Category Archives: Employment Scams

How to avoid employment identity theft.

I’ve said many times before that not all identity theft is strictly financial, although other types of theft may have financial implications.

Medical identity theft is used to obtain services or to bilk insurance companies out of money for services that were never given. It can lead to collections activity against the victim, and at worse, false medical records that could be hazardous to the victim’s life.

Criminal identity theft can lead to victims being incarcerated and stuck with false arrest records that are difficult to expunge. It can lead to loss of job opportunities, and in some cases the victim has to hire a criminal defense attorney to get the situation under control.

Employment identity theft can, on the surface, seem like an almost victimless crime. When someone simply uses your personal information to obtain a job, you might not necessarily even find out unless you happen to apply for a position with the same employer (which has happened before). In fact, I’m sure that a lot of the people who actually use stolen information to get jobs think of it as a victimless crime.

However, what happens if the person using your identity to get a job doesn’t pay taxes on their earnings? The IRS will come looking for you.

One of the enduring myths of identity theft is that the person who steals your information is going to be the same person who uses it. This used to be more or less true, in the days before the Internet made things easier for criminals. These days, a more likely scenario for employment identity theft is that one entity steals information from a lot of different people, then sells it to those who need it. As I’ve often said, this is the realm of organized crime. The person who snags your Social Security Number through illicit means is just a middleman.

In other words, the standard rules apply; guard your SSN and be cautious about who you give it to.

Fraudulent job listings are a major source for this form of “retail” identity theft. You have to be extremely careful when applying for jobs online, especially during these times of high unemployment. However, don’t let your guard down when the economy recovers. This stuff is always out there.

First, never give your Social Security Number before a job interview. Any employer talking about a “preliminary background check” is already breaking the law, so you know right away that something is wrong. The second they speak of a preliminary check, refuse and move on.

Second, never provide financial information. If it’s a job that requires a credit check before hiring, they don’t need account numbers for that. They’ll need your Social Security Number, but by the time you’re actually sitting in an office with an interviewer, surrounded by employees, you’re a little safer in giving them the information. Thieves don’t often set up actual office premises—it’s too much work.

Third, be extremely vigilant when applying for jobs online. Do your homework, check up on the company, make sure any emails are from company accounts (like [nameofcompany].[com/org/net]), not free personal addresses (live.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.). Online application forms are an easy way for fraudulent web sites to harvest personal information. If they’re asking for your Social Security Number, STOP.

Finally, these are far more “work at home” scams on the Internet (and in the Classifieds, in your Inbox and stapled to telephone poles) than there are legitimate home-based job opportunities—the ratio is 54-to-1, according to one source. This means that if you’re looking at an online work-at-home offer, there is a 98% chance that it’s a scam and possibly a front for an identity theft ring. In other words, don’t even bother.

If you’re serious about working from home, your best bet is to contact a staffing agency (preferably a local one with an actual, physical office) and see if they have any leads. Or, you can start your own business and create your own income model. You either have to telecommute (traditional job, only you don’t go to the office much) or create something that people want (whether a product, information, or entertainment content) on your own, and figure out how to monetize it.

Probable Census Bureau job scams: a preemptive strike.

I heard an advertisement on the radio just yesterday, recruiting people who’d like to work part-time as census-takers for the 2010 Census. It gave a phone number and a website to contact them. Since it used a “.gov” domain, I know the ad was legitimate.

I also know that every single thing the government tries to do is almost immediately used by criminals to mount some sort of scam. See also: Social Security, USPS jobs, economic stimulus funding, tax returns and just about anything else you can think of.

So consider this a preemptive strike: somebody, very soon, is going to start running a “Census Bureau Jobs” scam.

If you get an email offering you a job as a census-taker, just delete it. It won’t be legitimate. Neither will any newspaper ads that direct you to someone who wants you to pay for information on these jobs (like the old Postal Service jobs scam).

There are only three ways to get the official information, and they all involve contacting the Bureau directly:

  • Online: visit http://2010.census.gov/2010censusjobs/. See that “.gov” at the end? That means it’s a legit US government website.
  • Call 1-866-861-2010
  • Contact your local Census Office. This information is available at the above website, so it’s sort of a repeat of #1.

I haven’t even heard anything about anyone using Census Bureau jobs as the basis for a scam yet, but I know it will happen.

So, now you know in advance. Now that’s vigilance!

Google files federal lawsuit against company for work-at-home scams.

You know those work-at-home scams that use Google’s name and logo?

It looks like Google is finally going after one of them. A federal lawsuit has been filed against a company called Pacific WebWorks, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The suit alleges that Pacific WebWorks has been using Google’s name and logo, without authorization, to sell a “work-at-home” scheme. Victims of this scam are charged repeated fees while receiving nearly nothing (or literally nothing) of value in return. Google is also demanding the company reveal an accounting of its profits.

