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BBB finds job scams increase during COVID-19 pandemic

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FILE
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 11:41 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 11:43 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Better Business Bureau has found that there was a significant spike in job scams during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Better Business Bureau says employment scams have spiked as the job market experiences turbulence created b the COVID-19 pandemic. It has warned job seekers to verify any offers so they may avoid illegal jobs, identity theft and fake checks, which millions are exposed to each year.

The BBB said its recent in-depth investigative study details various forms of employment fraud and the scams that often result.

While job scams have been an issue for years, the BBB said in 2020, an estimated 14 million victims with $2 billion in direct losses fell victim to a job scam. The 2020 BBB Employment Scams Report found that job scams are the riskiest of all scams tracked in 2018 and 2019. However, the study also found that the problem got worse in 2020 when losses reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center rose 27% between 2018 and 2020, while complaints to the Candian Anti-Fraud Centre almost doubled.

According to the BBB, job scams commonly victimize those ages 25-34, with 67% of those being women. It said the median financial loss reported by victims was about $1,000 and often also reported the loss of time, as 32% were never paid by the work they did for the fraudulent employer. Identity theft is a common result of job scams, as the scammer often steals the job seeker’s personal information to open new bank accounts. The report found that 34% of victims provided their driver’s license number and 25% provided a Social Security or Social Insurance number.

The BBB said fake checks are also a frequent outcome of job scams, and they continue to grow. The study found that 36% of job scam complaints involved a fake check, and fake check complaints to the Federal Trade Commission increased by 65% between 2015 and 2020. In the two years since an investigative study found that losses came from the banks themselves since fake checks went up 40% to reach $1.3 billion. Common fraudulent offers involve fake checks include mystery shopping or secret shopper jobs, car wrap jobs, nanny or caregiver jobs and small business jobs like photography or house painting.

According to the BBB, a woman from the midwest wanted to earn some extra money and applied for a data entry job that she saw an ad for on Facebook during the COVID-19 pandemic. It said she interviewed through Whatsapp and was told she was hired after the interviewer asked what kind of phone she had to ensure she had the necessary equipment to do the job. After it was revealed that she would need a new phone, it said the woman paid a $500 downpayment which she paid through two $250 eBay gift cards. She was told that she would get a check in the mail to cover the costs and when she got a check for $1,500 and deposited it, the check was rejected. She then received another $7,000 check from the “employer,” which she attempted to deposit in person due to the amount. The bank teller told her the check looked real, but that they had to put a 10-day hold on it. A few days later, she found out the check was fake.

The BBB said employment scam victims usually become unwitting accomplices to other frauds and are used as money mules to mail fake checks or to participate in reshipping scams, which make up 65% of scam job offers reported to its Scam Tracker. It said scammers “hire” victims from job boards, Facebook or Craigslist and offer to pay them as much as $2,500 to get and then send packages. These scammers often use stolen credit cards to order laptops, cellphones and expensive goods and have them sent to reshipping victims, who are then instructed to repackage the merchandise and provide shipping labels to send packages to a new address, often in Russia. It said the accomplices hired for this type of work are never paid and their identities are sometimes used to open bank accounts.

According to the Bureau, the FTC has taken action against job scammers, including a fake job placement company that was sued in 2019. Associated scams like reshipping schemes and money mule schemes are often the focus of state and federal law enforcement. In December 2020, it said the Department of Justice announced the results of an international effort to handle money mules, which resulted in legal action taken against around 2,300 people.

The BBB offered the following tips to avoid job scams:

  • Research the job offer. Call or go to the actual company’s website for contact information to verify the posting.
  • Check on businesses offering jobs at BBB.org.
  • Do an internet search of the employer with the word “scam” to see reports of other scams.
  • Look at the email addresses of those offering jobs to see if it matches protocols used by an actual company. Gmail business email addresses should be further researched.
  • Create a separate email address when posting a resume on job boards or applying for jobs to help detect offers from scam employers that were not contacted first.
  • Set up a second bank account to handle pay for jobs where the employer may never have been met in person.
  • Payment for the promise of a job is most likely a scam.
  • Be wary of mystery shopping or secret shopper positions.
  • Work from home jobs that receive and reship packages are usually a scam.
  • Beware of jobs that involve receiving and forwarding money.
  • Do not fall for a fake check scam. The BBB is not aware of any legitimate job offer that sends checks to applications and asks them to send money to a third party.
  • Be wary when providing personal information like a full address, birth date and financial information in your resume or to unverified recruiters and online applications.
  • Be cautious of vague job descriptions.
  • Even if work is done, the job could still be a scam.
  • Do not respond to calls, text messages or emails from unknown senders or suspicious addresses.
  • Do not click any links in a text message from an unrecognized number. If a friend sends a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to ensure they were not hacked.

According to the BBB, it is important for victims of job scams to report them to the following:

To read the BBB Employment Scams Report, click HERE.

To read the BBB Fake Check study, click HERE.

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