Protect Yourself Against Online Job Fraud

As the global economy struggles to emerge from recession and U.S. unemployment approaches 10%, online job scams continue to proliferate, preying on the uninformed. Defend yourself against scammers by learning to recognize and avoid internet job scams. To that end we have compiled a listing of the top five online job scams and their respective methods and indicators.

This one may be difficult to detect as “help wanted” ads for this job are sometimes posted on trusted sites like CareerBuilder and Monster, as well as online versions of local newspapers. Essentially the scam is this: merchandise is shipped to you. Your job is to repackage it and ship it to an address in Russia or Eastern Europe. Typically the merchandise has been purchased with stolen credit card information. Congratulations, you’re a felon.

This scam is similar to number one. However, instead of tangible goods being shipped to you, money is wired into your bank account from persons heretofore unknown to you – usually real eBay or other online auction winners. Your job is to receive the funds and wire them (minus your commission) via MoneyGram or similar service to persons outside of the U.S. While you’ve been paid a fee for your trouble, the auction winner who sent you the money never receives the goods from your employer. Welcome to the wonderful world of money laundering. We’ll give you one guess at to who gets stuck holding the bag? That was a really easy question.

You come across an otherwise run-of-the-mill help wanted ad for a receptionist or executive assistant position on CraigsList, Monster, CareerBuilder or other web site that posts job listings. Additionally, these ads will usually tempt you with a salary somewhat higher than the going rate. The ad asks you to e-mail the firm for additional information. When you do, the reply e-mail informs you that a credit check is required prior to arranging a job interview and that you will need to provide valid credit card information. Should you be so inclined to honor their request, it is unlikely that you will ever hear from the “firm” again. A more likely outcome is that someone halfway around the world will be making an online purchase of expensive consumer electronics using – you guessed it – your credit card. A good tip-off to this scam is that the ad or correspondence will generally fail to include a company name, telephone number or address. The firm will be referred to generically. While it is not uncommon for legitimate companies to omit identifying information when posting a help wanted ad, any correspondence will include complete and valid contact particulars. As job applicant credit checks have become an increasingly common part of the hiring process, the real tip-off here is that you don’t need a credit card number to run a credit check.

This job scam preys on the common desire to a have a job that pays you to shop. After posting your resume online at any number of reputable sites, you’ll receive a letter with a check stating that you have been selected to work as a “Secret Shopper.” Your job is to pose as an ordinary consumer while making purchases and evaluating the goods, services and facilities of actual retail establishments pre-selected by your employer. The check included with the letter will usually be for an amount between two and four thousand dollars which you are instructed to deposit into your bank account. You are to deduct your commission from the check (usually 5-15% of the total) and spend the rest as prescribed by the employer. Almost invariably, the bulk of the funds are to be used to “evaluate the services” of a MoneyGram or similar “wire money” business office near your home. You will be given at least one name and address to wire funds to.

What some people fail to realize is that while the funds may clear your account a few days after deposit, the check is in fact, bogus and will eventually be returned by the “issuing bank” days later. At such time your bank will deduct the check amount from your account along with a returned check fee. Further, the recipient of the wired funds will be long gone, and he’ll be spending your cash. As for your employer, who alleged to be a BBB Member, his business doesn’t exist. Should you ever receive a check from a company with which you are unfamiliar, do not deposit it. Take it to your bank and ask them to verify its authenticity.

Beware of online or print help wanted ads that offer high-paying employment overseas. These back-room operations bilk uninformed job seekers out of tens of thousands of dollars every year. Typically these firms will claim that you are qualified for one of the “thousands” of well-salaried positions in their database. All you need do is forward a placement fee – generally ranges from $100 to $1,000) and they will send you the application form(s). They further claim that your money will be promptly refunded if they are unable to place you in a high-paying overseas job. Often, they will arrange for one of the “employers” to contact you directly, urging you to submit the application AND the fee, so that you can begin work right away. Of course, there is no overseas job, your money is never refunded and the “employer” who contacted you is just another con artist who is part of the scam.

As these fly-by-night operations usually target persons from a different state, shutting them down can be a complicated matter for local law enforcement and state agencies. However, the FTC has been active in cracking down on these scams, but they continue to pop-up. As there are legitimate firms that advertise and hire U.S. citizens for overseas work, you should always ask for and check the references of any company offering employment services before providing them with personal information.

The information required to avoid being scammed is freely available online. Before you consider accepting a job offer from a firm with which you are not familiar, find out who they really are, and what they’re about. Google their name. If you cannot locate their company website or find any mention of the firm – pass. If they are crooks, the odds are in your favor that either no information will be available – or – information detailing their scam will show up in the top twenty search results. Be thorough. And finally, remember that the most important tool you need to protect yourself against online jobs scams can be found between your ears.