Paul Muschick, OF THE MORNING CALL
March 12, 2011
Being out of work is tough enough. Don't be so desperate that you get scammed while job hunting.
It's ironic, but with so many people out of work, employment scammers have more opportunities than ever.
Some schemes are well-exposed, such as mystery shopping scams in which you get a check in the mail and are told to deposit it in your bank account and wire it somewhere to test the wire service. The check will bounce, and you'll be out the money you wired.
Other scams aren't so obvious. The job descriptions are vague enough to entice you to apply and rope you in. Some want to trick you into giving them access to your personal information. Others may just want to milk you for few bucks and move on. Other devils aren't looking for money, but want to expose you to a computer virus or just cause chaos.
As one unemployed financial professional who lost $4,000 recently in a job scam told me, the offers start to look better and better the longer you're out of work.
There usually are clues, though.
Look for misspellings and poor grammar in ads and correspondence. Legitimate business professionals aren't so sloppy.
Confirm a business exists, including a street address, before you get in too deep. Look for employment scam warnings online. Follow the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
One man told me he was offered a job making $3,200 a month collecting the change from 45 pay phones.
Just the idea that you could make that much doing such little work doesn't ring true. Not to mention the fact there's little long-term security in that field. I couldn't even name the locations of 45 pay phones.
But the dead giveaway was that before he could start, he had to wire $295 to the Philippines as a deposit for the phone keys, with the deposit to be refunded in his first paycheck. Wiring money overseas is like flushing it. And this company supposedly was in Texas.
Avoid dealing with people who say they are overseas and want you to conduct their stateside business. Payment processing scams are common: A "foreign businessman" seeks to hire someone here to deposit checks and wire them back the money. That's what banks are for. The reason they're not using banks is the checks they send you aren't real, or are ill-gotten gains.
Last year, I wrote about an international scheme in which foreigners placed fraudulent charges on stolen credit cards, then cashed out the proceeds through dummy corporations set up by American job seekers they had duped. The Federal Trade Commission stopped the theft by freezing the assets of the dummy corporations.
Some job scams might not be as easy to pick up on.
Jane Koch of Palmerton told me her husband was tricked through a job scam I hadn't heard of before.
While applying for a job online, he was told to go to a website, take a test and enter his phone number, as applicants who scored well would be contacted.
He got a text message. When he read it, he apparently authorized a download for wallpaper or a ring tone on his wireless phone, at $14.99 a month.
Koch caught it quickly, because she reads the fine print of her bills. She called their phone company and it removed the charge.
"It sure is a shame that these dirtbags are targeting the unemployed," Koch told me in an e-mail.
Pay close attention to the details when you're talking with someone about a job.
Sherry Ferguson of Towamensing Township told me she inquired about an administrative assistant position advertised in The Morning Call. She received an e-mail from a man who said he had reviewed her resume and would be happy to offer her the job.
Ferguson immediately knew something wasn't right.
"I never sent him my resume, and he knew nothing about me, so how could he offer me a job? That was the first clue something was amiss," she told me.
The fact the man said he was in Malaysia and needed her to run his business here also rightly worried her.
You can't even rest comfortably when you think you're dealing with a well-known company. Scammers use brand names, hoping you'll let down your guard and provide them with sensitive personal information in an application, or click on a link and expose yourself to a computer virus.
Readers have alerted me fake job offers using the names of well-known entities such as Habitat for Humanity and SC Johnson. WThankfully, corporations know their brands are being used for illegitimate purposes, and they try to warn people by exposing these scams on their own websites. So check corporate websites for warnings.
More tips on how to identify and avoid job scams are on the Watchdog blog at http://blogs.mcall.com/watchdog/.
The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by e-mail at email@example.com, by phone at 610-841-2364 (ADOG), by fax at 610-820-6693, or by mail at The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101.
Signs of a job scam
•Good money for little work
•Working from home instead of an office
•Employer is overseas and you can't meet
•Cashing checks and wiring money
•Paying fees to apply for a job
•Sending a copy of your credit report to apply
Source: PA attorney general's office
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