Chris O'Reilly, 28, turned to the freelancing website Upwork when he lost his job in March after the country went into lockdown to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. After applying for a handful of job postings, he was invited to a Skype interview for a proofreading and editing job at the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.
Things were looking up. A few days later, he got an offer letter on what appeared to be an official Sanofi letterhead and an emailed check to buy supplies that his new employer said were for his home office.
O'Reilly deposited the check, and, once it seemed to have cleared, he used the funds to send money to accounts listed on an invoice sent to him by his new boss. He sent one payment, which he thought was for office supplies, through the money transfer app Zelle and a second via Venmo.
Minutes later, he received a notice that his bank account was overdrawn by nearly $3,000.
O'Reilly had fallen victim to an elaborate and updated version of a classic check scam that has found renewed life on freelancing platforms like Upwork, where victims said they have been defrauded of thousands of dollars while looking for work-from-home options during the pandemic following one of the steepest economic downturns in U.S. history.
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