CHICAGO (CBS) — Looking for work? A supposed video production group is targeting artists and soliciting their services. The problem is, it’s not a legitimate operation, and they scammed a South Side woman out of thousands of dollars.
CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas discovered the scammers somehow funneled government unemployment funds from other states to trick her.
Deja Hood is a dancer, and not just for fun. It’s what she studied at Eastern Michigan University.
She graduated in the spring, and her mom found a posting on LinkedIn: a production group wanted someone to make video dance lessons for people stuck at home.
“I was ecstatic. It felt really good,” Hood said.
She spent hours making videos at her South Chicago home.
“There’s a warmup, there’s cool downs,” she said.
A man named Steve, with an email address at Top Notch Visuals, said she’d be paid $250 per lesson.
Their website is full of poetic descriptions of a New York City company that claims to have worked with MasterCard, Pepsi, and American Express.
She signed a contract, and gave them her banking information for direct deposits.
“I had no idea. I thought it was legit,” she said.
She started getting paid right away, but over the next few weeks, the tempo changed. They sent her more than what she was owed, and then directed her to send some of it to someone else.
After several other confusing requests, she learned she was locked out of her Chase Bank account, and someone else had accessed it, along with thousands of dollars of her own money. She called chase to find out who was sending her the funds in the first place.
“Someone that I talked to at the executive office, he said, ‘Well that looks like unemployment money,’” Hood said.
Another source with knowledge of the transactions told CBS 2 that’s true. The scammers somehow funneled funds earmarked for unemployment in Washington and Arizona into her account. Then they convinced Hood to use banking apps like Cash App and Zelle to send them some of the money.
Now Hood can’t reach the mysterious Steve.
Chase sent CBS 2 a statement saying they closed Hood’s account and stressing the importance of customers keeping their personal information private. The bank said, even though she’s a scam victim, they can’t refund Hood in this case, but she tried.
“It’s always a rock we’re always just hitting, and I’m like, ‘I wish you guys would just listen to what I’m saying,” she said.
McNicholas called Steve and emailed Top Notch Visuals, but got no response.
CBS 2 also found an online forum for artists, with people saying they saw Top Notch Visuals postings on other websites.
“Do not contact them,” one user wrote. “They are a scam.”
We asked the states of Arizona and Washington how scammers accessed unemployment funds. Arizona responded by saying scammers are accessing unemployment funds across the country, and they will look into this specific case.