How the FBI and Better Business Bureau Are Cracking Down on Job Scammers

Job scams are becoming so prevalent that the FBI and the Better Business Bureau are stepping in to protect desperate job seekers. The old adage that "If it looks to good to be true, it probably is" bears little sway when you, like 45 percent of all out-of-work Americans, have been unemployed for six months or more.

"The dismal employment rate means that a lot of people are desperate for work and may be grasping for any job -- which creates a great opportunity for scammers," said Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "Not thoroughly researching a job opportunity can make a bad situation even worse, and a victim can lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars to any number of job-related scams."

The FBI has issued press releases warning of these types of scams, and has devoted an entire section of their website to alerting people about them. They've investigated far too many hoaxes that actually induce victims to unknowingly commit crimes that land them in jail.

Breaking the law for a 'job'

Kelly, a disabled Kentucky resident, was actually arrested for his unwitting participation in one of these scams:

"I am on disability and I don't have a car. I was looking for extra money for the month, because I don't receive a lot from disability. So when an e-mail came to me offering me a job that I could work from home I jumped at the chance." The job involved receiving cashiers checks and money orders, cashing them at his bank then wiring the money to another country, but keeping a piece for himself. Of course when the bank notified him that the checks were fake, he discontinued all contact with the phony company. But a few months later he was arrested on seven counts of criminal possession of forged instruments, and found guilty of felonies, for which he served 150 days in jail. "Beware of any e-mail that offers a job!" he counsels.

Stacy, from Washington, explains how she was approached with a different pitch for the same scam: "...They ask you to be an accountant," she says, again processing foreign checks that turn out to be phony, through your own bank account. "If you are very lucky," she cautions, "the bank will just want the money back. But be advised they can charge you with the federal crime of passing fraudulent checks. Run from this! You could find yourself in prison."

Another work-from-home scheme that could send you to prison, as well as incur huge fines, involves Web-based international companies offering you the chance to sell high-end electronic items like plasma televisions and home theater systems, at reduced prices. As an "affiliate," you're told to offer the merchandise on well-known Internet auction sites and accept the payments, then pay the company, typically by wire transfer. The company is then supposed to drop-ship the merchandise directly to the buyer, so you don't have to stock, ship or warehouse the merchandise. But of course the merchandise is never shipped, and the buyers take legal action against you, the affiliate.

It seems hard to believe that people would actually fall for this, but Randy Johnston, a lawyer who specializes in going after scammers, says, "Job-hunting scams rise along with the unemployment rate. These con artists target desperate people, and if you've been out of work for a while, you're desperate and are more likely to fall for stuff like this." As the author of the book 'Robbed at Pen Point,' he's seen it all. "Crooks make a killing" during tough economic times when people are most desperate.

Four huge red flags

Even if there's no chance of going to prison, job scams can be a tremendous waste of time and money. The BBB recommends looking out for the following red flags when searching for a job online:

Red Flag #1: The employer asks for money upfront

It's seldom on the level when an applicant is asked to pay upfront fees or make a required purchase to get a job. BBB often hears from job hunters who paid a phony employer for supposedly required background checks or training for jobs that didn't exist. Also be wary of job placement companies that ask for large upfront fees to find you a job.

Red Flag #2: Employer e-mails are rife with grammatical and spelling errors.

Online fraud is often perpetrated by scammers located outside the United States. Their first language usually isn't English, and this is often evident in poor grammar and the misspelling of common words.

Red Flag #3: The employer requires you to check your own credit report.

After posting their resumes online or responding to online job listings, many job hunters received what they thought was good news: an e-mail from an interested employer. But in order to be considered for the job, the applicant has to check his or her credit report through a recommended website. The truth is, the e-mail is just an attempt to get the job hunter to divulge sensitive financial information or sign up for credit-monitoring services.

Red Flag #4: The employer quickly asks for personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers.

Some job seekers have been surprised to learn they've gotten a job without having to do a single interview. However, when the employer then asked for personal information in order to fill out the necessary paperwork, suspicions were raised -- and rightly so. Regardless of the reason, a job applicant should never give out his or her Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone or e-mail and only after they've confirmed the job is legitimate.

What to do

If you're approached online about a job you didn't apply for, one of the best and quickest ways to check out its legitimacy is to visit the Better Business Bureau website, where you'll find more red flags and documentation of job search scams. If the particular one you're searching for doesn't come up, do a google search. These days, you can never be too careful.

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