By Maria-Jose Subiria
The nation's economic woes have not kept scammers from taking advantage of job hunters, especially the unemployed who may be desperately looking for work, according to the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia, Inc.
Fred Elsberry said the U.S. Department of Labor experienced a sudden hike of 500,000 new unemployment claims in mid-August. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 45 percent of unemployed Americans had not been working for more than six months, he said.
"The dismal employment rate means that a lot of people are desperate for work, and may be grasping for any job, which creates a great opportunity for scammers," said Elsberry. "Not thoroughly researching a job opportunity can make a bad situation even worse, and a victim can lose hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to any number of job-related scams."
According to Elsberry, there are several precautions people should take when searching for a job, in order to protect themselves and their finances. He said job hunters should be cautious when encountering a work-from-home job advertisement, offering the opportunity to become rich. This is due to scammers trying to take advantage of senior citizens, stay-at-home moms, students and injured or disabled individuals, he said.
Dottie Callina, spokesperson for the local BBB, said individuals looking for a stay-at-home job, who do not carefully research the hiring company, may fall into costly traps.
She said there have been complaints from individuals who have been promised a high salary, and were actually paid much less. In other instances, people who were hired to assemble an item, and send it back to the companies, did not get paid for their work, said Callina.
Also, individuals should see a red flag when an employer asks for money upfront, even before they are hired, said Elsberry. It is seldom advised that an applicant pay upfront fees, or make purchases for employment, he said.
People in search of jobs should also watch out for staffing agencies requiring a large upfront fee before their services can be used, said Elsberry. "BBB often hears from job hunters who paid a phony employer for [supposedly required] background checks or training for jobs that didn't exist,"he said.
Callina said job seekers should ask employers questions about such basic things as their address and telephone number. If they have nothing to hide, they should easily answer these important questions, she said.
Elsberry added that e-mails from employers with grammatical errors should raise suspicion for job hunters, because online fraud is often executed by scammers outside the U.S. "Their first language usually isn't English, and this is often evident in their poor grasp of the language, which can include poor grammar and the misspelling of common words," he said.
Some scammers trick individuals into using a service or providing private information, said Elsberry. To be considered for a position, a employer might require job applicants to check their credit reports through a recommended web site, via an e-mail message, he said. This is an attempt to get the applicants to provide sensitive financial information, or sign up for a credit monitoring service, he added.
Employers too quick to ask for personal information, including social security numbers and bank account numbers, should raise concerns, he said. "Some job seekers have been surprised to learn they've gotten a job without having to do a single interview," he said. "However, when the employer then asked for personal information in order to fill out the necessary paperwork, suspicions were raised -- and rightly so."
Only after job applicants have confirmed the employer is legitimate, should they provide their personal information over the phone, or e-mail, he explained.
Elsberry said a scam may be brewing if a person encounters a job advertisement which requires an individual to wire money through Western Union, or MoneyGram, or receive and forward suspicious goods. Many illegitimate companies require employees to cash a check that the supposed employer has sent through the mail, he said. Furthermore, the employee is instructed to wire a portion of the money to another entity, he added.
Reasons for this requirement varies, due to the type of scam, he said. "Whatever the reason, though, the check might clear the employee's bank account but will eventually turn out to be a fake, and the employee is out of money he or she wired back to scammers," said Elsberry. "BBB also warns against receiving and mailing suspicious goods -- such as electronics or luxury items -- overseas."