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VoiceOverXtra Survey - Part 2
 
@ Scams: Voice123 & Voices.com ...
 Detecting Job Scams & Scammers
 
By John Florian
©2010 VoiceOverXtra
August 25, 2010
 
When dealing with new clients - especially from another country - we need to perform what they call in banking "due diligence" on the company or persons. At the very least:
  • Google the name, followed by the word scam. What turns up?
  • Study the company web site. Anything fishy there? Lots of misspellings?
  • Is the online job offer "too good to be true"? Does it wave red flags in your face?
  • Follow Mahmoud Taji's Scam Alert forum.
Ultimately, the onus is on us individually to smell a rat.
 
CASTING SERVICE ROLE
 
But when jobs come to us via subscriptions to online casting services, we expect a degree of due diligence done there before the notices arrive in our inbox.
 
So, what are these services doing to protect voice talent from scams?
 
In the article @Scams: What Are Online Casting Services Doing to Protect You?, VoiceOverXtra details a recent online scam and the policies of five major online casting services regarding scams (Bodalgo, Commercial Voices.com, E-Learning Voices.com, Voice Hunter.com and VOplanet.com).
 
Following is how the major services Voice123 and Voices.com (click to go directly to each) regard and handle scams and scammers, based on similar questions we sent them ...
 
Voice123
Steven Lowell
Community Manager

Do you have formal procedures for screening job seekers and/or job postings for scams? 

Yes, and it is strict, but we cannot share them.
 
The main reason: For those who may think voice over sites are a free way to get talent, we would be giving them information as to how they are stopped - only inviting them to go around it.
 
When you work online, you can find an answer to everything when you look hard enough. Our process is mainly proactive, but we have to be reactive at times. When the gut indicates trouble, it is time to investigate.

Do you report suspected or confirmed scams to the Better Business Bureau, FBI, IRS ... other law enforcement?

We use this website: www.ripoffreport.com.
 
I have also given a list of people I collected to Mahmoud Taji (for his online Scam Alert forum), and I communicate with other websites when I see something.

As for the other channels, we have tried, but scams are usually not legitimate businesses, so the BBB would not have them listed. When it comes to law enforcement, between city, state, and country, there are so many different laws, and the legal world has not yet caught up to how complex technology allows for many to break certain laws on a daily basis.

Do not forget - for some reason, there are people who just create scams with no intention other than to harass or disturb users of a website.
 
I don't understand why. Maybe they have reasons.
 
Speaking candidly, that recent job poster (Frank Mayfield / Charles Thamesmeade) who claims to be from England may very well be some college cyber-geek sitting in his basement playing video games hacking people for fun. The anonymous Internet world can be like this.

Do you address the topic of scams on your website or in communications with members?

I did make this effort in our forums: http://forums.voice123.com/ftopic1383.html 

I also did a training about Online Street Smarts this past June, and will repeat this training. Our site displays information on the voice seeker - when they joined/how many jobs they've posted - that should warn someone about what to do.

Other than this, we have not. The main reason being, we do not want people to be afraid to work online, because there is no need to be.
 
There were scams offline, too - i.e., "Agent who puts you in a book to be seen by people around the world, but wants money for photos first."

We want people to be educated. But I also notice that many jump the gun and start accusing the wrong people of scamming, when in fact, details of how something was to be paid was misunderstood and led to dropped communication.
 
This is an online communication skill of "giving the benefit of the doubt" until you know for sure.

At times, giving information about a topic people are not sure about creates more problems than it fixes, and this is why websites stayed away from it in the past.

I do appreciate that my company and VoiceOverXtra allows me to share what I know, because it creates a long overdue dialogue that challenged the integrity of online casting.

Per year, about how many scams are you made aware of related to job postings on your site? Do you see a trend?

This year, we have had over 8,300 SmartCast jobs posted, and about 3,000 additional jobs from private jobs.

From all that, I dealt with fewer than 20 non-payment matters (less than 1%). Most of those jobs paid less than $50. And most were private messages where the seeker made no contact with Voice123. We do not screen private messages.

