The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) hears from consumers who have faced job scams. These scams are a perennial problem made even more harmful in the wake of graduation season and the unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The most common job scams tend to focus on a few specific types of jobs: data entry, stuffing envelopes, rebate or forms processing, wire transfers or money movement, shipping management, craft assembly and pyramid sales schemes. What are job scams and how can you, and your recent graduate, spot them? Here's a guide on common variants of job scams.

Job Postings or Job Placement Services

To trick people looking for honest work, criminals post positions where real employers and job placement firms do. These include online job boards, Craigslist, social media and other platforms. Platforms do not vet the job posts placed through them. So do not assume that all positions advertised on a platform are legitimate. Job postings may also come in the form of unsolicited emails or may mention "undisclosed government jobs." Not all online job postings are a scam. But unless you can speak to and see the person at the job site, you can never truly be sure you are interacting with a real job lead. Note, all federal positions are announced to the public.

Many headhunters, or job placement services, are legitimate. But others lie about their clients and about what they can do for you, promote outdated or fake job openings or charge upfront fees. Before you enlist with a job placement service, check with the companies listed as clients, get details of the contract in writing and make sure it is a job placement service and not a job counseling service. Finally, check online for complaints or reviews about the company.

Online Resume Platforms

Many in the job market will post their resumes on job search platforms inviting prospective employers to reach out and contact them. This is a tried and true method promoted by colleges and employment coaches and can be quite successful. These platforms can also be fertile hunting grounds for criminals. Before responding to an interview offer, do your research. An OCP Scambuster reported an interview offer from hr.sariharvey@unitedhealthgroupinc.net. In doing her research, she noted that the HR Director of United Health Group was in fact a Sara Harvey. However, the website for this company was unitedhealthgroup.com and unitedhealthgroupinc.net was a non-existent website. Those small details and variations were crucial in spotting a scam.

Work-From-Home Scams

During the era of social distancing, working from home is the only option for a large portion of the population. Common work-from-home scams involve envelope stuffing, starting new internet businesses, medical billing, mystery shopping or multi-level marketing. These opportunities require upfront payment of "investment" or fees for materials, may be from companies with itinerant addresses like P.O. Boxes or other mail-drop services and offer a large amount of money in a short time frame.

Script of the Scam

Pay to Play : Job scams make upbeat promises about your chances of employment and most will ask you to pay towards some aspect of the new job. OCP received a tip from a graduate who had his resume pulled from a job search platform. The name given by the person contacting him matched the publicly available name of a national company's Human Resources director. The interview was conducted remotely - without video - on Google Hangout, with the job offer immediately given. In order to complete this work-from-home data entry job, this new employer required him to purchase software for his new job. Using the typical check scam, the "employer" sent him a check to deposit with a request that he immediately deposit and purchase the software so that he could begin work. This required him to use a good check to buy something before the bad check bounced. These check scams rely on the up to two weeks it takes for a check to truly clear (rather than have the funds made available by your bank). Other employers may require payment as an application fee or other processing fee. But the promise of a job isn't the same thing as a job. If you have to pay for the promise or provide any account information, it's likely a scam.

Beware of Identity Theft : Another major ploy of a job scam is to steal your personal identifying information. For your paycheck, you would expect to provide your name, address, date of birth and social security number. Employers commonly request bank account information for direct deposit. But if you have never met the employer in the employer's place of business, you cannot be sure that you are not communicating with an identity thief. It is not unheard of for scammers to set up in-person interviews in public locations to lend themselves credibility simply to get your sensitive information.

Warning Signs

Before applying to an online job posting, or accepting an interview offer, research the company.

  1. Is the name of the company the same or simply similar to an existing company?

  2. Does the email address exactly match the company's website or is it sent from a commercial account?

  3. Did the ad have a vague or ambiguous job description, provide limited or no information about the company, only mention money and ask that you contact the prospective employer for more information? Legitimate job positions will spell out some details about the hiring company, the job, benefits, etc.

  4. Was the interview audio only or will you be able to meet in-person, or see your interview panel via video? Did you mainly conduct communications through instant messaging services?

  5. Did the job offer seem too quick with a requirement that you make a decision immediately?

  6. Was the money offered too much for the work required?

  7. Did the ad say no experience or expertise was required?

Do's and Don'ts While Job Hunting

DO

  1. Research to make sure the position advertised exists. Jobs posted through online platforms will usually also be posted on the company's career page.

  2. Research the company and the interviewer(s) and make sure all the details match. Searching the name plus "scam" or "rip-off" will give you some information on the company if it's not legitimate.

  3. Research the job placement service and its user reviews.

  4. Be skeptical: if it's too good to be true, it could be a scam.

  5. Do get a contract or other written details of pay and benefits.

  6. Ask questions. It not only shows you are a savvy employee; it also will help you discover a scam.

DON'Ts

  1. Give out personal information like your social security or bank account number over email or phone.

  2. Take checks or money orders as a form of pre-payment for goods or services. Fake checks are common and the bank where you cash it will hold you accountable.

  3. Cash a check that comes with "extra" money and do not buy gift cards and send bar codes at an employer's request. Scammers send checks that require you to deposit at your bank, withdraw the "extra" money as cash and then deposit that cash elsewhere.

  4. Wire funds via Western Union, MoneyGram or other cash app. Money mule schemes are commonly disguised as job scams.

  5. Agree to a background check or credit check unless you have met the employer in person or via video-interview and can otherwise validate legitimacy.

  6. Apply for a job that is emailed to you out of the blue.

For more information about this or other consumer issues, contact the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection at Consumer@MontgomeryCountyMD.gov or visit montgomerycountymd.gov/OCP.


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Tracy D. Rezvani is with the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection.