Tag Archives: Fraud Prevention

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.

Prevent fraud by slowing down: it’s not just about the Internet.

Yesterday I wrote about the problem with “shortened” web addresses on Twitter and other social media outlets—namely, that the actual web addresses are obscured, which could lead to malware infections on your computer.

I suggested using a shortened URL decoder, sort of a “reverse lookup,” such as LongURL, to check links before you click. It takes a few extra seconds now, but it can save you massive headaches later.

I also spoke about the need to back off a little when it comes to instant online gratification. Phishing attacks, for example, thrive on getting victims to respond without thinking.

Today, though, I came across a small article about yet another set of mystery shopper scam victims. The details aren’t that important for our purposes today. Suffice it to say they lost around $4,000 they couldn’t afford (assuming they’re like most of us).

I started thinking about how the concept of slowing down doesn’t just apply to shortened web addresses. Think about the mystery shopper scam setup, and how each approach plays out.

Scenario #1: You receive an email offering lucrative employment as a mystery shopper. Not wanting to miss out on a big payout, you immediately respond. You are mailed a cashier’s check and instructed to cash it, keep some, use some for purchases at Walmart, and wire the rest back as quickly as possible, or you’ll miss out on future opportunities to work for them again. You rush out the door to your financial institution, hit the Wal-Mart and wire a few thousand dollars back via Western Union. About a week later, you find out the check was fraudulent and that you owe your financial institution $2,600. Life goes on, but with a painful “learned that one the hard way” lesson under your belt.

Scenario #2: You receive that same email, but decide to take a moment and check it out first. You Google a snippet of the message or the name of the company, and find thousands of people telling you it’s a scam. You delete the message and life goes on.

Bonus Scenario: You’re an avid Fraud Prevention Unit reader, and already know without checking that it’s a scam. You delete the message and life goes on.

There are a lot of scams that depend on victims who either act without thinking or who haven’t taken any time to be educated first. In fact, a vast majority of these crimes seem to hinge on a quick response from their victims.

I’m a big advocate of stepping back and taking a moment to think. There was an auto advertisement on television several years ago that just offended my every sensibility. I think it was for some kind of Toyota SUV, but I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is that it featured sped-up footage of a generic “supermom” (that’s not a compliment—I feel sorry for these people and their kids) dropping her children off at a million different places. The tagline had something to do with “your supercharged family.”

I could not believe they were depicting this lifestyle as something you should strive for. Now, if you honestly enjoy constant stress, then I guess I can’t vouch for you, but when I hear 99% of people talk about how frantic their lives are, they’re complaining, not bragging.

The thing is, many people think they don’t have a choice. I say you do. You can find space to slow down and take some time to think, but not if you’re convinced that you’re powerless to do so. Tell the kids to pick one sport they love, instead of signing them up for ten just to show off how busy you are.

That frantic, stressed-out, hollow-eyed, constantly-on-the-go way of living doesn’t lend itself to thinking before you act. It’s not only bad for your health, it will make you more susceptible to phishing and lottery scams and every other type of fraud under the sun.

So the same idea that applies online goes for your offline life, too: just take a second and relax, think about your decisions. It’s when you’re in a hurry that preventable mistakes happen. I’ll loan you some live Dead tapes if you need some mellow tunes, okay?