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Job Hunting? Tips To Avoid Job Search Scams

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Today’s recession has made for a tight job market. In addition, high unemployment rates add more pressure. This stressed climate in the job market attracts scams and fraudsters seeking to take advantage of people anxious to land a job. Because so many job search activities have moved online, many of the scams also come to you online. This month’s report describes some of the most popular frauds and offers tips to help you avoid these traps.

Types of Job Search Scams Currently Popular

Most of these fraudulent ploys aren’t new, but they have been dressed up in language and approach to fit today’s circumstances. Sometimes you’ll see “offers” where one or more of these ploys have been blended.

  • Work-at-Home Schemes. Several of these schemes may not only be worthless or cost you money, but they can involve you in criminal acts. Almost all promise big returns for little time spent. Widely advertised on job posting “boards” and websites or arriving via unsolicited email are “offers” such as these.
    • Process payments for a foreign company who needs someone stateside to expedite matters. Typically the “company” says they will send you checks “for processing” that you deposit in your account (or an account you set up), keep 10%, then send the balance to an address or account they give you. The catch: The check is fake or stolen. When it bounces or the fraud is discovered, you may be liable for the money and the illegal activity of money laundering.
    • Transfer funds, usually from a foreign entity. In this long-lived scam (often call the Nigerian Scam), someone posing as an individual or company says they needs help getting a large sum out of one location and into another, and you can keep a percentage for your service. It’s like “processing payments” but usually one big check, usually fake or stolen.
    • Reshipping merchandise. The “job” is repackaging goods and shipping them to addresses the “company” gives you. The scam may position this activity as “quality control.” In reality, you are probably forwarding stolen goods. Plus, you may never receive a check for your work and if you do, it typically bounces.
    • Fraudulent “secret” or “mystery” shopper. This scam builds on the real use of mystery shoppers by some retailers and manufacturers. In this case, the ad poster is usually vague what companies you’ll shop for but sends (often for an upfront fee) an employment packet with tasks you need to do within 48 or 72 hours to “train” for the job. You may be asked to fill out a form with personal information (ID theft), cash a cashiers check for several thousand, and fax the form and wire the money to the “company” address. The problem: Check is fake; you are out the money. Plus they may use your personal data to steal more money from you.
  • Tips for Job Searching Safely Online

    • Don't post personal data in any resume you put online.
    • Post only a "private" resume on job search sites.
    • Review all job search/job posting websites carefully before posting your resume or using their services.
    • Watch out for scam ads.
    • Don't give out personal information requested by email or phone response to your resume or application.
  • Paying up front for a “guaranteed job.” This approach covers a number of schemes. For example, one “offer” says they can link you up with unadvertised federal government or postal jobs. The facts are that all federal government jobs are openly posted (usajobs.gov). All you get for the money you paid (if you get anything) is useless information telling you how to find and apply for government jobs. Another popular scam is “rebate processor”: for a fee of up to $500 typically, you get instructions telling you how to send similar emails or post similar ads and bilk other suckers. The facts: No reputable companies ask for up-front fees for jobs. No company can “guarantee” a job before you’ve even applied and qualified for a legitimate job opportunity.
  • High pressure recruiters and “career counselors” masquerading as legitimate headhunters. A headhunter is a professional recruiter hired by a company to find candidates for a position. Job seekers can’t actually hire a headhunter. Although there are certainly many legitimate career counseling firms, there are also high pressure outfits that typically promise they can help “executives” find high-paying jobs . . .if they go through the training offered and use the company’s “contacts.” These firms may advertise specific categories such as IT executive or financial management executive. A visit to their plush offices results in a high pressure pitch for their high priced services; once you sign and fork over a few thousand, you may hear little more from the company. Some companies are just fancy resume writing services. If you feel you need help in evaluating your skills and in targeting opportunities in your field, evaluate firms carefully and avoid any that want big fees up front, rather than pay-as-you-go services.
  • “We’ve read your resume posted on the [fill-in-the-blank] website and need some more information.” For the blank, fill in the name of any large or small job posting board. You get an email or phone call saying that the potential “employer” has read your resume and you sound just right for their job. Before you come for an interview, however, they need more information to expedite the process or need to do a “background check.” At this point you may be asked to fill in and fax or email a form that provides such personal information as social security number, birth date, driver’s license number, passport number, or credit card information. All such requests are red flags that a crook is phishing for your personal and financial information. Experts say, never give these out before you evaluate the company and before a job interview. And remember that information you post on a resume is available to almost anyone, crooks included.

Tips for Job Searching Safely Using Online Resources

Job posting websites and job networking sites enable employers to post jobs nationwide for job seekers and to look at hundreds of resumes from potential candidates. These same sites enable job seekers to post resumes and respond to job postings with the hope that they will reach many more potential employers than they can by sending out individual letters and resumes. But open access also mean that the fraudsters can also “play” and even the best security protocols (which major sites have) can't prevent all scams. So protect yourself by following these tips recommended by many employment and privacy experts.

  • Don’t post personal data in any resume you put online. Such data include your Social Security number, your date and/or place of birth, mother’s maiden name, driver’s license or passport numbers, any financial account numbers, and your physical address (P.O. Box is okay). No prospective employer needs any of this information until you have been through the employment and interview process and have accepted a job. Some experts recommend that you not provide the places you went to school, just the degrees, in posted resumes. Also be careful what you put on social networking sites (such as FaceBook or MySpace™); crooks can use personal data from these sites independently or match it with your posted resumes.
  • Post only a “private” resume on job search sites. Even if you have provided little personal information, experts recommend that you use the “private” or “confidential” option that hides your key contact information when posting your resume on job search websites. This gives you more control without blocking potential employers.
  • Review all job search/job posting websites carefully before posting your resume or using their services. If you don’t like the privacy policy or, even more important, it’s hard to find, give that website or service a miss.
  • Watch out for scam ads. Skip any “offers” like those we profiled earlier and any that sound like them. If something sounds too good to be true, it is. Screening out potentially dangerous ads is your first line of defense.
  • Don’t give out personal information requested by email or phone response to your resume or application. If you get such a request from someone, ask for their name, position and company. If they won’t give it or are vague, stop there. If they give the information, check them out independently. Look up the company and its contact data independently. Is the location the same? Are there other suspicious inconsistencies? Call the company using the number from the company’s website (that you found independently) and ask for the employee who supposedly called or emailed you. Many crooks use the names of prominent companies as part of their scam.
  • Keep a record of what you do and contacts during your job search. Where did you post your resume? What contacts have you had? What did you do? A paper trail can help you keep track and perhaps help trace the crooks if you are hit by identity theft or some other problem.
  • Don’t neglect local networking. Posting your resume for the world to see is just one option in job searching. A majority of new jobs are still found through personal contacts. So don’t neglect those. In addition, many companies now post job openings on their websites. Identifying and searching the websites of local companies can enable you to apply directly through their websites. The same goes for any company for which you might like to work.

Job searching is hard work, but it shouldn’t be dangerous work. Educating yourself to the tricks that scam artists use can help you focus safely on finding work.

For More Information

Avoiding Online Job Scams: Critical Tips for Job Seekers from the Privacy Rights Clearing House

Job Scams Page, many resources from World Privacy Forum

The recession connection from Consumer Reports

“Jobs” section in Money Matters from the FTC

Federal and Postal Job Scams: Tip-offs to Rip-offs from the FTC


Originally published: August 2009 

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