After leaving a work environment she says felt toxic, Gini Baustert was excited to find a new job, taking to the professional networking site LinkedIn to complete job applications and submit resumes.
"I must have submitted 350 applications and had over 50 interviews," Baustert, 47, tells CNBC Make It, before she got what she thought would be her big break.
The new job opportunity was at Novum, a pharmaceutical research company, and after being out of work for several months, Baustert, an HR director, was elated to reenter the workforce. However, when a "concerning" check arrived in the mail, she knew it was too good to be true. If the check had been deposited into her bank, Baustert's account could have been wiped out.
She had been scammed.
Baustert says that after a long job search, a company that she "loved" reached out to her on LinkedIn for an interview.
"I looked at the company and found that they were based in Pittsburgh, which is where I'm at," Baustert says. "After doing my research, I found out they were a legit, good company."
After receiving a follow-up letter asking to set up an interview, Baustert agreed. She downloaded RingCentral, a video conferencing and messaging app, at the interviewer's request and seemingly had a good interview. The rest of the process was pretty standard – Baustert waited a few days, was prompted to send over references and found out she got the job shortly after.
"Everything had the official letterhead of this legit company in Pittsburgh. And I was really excited, because I had been off work for so long at that point."
The Novum imposters had offered Baustert a remote data entry position, and after completing her onboarding paperwork, she was informed that they'd be sending her a check to buy equipment. But it was way more money than she had anticipated.
"I got concerned when I saw the amount, [which was] $4,000. Normally, the most I've ever seen [from a company] is $1,500. So I thought this is really high," Baustert says. "And then they told me to go ahead and deposit right away and call them when it was deposited. It all started to feel really sketchy. And I just got this huge pit in my stomach."
Baustert decided to do some more research on Novum and found another recruiter, who was able to confirm the job posting was a scam, and that several other people had also fallen victim to the same fraudulent job posting.
"She told me 'I'm a recruiter and I know we're not hiring for that role.' And I was devastated because not only did I feel violated, but I thought I was finally going to have a job. It was so exciting, and finding out it was all a lie was a terrible feeling."
CNBC Make It reached out to Novum via email, but as of press time, had not received a response.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans were scammed out of $86 million due to fake business and job opportunities in the second quarter of 2022.
Baustert says a big red flag revealed itself during the virtual interview process.
"They kept having a hard time with the camera," she says. "It didn't feel like they were comfortable interviewing me."
Baustert also revealed that even though the scammers had company emails and official letterheads, the check they sent her was from the "Saint Paul Municipal Building." It was also sent to her extremely quickly, which caused her to "raise her eyebrow."
"They moved along pretty quickly on things … with the check and wanting me to call them as soon as I deposited it. And I'll be honest with you, a lot of companies don't operate that quickly. So, if it doesn't feel right, don't ignore the signs. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
Make It's Jennifer Liu reports that "this is what's known as a fake check scam, where scammers hope you'll send them money and 'reimburse' you with a bad check. Sometimes they'll send a check first, tell you to deposit it, and hope you buy your equipment (in reality, send them money) before the check bounces."
Baustert says she met with a career consultant after the incident, as it shattered her confidence.
"The impact of all this negativity really shook me. And there's nothing wrong with needing a little extra help. I didn't think I needed it. But it made a big difference."
Three months after the incident, Baustert obtained her current HR role at a company she says feels like home.
"I wanted something that I could permanently put my feet in, grow with the company, grow in the position and be a part of something I believed in. And I've found that."
Baustert wants job seekers to know that if they do fall victim to scammers, it's not their fault.
"I didn't go looking for trouble. I did everything that I was supposed to do. It could happen to anyone."
In a statement to CNBC Make It, a LinkedIn spokesperson confirmed that there are protocols in place to help combat fraudulent job postings.
"When you apply for a job, you expect it to be real and trustworthy. We use technology and teams of experts to find and remove unsafe jobs and those that don't meet our standards. We also want to give you the tools to stay safe while you search, so that when the right job comes along, you can feel confident accepting it."