Also, the majority of those cases occurred around the holidays back in January. This was a time when we did some revamping of our processes to cover for times of the year, when professional companies were on vacation.

The only trend I see is that a few bad apples create such an emotional response, that there is a belief this is happening more than it does.
 
I think this will die out over time as knowledge increases, and people discuss it more. This is a business channel that is only 7 years old.

What do you do when a member informs you about a suspected or actual scam?

This leans toward question #1, so let me skip to the "damage control" of what we do in the reactive state. I helped investigate fraud at prior jobs and follow this process:

1. Investigate the story and its facts.
2. See if there was a communication issue.
3. Reach out to re-connect both parties.

Based on the outcome of this, we take internal steps to ensure community harmony, which could involve a number of things. The talent is taken care of, though.

Do you (or would you consider to) send all members a warning about a confirmed scam related to a job posting on your site?

I hope this does not sound arrogant, but the goal is to make sure we never have to do so.

The check-fraud scam, along with anything like "buy gold," "get out of debt," and "Viagra" are all things we've dealt with in the past, and written about. We make it a point to never have this question come up.

There is also a way for us to know who is spamming, who sends messages, and even yes, those who may be testing me. It has happened, and people get a laugh out of it when I write them and ask them what they were doing.

I firmly believe websites know what they are doing when they are posting jobs or dealing with scams.
 
When such things get through, I think you are seeing pure human error.

For instance, between 7/23 and 8/3 this year, we disapproved 23 projects on the site. The reasons, I wish not to explain. When you announce, 'I have caught something.' all you do is invite a reverse reaction of "OK, that did not work. So I will try this."

As someone who has used our site as a talent, I see notifying members that you found a scam is a cheesy PR move to install a false sense of security.
 
My previous job was with an insurance company, and I am highly against the "generate fear to generate profit" business model that exists in so many businesses.

Every time one goes to a restaurant, there is a fear the chef may have dropped the food on the floor and not told you.
 
It comes down to trusting those who created a service. Years ago, I worked in a restaurant, and they never served food they dropped on the floor.
 
Oddly, it taught me that you have to give people a service they can believe in, without reassuring them the service did not drop the ball.

Do you (or would you consider to) compensate members whom you verify to have lost money related to a job posting on your site?

This leans back to my answer to question 5. "The talent is taken care of."
 
This is a decision we come to after investigating all the facts. '"How" depends on the situation.
 
My fear in stating that is that voice talent may begin to believe it is OK to audition for scam artists, knowing that the website will pay for it. That is not good because it encourages more scam artists to trust they can post jobs on a site.
 
It is just not our responsibility as a "connection service" to decide what and when people will audition. The point of websites is to encourage success through free will.

At the same time, this is exactly why we work hard to avoid scams on the site before they reach a talent, so that this question never arises. But there is always that element out there.

What advice can you give to voice talent about avoiding scams?
 
Educate yourself in working online. Literally, type your questions in a browser, and you get answers.
 
Trust your gut. Never trust what you see, until you know.
 
Do not overreact to situations before you know both sides of the story.
 
Never do something in "good faith" with someone you do not know.
 
When working online, focus on the success you have with jobs booked, as you would offline; not the bad apples. You can always find those if you look hard enough (like we do).
 
Success teaches us more than failure. Join talent communities. A support system is important.
 
Spot greed. Greed is the process by which someone expects you to give more than you are willing.
 
As your own business, set your boundaries. Remember, the jobs you choose to audition for set the trend for who will be using the site. Websites are trend/behavior-based. You have more control than you realize.
 
 
Voices.com 
Scott Lumley
Job Posting Manager
 
Do you have formal procedures for screening job seekers and/or job postings for scams? Can you share them with us?
 
Yes, we do have formal procedures for screening clients and job postings for potential scams. Some of these procedures are proprietary and I won't be able to discuss them, but I'll talk about what I can.
 
When we have a client that is posting a public job with us, their posting has to meet certain criteria to be posted with our service.
 
There needs to be a clear project objective, a script word count or time frame for the recording, contact information for the client, and the job needs to be in compliance with all Voices.com policies.
 
