Consumer protection experts warn about a sophisticated job scam aimed at getting Social Security and bank account information from job seekers. Unlike the job scams of yesteryear that were pretty easy to spot, the latest job scam uses job applicant information to lure unsuspecting consumers into letting down their guard.
“Job scams have really picked up,” says Melanie McGovern, spokeswoman for the International Association of Better Business Bureaus. “A lot of it has to do with a lot of people getting laid off and also people looking for a fully remote position.”
Sophisticated job scam
According to the Better Business Bureau, the latest sophisticated job scam starts when someone applies for positions on real job sites, such as Monster, ZipRecruiter and others. Job scammers apparently pepper these sites with advertisements offering high-paying remote positions. They sometimes also buy lists of potential job seekers and pose as representatives of real companies, such as Amazon, Walmart and Intuit.
Days or weeks after you frequent a job site or submit applications, you’re likely to get a text message asking whether you’re still interested in the job. Given that you’ve provided this contact information, applicants say the messages don’t seem unusual.
If you reply to the text message, the scammer is likely to ask you to download a messaging app to answer questions via text. Otherwise, the scammer may offer to interview you over Zoom or Google meet. However, mostly, the scammer does not show him or herself to you. They may use a photo or an icon to represent themselves on video conferences.
All too quickly, this faux employer will hire you — sometimes even sending a convincing offer letter.
That’s when the costly part of this con swings into action. Like real employers, the con artist will tell you that you’ll be paid via direct deposit. However, you’ll need to provide bank information, as well as your Social Security number. With this information, the con artists can drain your bank account and steal your identity, opening new credit in your name.
Some also offer to set you up in a home office. The catch? You’ll either need to pay for “postage” to get your new office equipment, or they’ll send you a check to buy your own. Unfortunately, the check they send will be a careful fake that may take your bank weeks to declare fraudulent. In the meantime, you’ll think the check has cleared. And you may have been urged to return any amount you didn’t spend back to employer in the form of gift cards or an untraceable money transfer. If you return money to a fake check scammer, there is almost no chance that you’ll ever get it back.
Both cons can cost consumers thousands, making job scams among the mostly costly of all financial cons. The BBB estimates that Americans lose $2 billion annually to job scams.
No matter how sophisticated, there are usually a handful of warning signs of a job scam, says McGovern. First, if the interview process is too easy and the pay is unusually high, those are both red flags, she says. Moreover, real employers give applicants plenty of time to consider job offers. Any employer that pressures you to make a quick decision about the job most likely has something to hide. “Now or never” offers are almost always cons, McGovern says.
Additionally, know that you should never have to pay for anything upfront. It doesn’t matter if it’s postage; application fees; your own office equipment. Paying upfront to take a job is a classic warning sign. Real companies pay the full cost of getting you necessary equipment and they will never send you a check for more than the cost of your office supplies and ask you to “reimburse them.”
Avoiding job scams
However, because the scams appear to get more sophisticated every day, there are a few things job applicants should do before they hand over any privy information to a potential employer. Specifically:
Look up the company on Glassdoor and Indeed, and search through the employee reviews. If real employees of these companies were asked, for instance, to furnish their own offices and get reimbursement later, that’s sure to show up here.
Open a new door:
If you are researching the employer through a link that was provided by the employer, consider going through another door. Open a new web browser and type in the company’s name. Then go to the section of the site labeled “careers.” See if the job you’re applying for is listed.
If you’re uneasy about a company that wants to hire you, Google their name along with the term “scam” or “complaints” and see what turns up.
If you’re looking for remote and flexible work and having difficulty finding real opportunities, it may also be worth your while to enlist help. A couple of sites, including FlexJobs, investigate remote and flexible job listings to ferret out the fakes and the scams. FlexJobs charges a membership fee. But at just $25 a month or $60 a year, it can be a cost-effective way to sidestep the job scammers.