Scammers are using COVID-19 pandemic to get money out of people through work-from-home schemes

Scammers are using COVID-19 pandemic to get money out of people through work-from-home schemes

ATLANTA — With more than 13 million people unemployed across the United States, work-from-home scams are on the rise.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray found that some of the scams are becoming more convincing, such as the one that tricked Naomia Simms.

The opportunity to work from home during the pandemic seemed like an answered prayer for the North Carolina resident.

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“I looked at the responsibilities, and I saw that I had the requirements for it,” she said.

Simms took the job and worked for a month as a quality control inspector for a company called Aldea Domestic.

Its website, which has since been taken down, showed a DeKalb County address.

“My brother even looked at the website himself, and he said it seemed to be legitimate,” said Simms.

She thought she was working as a contractor for Amazon.

iPhones, iPads, expensive clothes and other products came to her home. She inspected them and then shipped them to other addresses.

Everything went smoothly until it was time to get paid. The day her first paycheck was set to arrive, it didn’t.

“I started calling and calling and calling and all. No one would answer the phone,” she said.

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Simms was suddenly locked out of the company’s computer system.

“I was in bed for three days sick because of the fact of, you know, working for a month and not being able to pay bills,” she said.

Before Aldea Domestic’s website disappeared, Gray found that the images used for its executive team weren’t real.

They were stock images available for purchase.

But the company itself was both real and active, registered with Georgia’s secretary of state as “3645 Aldea.”

The DeKalb County office address on file with the secretary of state’s office matched the address on Aldea Domestic’s website: 3350 Northlake Parkway.

Gray went to that address for an explanation and found Mike Teate.

Teate has run his real estate business at 3350 Northlake Parkway for more than 20 years. 3645 Aldea is the LLC he set up for his rental properties.

“My LLC is an active LLC. It’s not dissolved in any way,” he said. “But it has absolutely nothing to do with this company that is scamming people.”

Teate said the scammers stole his business name and address and that Gray wasn’t the first person to show up at the office.

Other victims of the same scam have come to confront Teate. And last month, he received a letter from the Missouri attorney general demanding answers.

So Gray turned to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

Carr said work-from-home scams are on the rise because so many are working from home during the pandemic.

And like Aldea Domestic, some scammers are very convincing.

“What we are seeing is, unfortunately, criminals stay ahead of the game and take advantage of these times when people are on edge, are emotional and are worried or concerned,” Carr said.

“People want to believe it’s true. They want to trust the individual, and the criminals are relying on that reliance,” he said.

He said it’s more important than ever to do your homework on a potential employer and to pay attention to warning signs.

“You’re in control. Before you give anybody your money or personal information, stop and make sure it’s legitimate,” he said.

Simms gave the scammers her bank information and personal data because she thought she was setting up a direct deposit.

“The last email I sent them, I said, ‘How can you guys sleep at night?’” she said.

Now she is behind on her rent and still searching for a job.

“I’m almost at a point where I don’t know what’s real anymore. When I apply for a job, I don’t know if it’s real or not. It’s scary,” she said.

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