearing as ELL Property Management and it just went live today. See the comment thread for details.]
[Update 7/4/2010: A commenter dropped by and told us these assholes are still trying to run this same scam under a new name. Do not apply for jobs with VOV Property Management either. See the comment thread for details.]
I’ve been out of work just over two months now and, as you would expect, I’ve been spending a good portion of my time trying to find a new job. One of the resources I’ve been using to try and find something local is Craigslist. It was there that I came across this ad on June 24th:
So I sent an email with a short cover letter and my resume. Yesterday I got the following email:
Thank you for your interest and your recent resume submission. My name is Armanda and I am the Human Resource Manager that is in charge of the hiring process for our company TTJ Property Management. I’ve look over your application and due to the high amount of replies that we’ve gotten regarding our recent classifieds posting, I wanted to contact you as soon as possible and see if you would be interested in setting up an interview with us.
Before I continue let me tell you some background information about TTJ Property Management: We are an established Rental Company that was founded back in 1984 and we’ve grown immensely since then. Unlike other rental companies, we hope to foster a fun yet efficient environment for our employees since we have the firm belief that if we provide our employees with a welcoming work atmosphere we will see an increased return in productivity. Candidates should consider themselves self-starters and be able to work efficiently with minimum supervision. Other skills like great interaction with employees of all levels of the firm, strong communication skills, organization skills etc. are also valued very highly.
Our company aims to build a strong bond with its employees and therefore we offer benefits packages for you and your family plus we thrive to pay our employees a higher hourly wage than any of our competitors. We will be discussing compensation and benefits a little bit more in detail during our interview when we are in a more private environment instead of public emails.
Now due to our policies I will not be able to schedule an interview with you until you have filled out one of our online applications which can be found on our company website. Please visit http://ttjmanagement.com/application/ and fill out our short application so we can move on with the interview process. Each applicant is required to have a personal application code in order to fill the application.
Your code is: [Code Deleted]
Since we have received such a high number of replies to our job posting I will only be able to hold your application on my desk for 1-2 days more so please do not wait too long to fill out our online application! I will contact you as soon as I receive your online application!
Now if you have any questions please feel free to contact me!
Hoping to see you here for an interview soon,
Human Resource Manager
TTJ Property Management
It all looks legitimate enough and I was oblivious that anything might be amiss until I tried to click on the link in the email. My browser sat twiddling its thumbs and then finally announced that it could not resolve the domain name. That seemed a bit strange so I tried a Google search which came up with a big fat nothing. Well, not entirely true. It found results for companies with similar names, but if you put TTJ Property Management in quotes to force it as a literal result you get the dreaded “No results found for “TTJ Property Management”.”
I thought that was odd for a company that’s been around since the year before I graduated high school. Even if they never had a web presence themselves surely someone in the past 26 years would’ve said something about them on the Internet. No company is so perfect that someone somewhere doesn’t bitch about them at some point. For that matter any of a number of online Yellow Pages and business directories would have an entry about them someplace. That is, if they actually existed.
My curiosity piqued by this interesting turn of events I did what all life-long computer geeks do when confronted with such an anomaly: I did a WhoIs on the domain name. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the domain belonged to someone in Moscow, Russia and had been registered for the first time the day before I got the email above:
Now the klaxons in my head were going off at full volume, but I thought I should reply just to see what kind of response I might get. So I sent the following reply back to “Armanda” to see what she would say:
I seem to be having some trouble accessing the website you have listed in your email. The domain name doesn’t appear to be resolving properly and I’m not sure if it’s an issue with my ISP or not. I tried pinging the address and got no response so I did a WhoIs and it appears the domain is registered to someone in Russia and was just created yesterday.
I have to admit that for a company that’s been around since 1984, the above facts strike me as rather odd. Seeing as I am unable to fill out the online application as you requested is it possible I could contact you by phone to set up a time for an interview? I’d also like to verify the address I’d be going to when the time comes.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
So far I’ve yet to receive a reply, but the webpage address is resolving properly as of today. If you go there today you’ll see this:
Looks OK, right? There’s plenty of pages to poke around on and if you take the time to do so you’ll soon be struck by how there’s so much text that isn’t really telling you anything. Sure, it all reads like what you’d expect on a property management site except that there’s no staff information, something which is pretty common on business sites offering services, and no information on where this company is located. If you click on the Contact Us tab you’re presented with a simple web form with no indication as to who the message will go to and absolutely no other information on how to contact anyone at the company.
It was about this time that it occurred to me to check the header on the email I received from “Armanda Elliot” and got the next clue that this was a scam. The email address the message was sent from was firstname.lastname@example.org. Now why would a legitimate Human Resources manager for a company so well established use an obviously randomized email address through a Hotmail account? Checking the originating IP address shows that it came from Amsterdam, NL. Website in Russia and emails from the Netherlands?
By this point I was pretty well convinced that this was possibly an attempt at ID theft, but before I started blogging about it I thought I should be thorough. So I went ahead and clicked on the link for the application “Armanda” had sent along and it took me to this page:
You’ll note that I put a red box around the section that claims this is a secure page. I did this because it’s a flat out lie. The URL for that page was a standard http address and not the https of a secure page. Also most browsers will change the address bar to indicate when you’re on a secure page and Firefox gave no indication that the page was secure. I also took the time to ping the domain name and got an IP address of 126.96.36.199 which, when you look it up, is registered to the RIPE Network Coordination Centre in, you guessed it, Amsterdam. The same place the email originated from.