Additionally, I myself review the vast majority of all jobs. If something doesn't seem right to me, I contact the client directly and they are required to explain their project and specifically what they are looking for, or their job will be denied.
 
If they don't get back to me, the job is denied.
 
We currently decline somewhere between 8% to 12% of our submitted job postings due to our thorough screening policies.
 
Do you report suspected or confirmed scams to the Better Business Bureau, FBI, IRS ... other law enforcement?
 
Presently, if a situation occurs where fraud has taken place, those individuals are reported to the authorities directly related to the matter.
 
Scams are not reported unless there is proof.
 
Do you address the topic of scams on your website or in communications with members?
 
We do on an individual basis with our customers, but not formally. We always advise our talent to use common sense when working with clients.
 
The SurePay escrow service was built, in part, to protect our voice talent. Currently, no voice talents are hired through Voices.com without clients making a deposit first for recording.
 
Per year, about how many scams are you made aware of related to job postings on your site? Do you see a trend?
 
We don't see a lot, honestly. Due to our screening policy and the fact that we have SurePay, it's really difficult for scammers to abuse our voice talent or the site.
 
What do you do when a member informs you about a suspected or actual scam?
 
We investigate these claims immediately.
 
If the job seems off or we've overlooked something, we suspend the client's account immediately and ask them to contact us and explain his or her actions.
 
If they don't get back to us, we close out their job and note on their profile why their account was suspended. Clients that cannot log into their accounts don't have access to job responses and can't access information stored in their account, including audition responses.
 
There is a "Report Abuse" link on every job posting, and our members have the ability to report anything that they may perceive to be abusive.
 
Following that, a support ticket is created in our system about the claim and marked as urgent. We investigate all of these cases and take them very seriously.
 
Do you (or would you consider to) send all members a warning about a confirmed scam related to a job posting on your site?
 
If the situation deems this kind of action, we would be open to exploring that possibility.
 
Do you (or would you consider to) compensate members whom you verify to have lost money related to a job posting on your site?
Yes, we have actually. The caveat here being that the talent does need to run the job through our escrow service.
 
We did have a job posted with our service where the client paid the talent with a stolen credit card. The job and payment happened so quickly that we didn't have an opportunity to stop the talent from recording, and he proceeded with the job.
 
The voice talent did everything right, so we paid him every dollar of his very large fee and absorbed that cost.
 
What advice can you give to voice talent about avoiding scams?
 
If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
 
Check references, and make sure you either get paid up front with a substantial deposit - not a check, there needs to be actual money in your PayPal account or bank account - or utilize our SurePay escrow service for protection to ensure payment.  

 

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Comments (2)
Steven Lowell / Voice123
8/27/2010 at 9:25 AM
Hi Paul!
I appreciate what you have written here. Let me address somethings for you to be clear:

1. When I said other websites, I meant the ones you mentioned, Taji, and other casting sites. Unfortunately, as 'we' compete to find you work, we cannot appear in the same web content. That is just business. I will tell you, compared to 3 years ago ... there has been a drastic change. I did try to coordinate an effort once. Not everyone accepted. The idea may have been ahead of its time at that moment.

2. Regarding my comment on PR Moves: The reason I called the move 'cheesy' is because acting like one company will completely stop this and therefore, no one should worry, and just audition, leads to more problems. What if people begin to think, 'Well, I know it looks bad, but the site tells me its ok.' That is not taking responsibility. If someone is vigilant enough, they will catch those not paying attention. I have a history with fraud investigating, and family in NYPD. I just know you have to accept that the element exists. Afraid to admit it? I think you have seen we are not, and we have not had a problem in a long time. Even still, the moment you stop worrying, someone takes advantage of you. You are a business and have to be aware of it.

3. Responsibility goes across the board. These websites are not agents; they are marketing services and job placement sites that give you the control to decide to deal with whomever you wish.

We do our best to keep the scammers off, but remember: or all we do, because you are 'online', anyone can find you and offer you work just because they find you on a website first.

We happen to know that on Voice123, 6% of our premium database makes a high 5-figure to 6-figure salary from our site.

Why? Repeat business.

Where did it come from? Knowing who to audition for, and who to avoid.

