When you need a job, it’s easy to miss warning signs.
Let’s say you’re browsing the online classifieds and you come across a job listing that looks good. Maybe it’s a nanny position, a gig as a housepainter, or a work-from-home job. The pay is decent — possibly even incredible.
You send your résumé via email and cross your fingers.
The employer responds quickly: You’re hired! In fact, they want to pay you an advance. All you need to do is cash a large check for them and send the money to other people they need to pay. Or, better yet, just send them your online banking username and password and they’ll deposit the check for you.
Those events should set off alarm bells. The checks you receive will be bogus, or the alleged employer will use your banking login credentials to siphon your money from your account.
Yet job seekers can and do rationalize all those irregularities.
Evolution of the employment scam
“We used to see these employment scams every couple of months. Now we’re seeing them on a fairly regular basis,” says Jim Fuher, fraud prevention manager at STCU.
Craigslist, the classified advertising site, is one of the most common online platforms for employment scams. But that’s changing, Fuher says. Scammers now are sending unsolicited e-mails to job seekers who post their résumés online or post comments about their job search in public forums.
And scammers have adapted to eliminate some of the biggest red flags ― by reducing the size of counterfeit checks, for example.
“We used to see checks regularly for just under $5,000, but now we’re seeing them as low as $900,” Fuher says. “These days the average amount is $2,650.”
Signs something is wrong
There are “a bazillion different employment scams,” Fuher says, but they’re all variations on a theme.
One young woman was hired as a nanny via email with no in-person interview, or even a phone call. The “employer” sent her a large, counterfeit check, part of which was to be spent on toys and supplies. The rest was to be forwarded to another account to pay the employer’s mortgage.
“Who would hire a nanny sight unseen?” Fuher asks. But money up front can be alluring, and being chosen for a supposedly competitive position can be flattering, and feeling desperate for work can cloud your judgment.
Other warning signs, along with being hired without an interview: The employer requests that money be transferred via Western Union or MoneyGram, or asks for your online banking password. Or there’s a mismatch between the employer (usually an individual) and the organization that issues the check.
“You’re getting hired by John Smith, but you’re getting paid by a business check by some business on the East Coast,” Fuher explains. “That’s a sign something is wrong.”
- Advance payment. Sorry, but easy money almost always comes with a catch.
- Poor spelling and grammar. Real employers’ job listings generally look professional.
- Requests for your online banking login information, or for you to transfer money via Western Union or MoneyGram.
- A rapid hiring process, usually immediate and sight unseen.
- It just looks fishy.
Don’t take the gamble
Scam victims often tell Fuher that they responded to a sketchy offer just to see if it was legitimate, or that they only gave out their online banking credentials so their new “employer” could make a mobile deposit.
“They didn’t think it through, that by having those access credentials, you can do anything and everything,” Fuher says.
He recommends staying vigilant, paying attention to warning signs like easy money and a rapid hiring process, and remembering that one mistake on your part is all it takes for a con artist to succeed.
“We protect everything. We protect our debit card PIN. We protect our Social Security number,” Fuher says. “We should protect our access credentials as much as we protect our other personal information, and never give it out.”
- Immediately call your credit union or bank’s fraud department.
- File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.