Freelance and online jobs have become more popular in the Philippines in the last few years. This industry, otherwise known as the “gig-economy,” has gotten so big that you can now easily apply for jobs through Facebook groups.
According to a study called the “Global Gig Economy Index” that Payoneer did in 2019, the Philippines is the sixth “fastest-growing market for the gig industry” where about 1.5 million Filipinos were identified as freelancers.
This is because many would much prefer this kind of setup over an office-based job, considering how much time and energy one has to sacrifice for commute everyday.
However, no matter how appealing online jobs may be, applying for these always run you the risk of having your identity stolen by scammers posing as employers when you send over application requirements such as your resume and IDs — and yes, even on big freelance websites.
I would know because it’s happened to me. So, in this post, I will be sharing my personal experience as a victim of identity theft, as well as easy ways to spot a scam and avoid having your identity stolen in a digital world where anybody can literally be anybody on the internet, no matter the platform you’re on.
I started freelancing on Upwork (formerly oDesk) in 2012, but even then, it was already saturated. Online jobs that paid decently were hard to come by. So, I always jumped on every opportunity I got whenever I received direct messages from clients about an opening they had where the hourly pay wasn’t too bad.
So, when I received a direct message from a “client” offering me a simple job that would pay a little above minimum in July 2015, I was all about it. In hindsight, the job was too good to be true and I didn’t know any better.
When the client asked for my ID, I willingly sent him a photo of my NBI clearance. When he said that wasn’t any good and needed a scanned copy, I went ahead and had my NBI clearance scanned so I could send that, already slightly feeling that inkling you get in your gut when something’s not right — while also thinking that this was on Upwork so he couldn’t possibly be a scammer. Wrong.
Needless to say, I never heard from that “client” again, even after following up a few days after I sent him the scanned copy of my NBI clearance. I also received an email from Upwork confirming that it had been a scam and that I had been a victim of identity theft, along with other freelancers on the platform.
I didn’t know what to do or how to report it, so I tried reaching out to the National Bureau of Investigation via an email address I found on their official website, but to no avail. I felt helpless, so I just gave up, hoping and praying that nothing bad was going to come out of this mistake I gullibly made.
A year or two went by but nothing disconcerting really happened. Of course, I still wasn’t able to rest easy knowing that someone had stolen my identity and might be doing all sorts of illegal activities with it.
So, when my mom offered to help, I gathered everything I could from the Upwork message thread between me and the “client,” including screenshots of the “client’s” Twitter profile that I thought could be a useful lead — so we could file a proper report at NBI’s Cyber Crime Department in Manila. Sadly, even after doing so and waiting in line for what felt like hours, all of it was futile, seeing that my report was just placed among a pile of paperwork on a table.
I never heard from the NBI either and I didn’t really know what else we could have done to try and track down whoever was behind the Upwork client account that stole my identity. All I could do was pray.
Fortunately, NBI clearances expire in one year and I didn’t really get any hits the last time I applied for a new one in 2019. Now, all I’m hoping for is that no illegal deeds were done in my name.
Identity theft can be done through a number of different ways, but online jobs can definitely be a sure way to get your personal information compromised. Fortunately, there are three easy telltale signs of an online job scam — signs I should’ve already known were red flags when I read that fraudulent job offer. An online job is a scam when:
- It’s too good to be true (e.g. the job is quite easy but pays more than normal).
- It’s asking for your personal identification.
- It’s asking for some kind of payment, usually through wire transfer.
Recognizing these signs should already send you running the other direction. However, here are two more general ways you can protect yourself from online job scams:
Be wary of who you’re giving your information to
Regardless if it’s through a “safe” website, because just basing on my experience alone, even known freelance sites like Upwork deal with scammers on it’s platform.
More so, if you’re thinking of applying for that job listing you saw in a Facebook group. In 2019, Facebook reportedly took down about 3.2 billion fake accounts, so you can never really be too sure who you’re dealing with on the internet.
Before you apply, do research on the company to confirm if it’s legit
You can easily do this by googling a company or even just by checking if they have active and up-to-date social media handles. Job portals like Jobstreet usually gets reviews on the employers that use its platform where you can read employee experiences and their overall thoughts on a certain company that they’ve worked for.
Further, scammers have improved the way they appear online. According to Paypal, online scams used to be “impersonal and random” — now, they’re “sophisticated” wherein literally “anyone can fall victim.”
My case definitely could have been handled better had I known what to do the day I got the email from Upwork and acted faster than I did. I definitely wouldn’t have experienced identity theft at all had I only listened to what my gut tried to tell me before hitting that send button.
Nevertheless, it served as a lesson and reminder that you have to be smart about applying for online jobs and know how to identify scams in order to avoid compromising one of your most valuable possessions — which is your identity.