The next several pages were very surreal as they were filled with all manner of questions that seemed more like one of those find-out-your-personality-profile quizzes that are all over the internet than anything a company would put up. Some of the questions were OK such as “You see a fellow employee stealing from the company. What would you do?” followed by three answers — do nothing, tell a supervisor, confront employee — that I’ve seen asked before, but others seemed totally irrelevant to a job such as whether I consider myself a liberal, moderate, or a conservative. Right in the middle of the second page was where the next big red flag popped up as squeezed between the surreal questions was this:
I can’t recall an employer ever asking me for my credit report before. What’s interesting is that if you click on the check box to get your “free” credit report the form launches an entirely new browser window which cycles through two or three URLs in rapid succession before landing at ID Complete.com which, ironically enough, has the following for its webpage title: Identity Theft Protection & Identity Theft Prevention by ID Complete. The URL goes to a specific sub-page and includes some codes that are probably affiliate indicators. Here’s what that site looks like:
We’ll talk about these guys in a minute, but first let’s finish up with the TTJ Property Management folks. The last page of the questionnaire asks you to attach your resume and upload it to the site, which is odd because they already have my resume from the initial email I sent them so why would they ask for it a second time? More surprising, though, was the fact that they weren’t doing something obvious like asking for my Social Security number, which is what I had expected to have happen. I didn’t upload my resume again so I’m not sure what the screen after that would’ve been like, but I was feeling pretty confident at this point that I had investigated the site itself far enough.
Now as for the ID Complete.com folks, well, I’m not sure about them. Doing a Google search on IDComplete.com reveals they are all over the place with over 2,000 mentions mainly because it appears that they have an affiliate program which pays for traffic to their site. Having gone through the first dozen or so pages of search results I’ve been unable to find anything in the way of complaints and trying various search queries specifically looking for complaints doesn’t turn anything up either. Which is suspicious in itself as it suggests they’ve done everything they can to bury anything negative about them out on the net. That said, as near as I can tell, they are legit. Or at least as legit as any other company that attempts to sell you ID theft prevention and credit reports. You can bet your sweet ass that the “free” credit report involves signing up for their ID theft prevention service which will probably be very difficult to cancel once you’ve signed up.
Finally, to be on the safe side, I contacted the Better Business Bureau to see if perhaps they had any info on TTJ Property Management. Not surprisingly, they don’t and the representative I spoke with on the phone agreed that it sounded like a scam. He suggested I contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the FTC about it. The thing that is puzzling is that it appears they aren’t trying to steal your ID at all. Rather it’s a very involved affiliate marketing ruse. If that’s the case then what they’re doing may not even be illegal.
The phony job application above says they’ll need a copy of your credit report at the interview, but they never ask you to send it to them. It’s designed specifically to get you to go to ID Complete.com website and sign up whereupon the owners of the phony job site will earn an affiliate fee. Seems like a lot of work for a few pennies, right? Naturally that made me curious to see how much they could potentially earn from this ploy.
Doing a Google search for ID Complete Affiliate Program returns just two results both of which point to oDigger.com which is a site for finding affiliate programs to join. The first points to an offer from Cactus Media for joining an affiliate program promoting ID Complete.com that apparently offers payments of $36 per conversion! Now I’m not sure what a conversion is, but I’d guess that it means for every person who signs up with ID Complete. The second points to an offer from Cpaway that offers payments of $19 per lead. Not as impressive as Cactus Media’s offering, but still not bad.
Interestingly enough, the Cpaway listing has the following description:
Identity Protection and 3 Bureau Annual Credit Report. Converts on a 2nd page submit with order of 30 day free trial. (Please be aware that his offer may not be ran on Craigslist and publishers found promoting it through CL will have their fund forfeited)
A prohibition against promoting on Craigslist! Now what would be a clever way to get around that prohibition and guarantee that at least some of the chumps applicants actually sign up for the service? How about a phony job listing that leads to an application that does the push to ID Complete? It’s brilliant! There’s also probably nothing illegal about it. It’s just a shame that they posted the fake job ad on Craigslist before they registered the domain for their phony company website and then were dumb enough to respond to an applicant before the IP address had time to propagate from Russia leading one overly skeptical job seeker to do a little digging. That would be me.
There’s not much more I can do to put a stop to this ruse, but at least I can blog about it. Considering that Google doesn’t have any search results for TTJ Property Management that means that this little blog entry will be the first it will index, probably before it ever finds the original page. And that means that the next poor schlep who decides to Google the company name will read all about it here.
If you’re that poor schlep and you haven’t applied with TTJ Property Management yet then you probably already realize that you shouldn’t bother. If you have applied then just ignore any emails you get from them as it’ll just point you to this phony website. More importantly, however, is knowing that this sort of scam is out there and to be properly skeptical when considering ads for jobs on sites like Craigslist. You can bet I’ll be looking at them a lot more closely from now on.