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The New Intern Scam That’s Everywhere — And Very Convincing 

Isabella Simonetti  |  February 25, 2021

I’m an intern who recently got scammed and almost fell for it. Here’s my story — and how to ensure that you don’t fall for it.

I’ve been interning at HerMoney for just a few weeks now. It’s not my first internship — over the years I’ve worked at a variety of different publications and companies, and I can confirm that an intern’s worst fear is disappointing her boss. So, a few weekends ago, when someone texted me: “Hello Isabella. Are you there now? It’s Jean Chatzky,” I panicked. I was outside with my family — I didn’t think I would have to work on a Saturday — but I responded that I was available. 

“I’m in a meeting at the moment and I need a task completed swiftly. Let me know if you’re free now?” The person who messaged me added.  

After a few more back and forth messages, I was asked to go to a CVS, purchase gift cards, and then text the codes on the backs of the cards. “Jean” said she needed these gift cards as giveaways for a presentation she was doing later that day. I started doing what any good intern would do, and looking for drug stores nearby. I told my family that I might need to leave our outing in order to work. 

But then, I looked back at the messages I’d received and something seemed off. I didn’t have that number saved for Jean. It wasn’t even in her area code. Plus, the author of the texts made a few grammatical errors and signed off almost every text message as “Jean Chatzky” or “Jean.” I realized that I was being scammed as an intern, and that I almost fell for it. 

According to scam experts Frank Abagnale and Carrie Kerskie, the gift card scam is common, and scammers use information that we put out on social media in order to identify their targets, which is why interns are the pinpoint for scams like this. Sometimes, this occurs via Facebook or LinkedIn (I had just updated my LinkedIn profile to reflect my new internship) but scammers can also visit different company websites in order to identify employees — and their managers—  at different organizations. 

Recently, a friend of mine was targeted by this same type of scam at her internship, and when I began asking around, I quickly learned of no less than four other women who have been targeted in a similar manner. So, what’s going on? Kerskie notes that a lot of scammers are moving to text messages instead of email in order to target millennials. 

Now more than ever, our information is made public across a variety of different social media platforms. Unfortunately, the more information we put out there, even if it is as simple as posting our most recent job on LinkedIn, the more susceptible we are to scams like these. After almost falling victim to an intern scam myself, I consulted with experts to find out how to avoid situations like these in the future. Here’s what they had to say: 

The two red flags: Requests for money and personal information

“I always talk about the first red flag,” says Abagnale, author of the book Scam Me If You Can. “That I’m gonna ask you for money and it has to be immediately.” 

In other words, if someone is asking you for money from an unidentified phone number, the odds are pretty high that you are being scammed. 

The other red flag, Abagnale explains, is when someone asks you for personal information like your birthday or social security number. Scammers are pros at making requests like these seems normal, but it’s best to be cautious when it comes to providing personal information or distributing money via text message or email. 

Validate or eliminate the scammer

If you’re unsure of whether or not something is a scam, it’s important to “validate or eliminate,” says Kerskie. “If you get one of these text messages, if it looks like it’s from your employer or supervisor, call them.”

No matter how convincing the person communicating to you sounds, double checking with your boss is the most effective way to ensure that you aren’t falling for a scam — whether or not the scam is related to your status as an intern. 

“If you can’t validate it, delete it,” Kerskie says. 

Once you know for sure that it’s a scammer talking to you instead of your supervisor, you should cut off all communication to ensure your safety. 

Avoid giving away your cell phone number 

Even if you’re putting your phone number on legitimate websites and social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, Kerskie warns that giving away your phone number in any form makes you more susceptible to scammers. 

“Most of these social media accounts that you’re using, you can list your phone number. People can actually search for you by your phone number,” Kerskie says. 

While many websites require you to add your phone number, it’s best to avoid giving it away as much as possible in order to safeguard your information. 

“The more you post and give away your cell phone,” Kerskie explains, “That information gets out there and it gets aggregated by these data mining companies and it gets sold.”

Consider getting a second phone number to prevent scams

Another way to avoid receiving intern scam texts and calls is by adding an additional phone number, says Kerskie. 

“Pretty much everyone asks you for a phone number,” says Kerskie. “So you want to keep your primary number private. How do you do that? By giving away the second number for everything else that’s nonessential.”  

There are a variety of different ways to secure a second phone number through your cell phone carrier. You can also use Google Voice to get a second phone number for free. 

Be wary of what you put on social media 

It’s hard to regulate all of the information that’s out there, but it is important to pay close attention to what you put on the internet, because that is how many scammers identify and target their victims, in this case, interns to scam. Be wary of what you post on public social media channels. 

“Getting information today is the simplest thing in the world to do, because there is so much information out there that people put out there on Facebook, on social media,” says Abagnale. 


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