Job scams are nothing new—one is at the heart of the Sherlock Holmes short story “The Red-Headed League,” first published in 1891—but modern technology makes them arguably more pernicious than ever. Doing a job search can be a minefield of mixed emotions, and that makes job seekers particularly vulnerable to con artists looking to steal personal information, money, or both.
Types of scams
There are, sadly, hundreds of different few job scams. Here are a couple of the most common and easy to spot:
- Offers of government jobs This scam preys on most people’s lack of knowledge when it comes to government jobs. Those openings can often seem difficult to find information on, and the listings might be hard to understand. Scammers sell job seekers training manuals or promise special proprietary lists of openings. One prevalent scam is specifically oriented around jobs with the United States Postal Service (USPS, better known as the Post Office). The US Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the USPS, says that scammers try to sell job lists and preparation materials of “very dubious value” for the postal worker exam. Post Office job listings, like all government job listings, are available to the public for free.
- Work-at-home leads Working from home—too good to be true? Often, yes. Many offer spectacular returns based on minimal effort. The Federal Trade Commission says to look out for jobs involving assembly or craft work, envelope stuffing, rebate processing, medical billing, or mystery shopping. They also advise caution when considering jobs that involve multilevel marketing (jobs where you sell to the public and recruit new salespeople).There can be legitimate opportunities doing these jobs, but many are just scams that entice applicants to buy starter kits or pay for supplies, providing the duped job seeker no return on that investment.
What to do
What should you do if you’ve been the victim of a job scam or suspect that a listing is a fraud?
- Contact the authorities Let law enforcement know about the scam. The Federal Trade Commission allows consumers to file complaints through their online system. As stated above, the Postal Inspection Service handles issues involving the Post Office. And if you’ve transferred money internationally, get in touch with the Secret Service. If any part of the scam has happened over the Internet—an email, an online listing, an online job board—victims can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.) IC3 is a joint partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
- Preserve your paper trail It is critically important to keep everything. Print or digitally save all emails or other exchanges. If possible, take screenshots of web pages and online ads. Having a record of how the scammers made contact and how the scam played out can be a big step towards bringing down the scam.
- Monitor your accounts Keeping a close eye on all bank and credit card accounts is a must for anyone who has divulged personal information to a job scammer. Identity thieves can use a name and Social Security number to open or access accounts. Credit bureaus offer credit monitoring services to help keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
- Contact your credit card company Credit card companies offer protection from fraudulent charges. Notifying them is one of the simplest ways that you can recover most or even all of your money, provided you used a credit card to pay for the scam.
- Notify the job board where you found the listing Internet job boards value the quality of their listings and view fraud detection and elimination as extremely important. Red flags from users are vital to their ongoing efforts to root out job scammers. Most job boards have multiple ways to contact the site, including email, phone, or even virtual chat.
Unfortunately, job scams aren’t going anywhere. As anxious as job seekers might be to nail down that perfect (and lucrative) gig, they must be on the lookout for those that just seem too good to be true. When looking for a job, do some research, ask a lot of questions, and use reliable resources. Never give out personal information and be very suspicious of any place where you have to pay to get paid!