And out of that, those 6% paid $295, and no one at this site saw any commission.

My point: We all have to take responsibility, and be familiar with the new work environment; not impose what we think it should be based on offline ideals. That is how many web companies fail, and we are all businesses.

A side note - to give you an example:

The Newspaper job really touched us when the job was posted, and being someone who did that kind of work, I was happy to see it. We had discussions and researched the issue, but what he did afterward simply shocked us. We have no control over such things, but the situation was upsetting.

As for what we reveal, you notice that I write a great deal. I do so because I want this to be as transparent as possible, and I write a great deal about it on Voice123, and hold webinars about it. The answers are there.
paulstrikwerda@rcn.com
8/26/2010 at 9:20 AM
Many, many thanks for this in-depth follow-up! Too often we read a story that makes the headlines for a few hours. After that, it's on to the next big thing and that's the last we'll ever hear about it. John, once again you have proven to be a more than worthy recipient of the Community Award!

Thanks also to the companies you interviewed, for addressing the issue of fraud. One of the perils of conducting business online is that - by default - it is highly impersonal. It might seem that we're connected in the digital world, but in fact, the people behind demand and supply are quite disconnected. This can make it quite challenging to separate the good from the bad and the ugly.

As my experience with Newspapers for the Blind has shown, even when things get more personal, there's always a chance that we'll be running into someone who seems to have a very different definition of integrity, to put it mildly.

Speaking of that specific case, Steven Lowell and the rest of the Voice123 team went out of their way to help the talent involved resolve the situation to the best of their abilities. All other organizations that were contacted (such as the BBB), didn't deem it worthy of a response, not even after repeated requests.

After reading the responses from the online casting services, here's what still worries me:

1. COORDINATION
It is a known fact that scammers, once exposed, set up shop somewhere else. Why aren't voice casting sites working together, exchanging information about scams and scammers? Instead, they have left it to a voice-over colleague in Egypt, Mahmoud Taji, to post scam alerts. Only Steven Lowell states: "I communicate with other websites." However, those "other sites" could be sites like www.ripoffreport.com, instead of other voice casting sites.

2. COMMUNICATION
All sites handle cases of fraud - as Scott Lumley put it, on an "individual basis, but not formally" and only with the parties concerned. It is left to individual members or e.g. VoiceOverXtra to notify the community of known scams and scammers. Lowell: "(...) notifying members that you found a scam is a cheesy PR move to install a false sense of security."
- Wouldn't knowing that a site has spotted a scammer and has taken action install a sense of trust and security?
- If these sites are so intent on preventing fraud, I'd think that the more people are alerted, the harder it will be for a scammer to use the same dirty tricks somewhere else.
- Or are these sites afraid that admitting that a scammer has slipped through their net will generate bad publicity and undermine trust?

3. RESPONSIBILITY
All respondents stress that members of their site should use common sense and take the time to do their own research. That doesn't answer this question: who is ultimately liable when things go wrong? A few observations:

- Members are paying voice casting sites a considerable amount of money to offer reliable services, worthy of their trust. Isn't it primarily the responsibility of those sites to provide their members with leads that have been screened thoroughly? (Voices.com automatically approves some job postings submitted to their site, however not all jobs are automatically approved).

- Running a freelance business is very time-consuming. Often, voice actors do multiple auditions a day. For many, these auditions are a race against the clock. Competition is fierce and nobody wants to be talent number 88 to submit an audition. Is it reasonable to expect that members should spend a considerable amount of time doing an extensive background check on a voice-seeker, before they get to the actual audition? Perhaps we should all become private eyes instead of a VO-pros!

- Professional musicians often work for contractors. The contractor is the middle-man connecting demand and supply. The contractor collects the money and pays the artist. For these services, the contractor takes a percentage of the agreed fee. Sounds familiar? Here’s the thing: guess who’s liable when things go wrong? Could the contractor get away with it, by blaming the artist for not playing detective? Absolutely not.

In short, VoiceOverXtra has once again brought to light that we are in serious need of more coordination, communication and accountability. Members of online voice casting sites pay to play, and not to run the risk of being exposed to the games of a con artist.
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