The Better Business Bureau’s report (“F,” in case you didn’t already guess) for the company lists the following as websites operated by Pacific WebWorks:

www.pacificwebworks.com
www.profitcenterlearning.com
www.googlefastcash.com
www.gogglefastcash.com
www.homebizkit4u.com
www.moneyy.org
www.googlebizkit.com
www.profitstudiolearning.com
www.yourprofitgateway.com
www.esuccess2u.com
www.eauctionsuccess.com
www.yourwebsiterev.com

Do NOT visit any of the above sites!

But, take a moment to study the web addresses. You see words like “success” and “profit” and “cash” an awful lot in there. They even use a misspelling of “Google” (“gogglefastcash”). Why would a legitimate business need so many different websites, including some that use another company’s name?

Anybody else think this won’t just stop at a corporate suit? I see criminal charges looming for Pacific WebWorks. That’s good—it’s a criminal organization that needs to be shut down. I don’t mind jumping the legal gun and passing judgment here; this company has been running a scam, pure and simple.

“I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,” said cunning old Fury:
“I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.”

—Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

How phishing and work-at-home schemes work together

I just read a really eye-opening report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) about how phishing emails, fraudulent ACH transactions and work-at-home schemes can be connected.

It starts with a “spear-phishing” message. Spear-phishing is a targeting form of phishing, made to look like it comes from someone you know, possibly a friend or employer. This message, rather than the usual phishing angle (“click this link to verify your account information”) will either contain a malware-infected attachment, or will link to a website that infects the user’s computer with malware.

This malware includes a keylogger program, which sends a record of keystrokes back to whoever originated the scheme. Once the victim logs into one of their financial institution accounts, this information is relayed back to the crooks.

At this point, the crooks will use either wire or ACH transfers to remove money from the victim’s account. However, it doesn’t end here.

The next victims in the process are those who have fallen for some form of work-at-home scheme (usually “processing payments” or similar). The money stolen from the first victim is wired into an account held by the next victim, who then transfers it back to the criminals, thinking they are actually processing a “payment” from the original victim.

So, they’re not just logging keystrokes to steal money from one group, they’re using a second set of victims to launder the money for them.

It would be brilliant if it weren’t so slimy.

This got me thinking about US Surveys, Inc., whom I wrote about a couple months ago. In doing research on this obvious mystery shopper scam, I actually came across a few victims who, at least for their first “assignment,” had actually made around $100. “They wired $900 into my Citibank account, then had me wire $800 back to them.” It was only on their second “assignment,” when they were asked to wire their own money first, that they began to wise up.

I thought that was kind of weird at the time. Were they actually paying you the first time just to earn your trust? It seemed like an awfully big gamble, since people were realizing that it was a scam soon afterwards (not to mention the risk of someone just taking the $900 and running).

Now it makes sense. The initial $900 was probably money stolen from a spear-phishing victim. That $100 these people had made was their payoff for helping someone launder money. They weren’t being ripped off initially, but they were helping a criminal conceal the source of funds.

The second, “Now wire us your money first” assignment was probably just an attempt at an extra payoff on their way out the door; by that point, the original victim (whose money was being laundered in the first transaction) had most likely discovered the fraud and locked the account. Thieves have to move quickly from victim to victim these days.

What all this leads me to is the following:

  1. Keep your virus protection up-to-date
  2. Learn about different types of scams so you’ll know what to watch for
  3. Do not become involved in work-at-home schemes that involve “processing payments” or wire transfers; these are money laundering schemes; the only real ways to legitimately work at home are to start your own business, or to work for a company that allows telecommuting
  4. The multi-level integration of these different types of fraud is terribly sophisticated; this is organized crime
  5. Because of #4 above, your best bet is just to avoid, avoid, avoid. Lose any big ideas you might have about trying to “scam the scammers”
  6. If you are a victim of this type of crime, in addition to the standard credit locks and police reports, file a complaint with the IC3; your information could help federal law enforcement stop this type of crime in the future.

Entry-Level Job Scams

I suppose this post technically isn’t about scams, per se. A scam, in its simplest form, is when someone takes your money without giving you anything in return.

But what would you call a job listing that misleads you as to the nature of the job, promises a fat paycheck that will never materialize, and comes from a company that dodges basic questions about salary, benefits and basic descriptions of the job?

What would you call a job that promises entry-level employment in the sports or entertainment industry, but really entails going door-to-door for 12 hours a day, selling coupons (that may have something to do with a sports or entertainment venue)?

I know what I’d call it: a scam. Plain and simple.

These advertisements are often found in the Classifieds section of the newspaper, but I’m told they’re just everywhere on CareerBuilder and Monster (as well as every other job search website in the universe). They’re aimed at recent college graduates, but people from all walks of life fall for them. In the current economy, with unemployment running wild, I’m sure more people than ever are applying for these jobs.

