How to Avoid Online Job Scams
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
It is safe to say the Internet has revolutionized the job search. Before the net, applications required a phone call and a face-to-face meeting; but with the rise of online job boards, an email or two containing a resume and cover letter can be all that separates you from your next job. A word of warning, however: Many dream jobs advertised online are just that … imaginary. And you could be setting yourself up for a rude awakening.
I had my own awakening one morning last summer. I applied to be an assistant teacher at a downtown Los Angeles school. The listing provided a link to another site where I filled in my personal information. I thought my data would only be used in the event the employer liked my resume, but the next day I received calls from a number in Scarsdale, N.Y. I reached a telemarketer who, instead of offering me an interview, advertised continuing education classes. I quickly realized that what I thought was a job was actually fancy dressing for spam.
This practice, known as “phishing,” is illegal, but is common online. Spammers will mine for personal information on the Internet while posing as a bank, an online store or an employer.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, some 72,940 complaints of online fraud were received in 2008; 7.9 percent (or 5,762) of the total involved “confidence schemes,” which comprise job scams such as my own.
Karen Hobbs, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission, a government agency that investigates online fraud, warns that any job listing that advertises “easy money,” “guaranteed job placement” or an “upfront fee” could be job fraud. These schemes could offer licensing or accreditation, but charge a fee for “training,” and then offer a phony license and no job prospects.
Other schemes take the form of “secret shopper” fraud; a company or person will wire you a check, ask you to deposit it immediately, and — before the check can bounce — ask you to wire your money into their account.
Guard Your Personal Information
Kevin Lipisto, senior recruiting manager at Talent Tree, a recruiting firm in Los Angeles, had this advice for job seekers: “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true.” He advises against offering too much personal information. For example, don’t offer date of birth or driver’s license number. He also advises that “as long as the job is not confidential, I would try to research the position and the company as much as possible, online or however else. … If it sounds like they are trying to hide something, they probably are.”
Hobbs further advises that job seekers “should never pay upfront fees. Employers pay those fees — people don’t pay those fees.” Her advice is to “see these people in person. Don’t pay anything or wire money without seeing someone.” Craigslist offers this advice on its website: “Deal locally with folks you can meet in person,” and it is sound. Always be wary of anyone offering employment from out of state. Fraudsters think they can get away with anything because they are anonymous; do not allow them that luxury.
If you are caught in a job scam, the best practice is to first contact a host of agencies that can help you deal with the problem. These include the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Better Business Bureau, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection and the National Consumers League Fraud Center. You can also get in touch with your local and state police; the more people you inform of your fraud, the more likely you are to find help.
There are steps to protect your money during the ordeal. Hobbs mentions that, “Dependent on the information, cancel your credit card, change your bank account number. Consumers can also put a fraud alert on their credit report.” The fraud alert puts a hold on the account so money cannot be instantly deducted.
Although the Internet offers a great deal of anonymity, scammers can be caught and brought to justice. Be careful with whom you deal, especially those people who offer everything but reveal nothing. Their setup is oftentimes smoke and mirrors. Do not be drawn in, and stay with the safe bet before giving in to the promise of wealth.
Tips From the Experts
▶ Be wary of sharing personal information. Your address, date of birth and social security number are not necessary for most job applications. Do not offer this information up front.
▶ Meet the recruiter in person. It is always a better idea to meet a potential employer in person before accepting a job. If the recruiter says it isn’t possible, then you know there’s something amiss going on.
▶ Do not pay them. Scammers will often guarantee a job after you pay money for training or access to a database. Do not be fooled. If this is a job advertisement and they are not offering you a job, then this is not a legitimate listing.
▶ Always research the job ahead of time. Look at the company’s web presence. If it has none, then caution should be used as you continue the application process. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start your research.
▶ Act locally. The best way to avoid an online job scam is to know the identity of your future employer. Most scams happen through out-of-state companies. If you must apply in another state, be careful and always use caution. Remember, a little research goes a long way to determine if this is legitimate.
Jonathan Peters is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. To read more of his writing, check out his blog at www.alternatewrites.wordpress.com.