Apply For a Job Online, Have Your Identity Stolen

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identity theftTurns out, typos on a resume or getting the hiring manager's name wrong aren't the only things job seekers have to fret about when they apply for openings online. They also have to worry about being scammed.

Web savvy criminals are preying on uninformed and desperate job seekers to turn a quick buck and steal people's identity or credit, and even drain their bank accounts.

For example, take this unsuspecting job seeker who was hired via a Craigslist posting to transcribe MP3 files into Word documents for an "international company." It was a work-from-home, part-time job. The "employer" collected her name, address and social security number, claiming it was necessary for the IRS. She did two weeks' worth of work and sent them her invoice. They didn't pay her right away but did send more work. As a "new employee" she was reluctant to insist on getting paid right away.

After three unpaid invoices and six weeks on the job, she grew concerned and turned to a chat board forum to ask for advice on how to collect the money due to her. One of the people who responded was Susan P. Joyce, owner of Job-Hunt, an award winning employment portal. Joyce clued her in that hat she had probably fallen prey to a scam and may be the victim of identity theft.

Joyce says that there were several warning signs that the scammers were trying to steal her identity. They used a generic, untraceable email address (the company name turned out to be bogus). Also, there was no website for the company; the only search engine results for it were other job postings on Craigslist and other sites.

"Make it a habit to verify before you trust" says Joyce. "Check to make sure that the recruiter's email is coming from a company domain and not a general email account. Look for verifiable contact information on the posting and cross check this information via a search engine or a site such as Superpages.com. Check the company domain registration using tools such as DomainTools.com and note how long the domain name has been registered. Do not trust if the domain name is a couple of days to a couple of months old or if it is private which means that there is no employer contact information to verify."

Job boards are not the only way that scammers gather information on a job seeker's identity. Thieves also cull information from the online profiles that many job seekers use to build their network and source job leads. According to Jeremy Miller, identity theft expert and director of operations for Kroll Fraud Solutions, "what seem like small details about your personal life can amount to a big reward for identity thieves." He suggests that anyone using social networking sites be careful with the following information:

  • Your Name – Your name is the first and most recognizable part of your identity. When networking online, it's better to use your first name only – or better yet, use a nickname that your friends recognize or that you'd be comfortable being called by strangers. If both names must be used, leave out your middle initial. In some cases, individuals may consider altering the spelling of their name or leaving out letters. For example, a woman named 'Nancy' might opt to spell it "Nancee" or "Nanci" in the networking space.
  • Birthday – Your date of birth is a key element to confirm your identity. In combination with your name and Social Security number, identity thieves have full ability to open accounts, rent homes and gain employment while posing as you. It's best to omit this information entirely, but at the very least avoid including all parts of your date of birth. You can say March 5 without including your birth year, for example. But don't cancel out this protective measure by including your age in another section of your profile. If you do simple math will tell an identity thief all he needs to know.
  • Address – It's never advisable to include your full address in any online communication. To put it into perspective: you wouldn't hand over your home address to a stranger on the street, would you? For the purposes of online profiles, opt to include only your city and (if necessary) state. If you live in a large metropolitan area like New York City, this isn't going to tell anyone much. But if you live in a small town where there aren't plenty of other people with your name, it's better to leave the information off altogether.
  • Profile Photo – Surprisingly, your profile photo can reveal important information about your identity. For example, a business uniform might tell an attentive identity thief where you work, a key piece of information when it comes to verifying one's identity. Simple head shots avoid unnecessary risks.
  • Phone Number – It's best to not post this at all. A thief can easily obtain the corresponding address through a reverse directory on the Internet.
  • Friend Requests - If you receive a friend request from someone you don't know, it could be someone fishing for your personal information. One clue: These requests often come from people with barely any information in their profile. Or, after connecting with your they'll invite you to take a "fun quiz" that sprinkles in questions about your personal information.

Miller adds, "Keep in mind that even individuals who include just one or two of these features on their profiles are not completely out of the woods when it comes to identity theft." In a tactic known as synthetic identity theft, thieves piece together real components of different people's information to create one unique identity. That is, they'll take your date of birth and match it up with someone else's address or Social Security number to create a "synthetic identity." This type of fraud "may significantly impact victims later on in life," Miller says. And "Synthetic identity fraud is particularly hard to detect and even harder to fix."

If you are a job seeker, think before you post. When in doubt, Miller says, consider this: "If you wouldn't give this information to a stranger on the street, you probably don't want to put it online for the world to see."

For more information on identity theft and job search scams, be sure to check out Joyce's Avoiding Job Search Scams Guide and the identity theft white papers from Kroll Fraud Solutions.

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