Americans lost $68 million to job scams this year—here’s what to look out for

Americans were scammed out of $68 million due to fake business and job opportunities in the first quarter of 2022, according to the Federal Trade Commission, bad actors continue to leverage pandemic stress and the hot job market to con job-seekers out of money and their personal financial information.

Employment-related scams have been a persistent problem but rose in 2020 as criminals took advantage of people who lost work due to Covid, says Rhonda Perkins, an attorney and chief of staff for the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices. In the first quarter of 2022, people reported more than 20,700 incidents of business and job opportunity scams, with nearly a third of those resulting in a financial loss.

And the Internal Revenue Service this week urged the public to be cautious of ongoing tax scams during the pandemic, including scammers who post fake job ads to social media.

Scams appear in a lot of different ways, but there’s one clear red flag that makes one easy to spot: When an employer finds a way to ask you for money.

Here are some of the most common types of employment scams to be aware of.

fake job postings

Job scams take a variety of forms: Sometimes, scammers will contact victims directly by phone call, text or email. Other times, they’ll imitate a reputable employer and create a fake website or post fake listings on job-search sites.

The biggest way scammers try to defraud victims is by posing as part of a staffing or temp agency, then requiring job-seekers pay them a fee before they can get matched with a hiring manager for interviews.

A few other common ways scammers try to steal people’s money upfront is by listing fake mystery shopping roles, or fake government and postal jobs. In these scenarios, scammers will say you have to pay them in order to get certified to take the job, or to get access to a directory of jobs. “I always recommend to people: Don’t pay for the promise of a job,” Perkins says.

Work-from-home scams

Bad actors have also capitalized on a new appetite for work-from-home jobs, Perkins adds.

One is a re-shipping scam, sometimes advertised as a call for “quality control managers” or “virtual assistants.” Once you’re hired, your job is to receive shipments to your home, re-package them and re-ship them to a new address, often overseas.

The goods are usually high-priced items like electronics, and they’re bought using stolen credit cards. People who get into re-shipping scams report not being paid.

If you’ve given the fake employer your Social Security number for payroll, you now have an identity theft problem. Scammers can use this information to open new accounts in your name or apply for fraudulent documents like a driver’s license or passport.

Another type of work-from-home scam involves re-selling merchandise. Victims are told they can make money buying brand-name products for less than retail and flipping them for a profit. But after they pay for the products, the package never arrives.

fake check scams

Job-seekers should also be wary of job postings for nannies, caregivers and virtual personal assistants, especially if a stranger reaches out to you first. The FTC warns many of these are fronts for a fake check scam.

in this scenario, the scammer will send you a check, have you deposit it, and will ask you to return some or all of the money because you have to cover start-up equipment or they accidentally overpaid you. Banks are required by law to make deposited funds available to you quickly, usually within two days. Scammers hope you’ll send money back to them in a hard-to-trace way, like through a wire transfer or gift card, before the bank alerts you that their check has bounced. At that point, you’re either out of the money you’ve felt, or you’ll be required to pay the bank back.

“We can’t say this enough: If a scammer sends you a check and asks you to deposit it, but has some reason for why you need to send money back to them, don’t do it,” Perkins says.

Warning signs of a fake job scam

Employment scams have only gotten more sophisticated, so it’s important to be vigilant as a job-seeker. The FBI says these are some warning signs to look out for through the hiring process:

  • Interviews are not conducted in-person or through a secure video call, but rather on a teleconferencing app using an email address instead of a phone number
  • Potential employers contact victims through non-company email domains and teleconference applications
  • Potential employers require employees to purchase start-up equipment from the company, or pay for background screenings
  • Potential employers request credit card information
  • Job postings appear on job boards, but not on the company’s website
  • Recruiters or managers don’t have profiles on the job board, or the profiles don’t seem to fit their roles

How to protect yourself

There are lots of ways to cover your bases if a job opportunity seems suspicious, Perkins says. First, look up the name of the company or the person who’s contacting you, plus the words “scam,” “review” or “complaint.” Remember that anyone can create a fake website or profile, so be thorough. Run the company or staffing agency through the Better Business Bureau’s directory.

You can also contact the employer directly, using information you’ve found on your own (as in, not an email or phone number provided to you through an unsolicited message), to verify the legitimacy of the job and how to apply.

Finally, never send money or reveal personal financial information, like a credit card number, during the hiring process. Employers will only ask for your Social Security number after you’re hired, and you should still be vigilant to confirm their identity in-person or over video before you share it.

If you see or lose money to a job scam, Perkins says to report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. And if you’re concerned about becoming a victim of identity theft, you can report it and get a personalized recovery plan with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.

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