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SCAM ALERT: Online job search

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Posted on Privacy Rights Clearinghouse web site with permission of Pam Dixon World Privacy Forum.

1. Introduction

Job seekers who use online job search web sites must be careful to avoid a type of job scam in which the applicant is asked to accept payment to his or her own bank account. These are known as payment-forwarding or payment-transfer scams.

Payment-transfer scams involve a con artist who pretends to be an employer. The con artist uses a job ad to lure an unsuspecting job seeker, or they may use information from a resume they have found online. Such con artists can be quite convincing, and may even steal company names and corporate logos to convince victims that they are legitimate employers.

After the con artist has won the job seeker's trust, the con artist tricks the job seeker into giving up bank account numbers. The reasons given for this can be clever. One ploy is to tell the job seeker they can only deliver paychecks by "direct deposit.

"The "job" a job seeker will be asked to do involves forwarding or wiring money from a personal bank account, a PayPal account, or from Western Union to another account. The other account is often overseas. As part of their pay, the job seeker is instructed to keep a small percentage of the money as their payment. Sometimes the payment for making the money transfer is as low as $15. Sometimes it is as high as several hundred or several thousand dollars. Almost always, the money the victims are transferring is stolen, and therefore, the victims are committing theft and wire fraud. Usually, this kind of scam involves at least two or three victims.

There are many variations of payment-forwarding scams. Following are very simple tips that will go far to protect you from falling victim with some clarifications noted below. Again, this scam can be quite clever and refined. 

Do not give personal bank account, PayPal account, or credit card numbers to an employer.

Do not agree to have funds or paychecks direct deposited to any of your accounts by a new employer.

Do not forward, transfer, or "wire" money to an employer.

Do not transfer money and retain a portion for payment.

Legitimate employers do not usually need your bank account numbers. While direct deposit of a paycheck is a convenience, if that is the only option an employer offers, then you should not accept the job. A legitimate employer will give you the option of direct deposit, but not demand that it is used. You should wait until you have met the employer in person before agreeing to a direct deposit option.

There is one exception to this: the U.S. government typically does require that employees agree to direct deposit. If you have been interviewed in person, and you are sure that you are dealing with a government agency, then agreeing to direct deposit is not a problem. Also, if you have been working for an employer for a while and you are very sure about their legitimacy, then agreeing to a direct deposit is usually fine. This is especially true if you have received a number of paychecks from the employer and you have met the employer in person. "Work from home" and telecommuting jobs are most at risk when agreeing to direct deposit, especially from brand new employers. Use caution and good sense.

Regarding payment transfers, while some jobs may require an employee to make transfers for employers, legitimate employers making this request will go to extraordinary efforts to check the job seeker prior to making the hire. This would involve meeting the jobseeker in person and conducting rigorous interviews. This kind of job hire would not be made via email or even the telephone or a single meeting. And a legitimate employer would typically ask you to make transfers from their business accounts, not yours. You need to draw a line and understand that transferring money for employers from your personal bank account or personal PayPal account is off-limits, period.

2. Known Red Flags

Payment-forwarding scams contain certain "red-flags" that should alert you to fraudulent job ads. Here are the known red flags:

Request for bank account numbers.

Request for Social Security number (SSN).

Request to "scan the ID" of a job seeker, for example, a drivers' license. Scam artists will say they need to

scan job seekers' IDs to "verify identity." This is not a legitimate request.

A contact email address that is not a primary domain. For example, an employer calling itself "Omega Inc." with a Yahoo! email address.

Misspellings and grammatical mistakes in the job ad.

Monster.com lists descriptive words in job postings that are tip-offs to fraud. Their list includes "package-forwarding," "money transfers," "wiring funds," "eBay," and "PayPal." World Privacy Forum researchers also found that the terms "Foreign Agent Agreement" often appears in contracts and emails sent to job seekers.

Please see Appendix A (http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/jobscamreportpt1.html#appendixA) in the World Privacy Forum report for examples of what the emails and contracts for this kind of money transfer scam look like. The Timeline (http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/jobscamtimeline.html) has multiple examples of what the fraudulent job ads look like.

3. Most Effective Steps for Victims of Job Scams

 Unfortunately, not everyone will escape job fraud in time. Job seekers who are victimized by payment-forwarding scams are advised to take the following steps.

Close all bank accounts at the bank where the scam took place. It is a good idea to change banks to avoid "social engineering" attempts by the con artists to fool bank workers into giving out new account information.

Order a credit report from all three credit bureaus every 2 to 3 months. Watch the reports for unusual activity. If you have given your SSN to the fraudster, we advise that you place fraud alerts on your three credit reports - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. For information on how to establish fraud alerts, read Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Fact Sheet 17a on identity theft, http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm.

Victims of payment-forwarding scams should contact their local Secret Service field agent. The Secret Service handles complaints of international fraud. Fraud victims should also file a police report with local law enforcement officials as well.

Victims should report the company name, the job posting, and all contact names to the job sites where the scam was posted.

Victims should permanently close all email addresses that were associated with the job fraud.

Visual examples of what the fraudulent jobs look like, and what these scams look like in action are at http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/umabtips.html

4. Resources

For updated tips on online jobseeking safety, consult this publication on the web site of the World Privacy Forum web site: "Job Seekers' Guide to Resume Databases: Twelve Resume Posting Truths," at

www.worldprivacyforum.org/resumedatabaseprivacytips.html

First Report on Bogus Job Ads

The original consumer report relating to payment-forwarding job scam, issued in December 2003 by the World Privacy Forum, may be found at http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/consfraudalert1.html.

FTC Complaint Line

Call this number to file a complaint about fraudulent jobs posted on an online job search web site. (877) 382-4357.

To file a complaint online, go to www.ftc.gov.

Fact Sheet with Privacy Tips for Online Job Seekers

Fact Sheet 25, "Online Job Search Web Sites: Tips to Safeguard Your Privacy," http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs25-JobSeekerPriv.htm

Consumer Agencies in Your Area

To find a consumer agency near you, visit the U.S. government's Consumer Assistance Directory at www.consumeraction.gov/state.shtml

Credit Bureaus

To order your credit reports:

Equifax: (800)-685-1111

Experian: (888) 397-3742

TransUnion: (800) 888-4213

To place a fraud alert on your credit reports:

Equifax: (888) 766-0008

Experian: (888) 397-3742

TransUnion: (800) 680-7289

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