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How to Spot a Job Scam

It’s a Jungle Out There: Con Artists Prey on Job Seekers

Some new stories have made it to the press about job seekers being ripped off by people interested in identity theft. Isn’t it horrible? It’s not bad enough that you don’t have a job, but now scam artists are after what little money you have. The sad fact is that while the crime may be new, there have always been people who prey on desperate, especially job seekers

At this point I could leap into a historical retrospective about various individuals and companies who took money from poor immigrants, promising plentiful land and high wages. Instead, I’ll just assume that you all had to take American history at some point and remember that flier that mentioned that “the streets are paved in gold” in America. Yes, we have long history of job seeker fraud.

What do you need to watch out for? Typically there are three kinds of job postings to worry about: 

One of the simplest forms of fake job ad offers too little informationUsually there is a job title and an anonymous form of contact (just a phone number or a P.O. Box). No company name or other employer identity is offered (or something generic, like “a national magazine” or “medical sales company”).  There are two reasons a company doesn’t identify itself in an ad: it’s a cheap con and they don’t want to pay anymore that they have to for the ad or the company doesn’t really have an open job. The “cheap con” people are looking for the most desperate job seekers to involve them in rip off sales schemes—typically they make the sales reps buy a “sample case” of products (for a hundred dollars or more) and then send them out to sell the (terrible) product. The company makes money primarily on selling the sample cases to would-be sales people.

The legitimate company that doesn’t have a job is fishing to see who applies. Sometimes a company with low morale wants to see if their people are looking for work elsewhere. They put a fake ad in the paper and see how many of their people apply. When the resumes come in, they can use the information to punish the disloyal. Awful, right?

The latest round of rip offs fall into my second category: too good to be true. The scammers are sending people job applications to complete, then using the information for identity theft.  Identity thieves, in case you haven’t heard, will do things like set up a credit card in your name, activate and charge it to the hilt, then disappear, leaving you to deal with the collectors when they come around.  You can be arrested, have your credit suspended—some people have their lives messed up for months (and occasionally years).

No one will ever send you a job application to fill out. Ever. You have to seek out the applications and fill them out at the site, or fill in a .pdf and email it. Promises that someone can get you to the front of the line for a government job or some high paying sales position is complete and utter malarkey.

Any job ad that promises too much is probably a scam. Can you make fifty thousand or a hundred thousand a year with no training, degree, or initial high investment of capital? NO. Wanting something for nothing is childish, greedy, and will make you a perfect mark for a variety of con artists.

The third category is what I call bait-and-switch: you could have this great job, if only you would pay us two hundred dollars up front. Legitimate job postings are paid for by the employer, not the job seeker. If you were to look at the fine print of the agreement, what they are selling you for two hundred bucks is just access to there job listings. That’s right—you don’t get to see the listings first, then you have absolutely no guarantee that you will actually get any of the jobs offered. These people make their money two hundred dollars at a time from very desperate job seekers, and what the seekers get in return is usually nothing: the job postings were filled long ago, if they existed at all.

There are a lot of bait-and-switch websites out there, particularly for those fields that desirable, but competitive. Want to become a sports caster? Sign up and pay up for our website for all the latest postings!   No, sorry, that’s not how that business works at all.

One place to look to find out if something is legitimate is on Snopes. The site researches various cons and hoaxes. Another great place to check is the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been complaints against businesses in your area.

Looking for a job is hard work, but desperation isn’t going to get you anywhere. When things are bad, get a local job in field with turnover and decent money—wait tables, be a bank teller, assemble cardboard boxes at a warehouse—anything legitimate you can put on a resume. You may not be the most proud of that job, but at least you’re not cold calling confused and lonely old ladies to sell them vitamins for three times what they’re worth. Yes, I knew someone who had that job—he could barely look at himself in the mirror after a few weeks. Honest work is good work; any work that makes you ashamed of yourself isn’t worth the money.  

The best way to get an entry level job and avoid these rip offs is call on friends, family, and teachers to help. Try to use your network: call everyone who would do you a favor and give them a quick (three to five minute) run down of what your qualifications are and what kind of work you are looking for. Ask for help, and see if they can call any of their friends. Follow up on any contacts or information you’re given immediately. Defer your loans and work out a plan in the meantime while you stay on the job hunt. 

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