Avoiding Job Scams: How Not to Fall Victim to the Con Artists

Job research scamsScams and cons are appallingly common online these days, and among the more despicable ploys out there are those that aim to take advantage of desperate job-seekers trying to salvage their financial futures.

Our friends at the Better Business Bureau recently issued a warning about these increasingly prevalent scams. Here's how some of them work.

Spotting the Cons

You're trying hard to land a new job and are applying for any opening that seems promising. You run across an ad for an open position that directs you to a website. There, you're asked to enter information, some of it personal -- data that's later used to steal your identity, and possibly your money. A credit card or bank account number, for example, can help a con artist steal from you. The scammer might tell you they need the information to run a credit check, to set up direct deposit, or to cover the costs of training you for the job. Don't fall for it.

Another common scam takes advantage of the time it takes a bank to learn whether a check has any money behind it. While applying for a job, or perhaps just after being told you've been hired, your new "employer" will send you a check. Deposit it, you will be told, then wire part of the money to thus-and-such third party, and keep the rest as an advance on your pay.

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If you deposit it, the check may appear to clear your account -- encouraging you to withdraw the funds as requested, and wire them along. A few days later, when the bank learns that the check has bounced, your account balance will be adjusted, and you personally will be out the money you wired away -- funds you probably could ill-afford to lose.

And as the BBB notes: "A victim who deposits a fraudulent check in their bank account may be responsible for the amount of the bad check and may have their account closed. They will also lose the money they sent, because overseas transfers cannot be traced."

These kinds of scams are especially tragic when they victimize people already living on the edge of financial ruin. It can be a disaster if your money is stolen when the rent or mortgage is due and your bank account was already down to fumes. And if your identity is stolen, you'll end up dealing with paperwork and bureaucratic headaches, on top of all the soul-crushing job hunting that you have been doing for months.

Note, too, that these scams usually use the names of legitimate businesses. The job openings will look real. Just because you see some real companies' names or logos, that doesn't mean they are really involved.

Turning You Into a Criminal

There are a host of other varieties of job-related scams. For example, you might be offered a work-at-home job where you're asked to pay for training, or to cover the cost of the materials to get you started. Send in the money, and the training or supplies will never materialize.

Or worse, you might end up involved in money laundering. If you're asked to transfer money through your bank account once your new employer has come to "trust you," be wary. And if you are sent merchandise and asked to repackage it and forward it to another party, realize you may be unwittingly trafficking in stolen goods.

Avoid Being a Victim

The Better Business Bureau offers these specific tips on how to avoid getting scammed:
  • Scrutinize the job ad, looking for clues that it might be a fake. These include bad grammar, misspelled words, and a not-very-businesslike style, such as an abundance of exclamation marks. Also suspicious (but not necessarily proof of a problem) are generic job titles, such as "Customer Service Representative" or "Administrative Assistant," and appealing details such as "No experience needed," "Telecommuting OK," or "Start immediately" -- especially if the job pays well. Other red flags include a lack of specific job location and links that direct you to other sites.
  • Be wary if you're asked for personal information, such as your Social Security number or financial account numbers. Do not provide such information unless you've researched the job and the company, and are certain that it's safe to divulge your information.
  • Research any job listing that interests you. If you search for a job on Google and find exact matches of the listing in other cities, it might be a scam. Seek verification of the opening through a different route than the ad you ran across. For example, if you know the job is with a certain company, look up the company's website on your own (not using any web address the ad provides) or find its phone number through another trusted source and call them directly. Make sure the job exists, and verify what application materials are required and where you should send them.
Remember: Any job that sounds too good to be true may well be a con. If you're not sure about a job, you might respond to the ad with a general inquiry, before sending your resume. Ask for more information about the position, the location, and to whom you should send a resume. See if you get a response, and then gauge how professional it seems.

Life can be stressful enough when you're between jobs. Take steps to protect yourself from con artists so you can spare yourself any additional grief.

Learn more:
Financial Scams 2012: The Latest Twists in the Evolving Art of the Con
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Avoiding Job Scams: How Not to Fall Victim to the Con Artists

The (fake) tax man cometh: Identity thieves last year targeted consumers with bogus emails, claiming a W-2 form was not submitted and providing a link to a site for you to input your information. Problem was, the link directed taxpayers to a malicious site that could harvest that information, such as Social Security numbers and addresses, which could later be useful in hacking into their bank accounts.

Hackers tweak an older thievery technique: A phishing attack with a twist made the rounds in March, targeting users of eBay's (EBAY) PayPal, Bank of America (BAC), Lloyds, and TSB customers. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-Cert) sounded the alarm that the malicious Web page is stored on a user's computer, rather than directing them to a Web page loaded with the malicious software. As a result, the hackers are able to bypass common anti-phishing security software. (For tips on reducing the odds of becoming a victim of an online financial scam in 2012, see also: The Top 10 Looming Computer Security Threats of 2012.)

False advertising: The FBI announced in November the arrest of six Estonian nationals, who were charged with running a major Internet fraud ring that infected millions of computers worldwide with a virus. That virus provided the window that the alleged thieves needed to commandeer consumers' computers and direct them to Web pages where advertisements were posted. Unbeknownst to the advertisers, they were paying the alleged thieves for website traffic that did not come willingly to the sites. The FBI claimed the Estonian nationals manipulated the multibillion-dollar Internet advertising industry to earn at least $14 million in illicit fees.

Getting past the gatekeeper: Email marketer Epsilon, which hosts databases of seven of the top 10 companies in the Fortune 500 and hundreds of others, suffered an attack by hackers in late March. The attack left customers of such major brands like Citigroup (C), Disney (DIS), and Marriott (MAR) vulnerable to potential phishing scams, which attempt to steal valuable personal information such as bank account or social security numbers.

Being used to unknowingly aid in medical fraud: More than 80 medical-equipment companies received a less-than-merry notice right before the holidays when Allstate Insurance Company filed a $6.3 million lawsuit to recover money it paid out for durable medical equipment, supplies, and orthotic devices. According to the complaint, retailers (and their owners, in conspiracy with wholesalers) submitted misleading and fraudulent bills using customers' personal-injury-protection benefits.

And in February, 20 individuals -- including three doctors -- were charged for allegedly bilking the government out of $200 million in Medicare costs for mental-health services. The elaborate scheme involved officials at community health centers paying kickbacks for patient referrals and billing Medicare for care that was not necessary, and in many instances, never provided. And Medicare wasn't the only victim. The patients who unknowingly were used to bilk the government were from halfway houses and assisted-living facilities.


Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see her holdings and a short bio.
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