When Denny O'Neill, 62, spotted a job ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for a sales manager after over a year of unsuccessfully searching for work, he thought he had struck gold.
"It was one of most interesting jobs I'd seen in months," he told HuffPost. "The ad said they wanted somebody 'mature' for a well-paying sales managerial position at an international company that was into natural gas exploration. I thought, 'Wow, I know something about this!' I'm definitely gonna follow up."
O'Neill, who was laid off from his last job in March 2009, says he was so eager for the position that he called the number listed in the ad around 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. He thought he would probably have to wait a few days before hearing back, but to his surprise, a man named "Landry" called him back about 20 minutes later.
"He sounded like a very credible-type guy," O'Neill said. "He was very much to the point, and he wasn't leading me on, like 'Oh, you're the guy!' It was more like I was fighting for a chance to work there. He asked me all about my background."
Landry told O'Neill on the phone that he was going to select five candidates to fly out to the company's headquarters in Spokane, Washington, with the intent of hiring them, and that O'Neill had a very good chance of being selected. O'Neill said he and his wife went out to dinner that night to celebrate to new job prospect.
"It was the best, most upbeat I've felt in over a year," he told HuffPost.
The next day, O'Neill says Landry called him to inform him that he was selected to fly out for a personal interview. The only catch was that he had to wire the company half of the money for his plane ticket as a "deposit" to guarantee that he would show up. That's when O'Neill became suspicious.
"Here I am, I've been unemployed for over a year, you just don't know how bad I want this thing to work out," he said. "So he's really got me. I walk all the way to the Western Union, and I'm actually thinking I'm gonna wire this man the $194. Then I realized what was going on, and my heart just absolutely sank."
Instead of wiring the money to the address Landry gave him, O'Neill says he started yelling at him on the phone.
"I said 'Landry, you're a thief, you're a crook, and I will find you,' and he hung up," O'Neill told HuffPost. "If I could have reached through the phone and grabbed this guy by the throat, we would have had a good time for about five minutes."
After Landry hung up, O'Neill thought about all the hundreds of unemployed people in Richmond who had probably responded to the job ad and wondered how many of them had actually wired Landry the $194. He became so angry that he started making phone calls to expose the scam.
"I called the Better Business Bureau, I called the FTC [Federal Trade Commission], I called the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], I called the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and I called Mark Holmberg at Channel 6 News," he said. "I really want to stop this guy, he's taking advantage of unemployed people."
After pulling the scam ad from their paper, O'Neill says a woman at the Richmond Times-Dispatch investigated the phone number and determined that it was from a landline in Beverly Hills and that at least 12 similar ads were being run for different positions across the country, including a travel agent, restaurant manager, and other restaurant-related opportunities.
The copy for the fraudulent ad in Richmond read: "Managers-for Negotiations and contracts department of large natural gas drilling corp. Manager will lead a large staff which will negotiate with land owners the mineral rights for our gas drilling. Must have strong leadership and/or organizational skills...Excellent Salary and Benefit Package..."
The Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia contacted the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, who had that ad and similar phony ads with the same call-back number pulled from The Baltimore Sun, SimplyHired.com and CNNMoney.com.
"There have been a lot of job scam ads since the recession," said Jody Thomas, vice president of communications for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. "We started getting them in the last couple of years where there were posts on Craigslist that were not true opportunities, but now it's starting to spread."
O'Neill said he's glad the ads have been pulled, but he is disappointed that he was not able to catch and prosecute the man behind them.
"I called the Beverly Hills Police Department and gave them his phone number and asked them if they could do anything, but they said something about not having the resources," he said. "I really wanted to stop him. I hate to think how many people he got."
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