With unemployment at the highest rate since the early 1980’s record numbers of people are desperately searching for work. The Internet is the medium most job seekers turn to today as do con artists who use the Internet for fraud by preying on the unsuspecting. In today’s economy, employment scam has become one of the fastest growing categories of fraud.
Fraud practitioners use Internet marketing and email scams to lure unsuspecting individuals who are looking for work. Employment is advertised on legitimate job placement sites and message boards or the “supposed” job offers arrive to the individuals by email. The typical guise is an international company needs to hire U.S. citizens as “agents” to perform certain services. The Internet scam is simple: The lure of a home-based job that requires very little work and pays big dividends, drawing “applicants” who then become victims of the scam. Not only do they become the unwitting victim of fraud, they end up losing money they could ill afford and in many cases they themselves become victims of identity theft and sometimes even unwilling accomplices to crime.
The too-good-to-be-true positions include payroll clerks, customer service representatives, shipping managers, mystery shoppers, craft assemblers and many more variants-all promising hefty salaries, benefits and huge commissions. For many victims, the hook is the promise of immediate, advance payments to the applicant. The company obtains personal and banking information from the new hire and checks are sent with instructions to wire a portion of the funds to a third party to cover expenses. In some cases, packages immediately arrive with instructions on re-shipping merchandise to international destinations. Once the checks are deposited and packages shipped, the dream job quickly becomes a nightmare. The checks the victims deposited into their personal accounts are fake. The duped “employee” is out their own money which was subsequently wired and they are now liable for the balance of the funds which can run into thousands of dollars. Usually the scam victim has lost all of their personal, scant funds previously deposited in their own bank account as well. In many cases they have also unknowingly re-packaged and shipped stolen merchandise, often purchased with stolen credit card information, and the “new hire” has unknowingly participated in money laundering crimes and other fraud.
Spam has become the advertising tool of choice for many of the con artists. AIS Media, an Atlanta-based Internet Interactive company that monitors Internet fraud, reports a dramatic increase in these scam emails. Unsolicited emails are received by individuals featuring subject lines such as “Immediate Placement”, “We Received Your Resume”, “Business Request”, “Our Job ID 95313”, “We’re Pleased to Offer Your Job” “HR Department Announcement”, etc. Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS Media, says “many of these scams are just newer twists on an old fraud. Today’s scam artists have learned to streamline the fraud using the Internet. It has become the newest arena for scam artist to easily reach desperate people. The scammers appeal to the desperation of the unemployed, who in many cases have been out of work for more than six months.”
The Internet scams have caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which launched a crackdown on job con artists who prey on unemployed Americans. Labeled “Operation Bottom Dollar”, the FTC-in cooperation with other federal agencies such as the FBI, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service-has begun targeting individuals and groups marketing deceptive and illegal jobs as well as work at home and other phony Internet scams.
Along with email scam, the con artists place bogus employment ads on legitimate Internet job placement sites. The recruitment industry has stepped up its fight against the scam as well. Job portals such as Monster.com, Craigslist, CareerBuilder and others, as well as search engines like Bing have become proactive in attempting to reduce these scams by entering into partnerships to display FTC consumer information to educate job seekers in recognizing job scams. Recruiting sites, portals, message boards and other Internet services are quick to remove the scams as they are discovered, but with the fast pace of the Internet, the ads are posted as quickly as they are taken down. Caution and prudence by job seekers is the primary defense to avoid being a victim of a job scam.
AIS Media’s Harpointner warns that if the posting appears too good to be true-it probably is. “Desperation should not cloud common sense” says the AIS Media CEO. “As job seekers scour the Internet and their email inbox anxiously looking for ways to generate much-needed income, they should always maintain a wary eye for scam. Avoid responding to emails from unknown sources and take the time to go online to research the company to see if credible information is available from legitimate news agencies. It should be obvious that companies are not paying big money for someone to do basically nothing from home. Red flags for job seekers include requests for personal information like social security numbers, mother’s maiden names and cash payments from the applicant during an application process.”
It is a well known fact among con artists that people are more susceptible to greed during difficult financial times. Job seeks should protect themselves by recognizing the fraud by avoiding con artists who have learned to streamline their scam using the Internet to line their pockets with money from people who are already suffering.
Rick Ellis has an MBA in eCommerce and is director of Channel Partner Development withÂ AIS Media; an Atlanta based Internet Interactive Company. AIS Media is dedicated to stamping out Internet scam and fraud.