(David Goldman/AP)
Media critic

The Atlantic has worked hard to build itself up as a prestigious outlet by showcasing long-form journalism, intellectual depth and rich photography. Who wouldn’t want to work for such a place?

That, apparently, was the thinking behind a scam that leveraged the company’s brand to extract victims’ personal financial information. Those who closely follow the tweets of Atlantic editor Scott Stossel have become aware of the outline: Photographers, for instance, tweeted at Stossel in September with some strange comments and requests. Was he indeed the fellow who’d contacted them about working in some capacity for the Atlantic? No, he wasn’t.

The first inkling about the fraud washed up at the Atlantic in early June, thanks to a phone call to the Atlantic offices from someone who’d been targeted. The activity, however, has picked up steam in recent weeks.

The Atlantic, accordingly, was forced to go public Thursday with an extended statement from Atlantic Media general counsel Aretae Wyler. It reads, in part, “Across the last few months, individuals posing as our editors and senior leaders have sent fraudulent job offers to unwitting freelancers or jobseekers looking to work with The Atlantic. The impostors have created numerous misleading email accounts, including gmail addresses in the names of editors, gmail addresses that include the Atlantic’s name (e.g., recruitment.atlanticmagazine@gmail.com), and addresses employing fake domains (e.g., @atlanticmediagroup.net).” The scam’s goal, of course, is to obtain bank and credit card information. “The perpetrators have gone so far as to conduct job interviews by phone and gchat; to require signature on employment agreements, direct deposit, and tax forms,” Wyler notes.

A warning now appears on the site’s “Contact Us” page, offering an email address (FraudAlert@atlanticmedia.com) to report suspicious activity.

A source at the Atlantic tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the scam sought to ensnare photographers, makeup artists (who would presumably assist with photo shoots and videos) and at least one data-entry person. The scammer apparently cut bogus checks to these recruits for various expenses, including, even, money for renting office space. As Wyler points out in the statement, the idea was that the targets of the scheme would cash the advances, “thereby providing the perpetrators with bank account information and/or credit card information.”

Timing is critical to the scam, according to the Atlantic source: After sending a check for expenses — but before it bounces — the scammer contacts the freelancer/recruit and says, “Now we need to set up a flight on my preferred vendor,” and asks for the freelancer’s credit-card information to do so. In investigating this craziness, Atlantic officials have determined that the scammer doesn’t meet the outlet’s standards on language and usage. “Some of the … communications suggest that the person who is being the fake editor — it appears that English is not the person’s first language,” says the source.

Another hint stems from a lack of thoroughness. The data-entry recruit reported to the Atlantic that the scammer set up an interview and asked whether the recruit had experience in data entry. The recruit said not much. “‘Great, you’re hired,'” responded the scammer, in the telling of the Atlantic source.

The Atlantic has engaged law enforcement about the scam, although it’s unclear where that process now rests. Nor is the company certain whether the scam has actually succeeded in prying financial information from its targets. Whatever the case, this is a double slam for victims: Not only do they risk succumbing to financial fraud, but they also feel teased about an exciting professional opportunity.