So, how do you avoid these less-than-honest job offers?

  1. Warning Sign #1: The advertisement promises entry-level work in the professional sports or entertainment industries. Sometimes they will list sports teams that are “clients.” Here’s a trade secret about real entry-level jobs in sports and entertainment: they’re all taken. It doesn’t matter when you’re reading this. They’re taken.
  2. Warning Sign #2: When you call the phone number, they won’t say the name of the company. That’s because they often work under many different names.
  3. Warning Sign #3: Your first interview is over the telephone. During this interview, you’re told that you’ll “just have to see for yourself.” You will always be granted a second interview. You can tell them you’re an escaped serial murderer, and they’ll still grant that second interview.
  4. Warning Sign #4: Your second interview consists of being picked up in a junk car and driven to the worst neighborhood in the universe by another employee. You’re handed a stack of coupons and told to take one side of the street. Essentially, you’re working for free that first day. You could also end up stranded in The Worst Neighborhood In The Universe if you protest. And, since you showed up in a suit because you thought it would be a real interview, everybody in TWNITU thinks you’re a banker trying to take their house.

The best defense is just to not answer these ads in the first place. Nobody is handing out jobs in the music business in this (or any other) economy.

Your other best defense is to be informed. Do the following Google search: “[name of company]” scam. You might find out everything you need to know with that one step. Trust your instincts, too—if something about a job offer or interview doesn’t seem quite right, it probably isn’t.

I found a couple excellent articles on this topic, both written by Willy Franzen at One Day, One Job, a site for post-college job hunters:

As far as I’m concerned, both articles are required reading for yourself and for any people between the ages of 16 and 30 you might know. The Landers Group is a company that operates under about a thousand different names, and runs a lot of these schemes.

Is it a true scam? No. Ultimately, it is a job, and I suppose if you sell a lot of coupons in The Worst Neighborhood In The Universe (or elsewhere—they don’t only stick to TWNITU), you might be able to make a few dollars.

Should you avoid it anyway? Yes, yes, and yes.

One more thing you should do: when young people come to your door selling coupons or magazines (“Mag Crews” are a whole other topic, not really fraud-related), be nice to them. They’re very probably stuck in a terrible job very far from home, with no money or way to get back.

Fraudulent advertisements: anybody can do it!

Here is a list of things that literally anyone can do:

  1. Run an advertisement in the classified section of the newspaper
  2. Start a website
  3. Send an email message
  4. Tape a poster or sign to a telephone pole

This is an important fact to remember when you’re considering whether or not to call a phone number or give your name and other personal information out over the Internet.

I was reminded of this when I heard that the U.S. Postal Service jobs scam I wrote about just the other day had showed up in one of the newspapers here in Northwest Indiana. An employee here at REGIONAL called the number, just to see if it was the same rip-off I posted about. She told me, “The first thing out of her mouth was, ‘It’s $129.95. Will that be credit or debit?'”

There is no vetting process in the classifieds. Newspapers do not check out alleged businesses before running their ads. I could call them up right now and, as long as I paid for it, run an ad that said, “Build your own flying saucer out of household materials! Capable of inter-planetary travel. Seats 4 adults. Plans only $99.95” and they would run it (just like they would also run one that said, “Be a secret shopper! $483/day!”). They just don’t have the resources to verify the claims of every advertiser.

The Internet is the same way, only worse. Anybody can create a website, and make it look very slick and professional. There is absolutely no physical barrier to lying on a website, or setting up a fake business that just steals money or personal information.

Heck, I could say this site is “as seen on MSNBC,” even though it hasn’t been. Yet.

Actually, when you link to a CNN.com article, as I’ve done a few times, a link to your article shows up at the bottom of their page in the “From the Blogs” section. So I could say the Fraud Prevention Unit is “as seen on CNN,” right?

Right?

Okay, fine. I’ll have to wait for my Larry King interview. Or maybe an hour-long special! Or…

U.S. Postal Service Job Scam

Finally, an employment scam post that isn’t about mystery shopping!

I signed up for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office consumer alert messages a while back. I strongly suggest you do the same. I’ll just print the full text of today’s alert, since it’s short:

Attorney General Greg Zoeller and the U.S. Postal Service caution Hoosiers about a scam that offers a study guide to help pass a postal exam with the promise of a full-time job. There is no truth to this offer. The U.S. Postal Service is not currently hiring any full-time workers. Furthermore, the information found in the study guide priced at $129.95, is actually offered free of charge at libraries around the state.

This is a classic scam: charging money for information that’s available free of charge. Throwing in the promise of a full-time position is just a tactic to get people who might be looking for work to act quickly.

I’m guessing there’s a reason the Post Office isn’t hiring at the moment: anybody who already has a full-time P.O. job is going to hold onto it for dear life until the economy straightens out, even if they were considering quitting or retiring before.

I don’t blame ’em, do you?