Avoid online employment scams

It’s hard to imagine job hunting today without the internet. Online classifieds,
job search websites, company career websites and advertising are making it easier
for those seeking employment to connect with great opportunities. Unfortunately,
this new medium also makes it easier for con artists to find new prey. Online
employment scams can steal your cash and your identity. The best way to protect
yourself from any scam is to know the warning signs.

Watch the speling and gramar

We all make mistakes when it comes to language, but that’s why employers
have someone proofread and approve all outgoing communications. An ad, email
or offer that is full of spelling, grammar or syntax errors is often a sign
of an international scam.

Other signs to watch out for: email addresses or URLs that have nonsense letter
or number strings in them, and emails that do not come from the company’s
domain. For example, an email from Company XYZ would typically come from an
email address ending in @xyz.com (rather than a free email service), and would
contain a name or department (i.e. [email protected] or [email protected]).

There’s a problem with your account

You’ve got your resume posted on a few online job search websites as
part of your job search strategy, but then you receive an email saying there
is a problem with your account. You need to download a software upgrade or click
on a link to verify some information. While this may seem like good customer
service, it’s more likely to be a scam. These “phishing” scams
are often tried with banks, and with great success for scammers.

If you receive one of these emails, do not click on any links, open any attachments
or download any files. There could be viruses or harmful softwares (i.e. malware)
waiting to infect your computer. Any links in the email may lead to copy-cat
websites that look like real thing, but don’t be fooled by appearances.
Avoid giving out any personal information online or through email.

Instead, go directly to the website from your bookmark list and find the contact
information for a customer service representative. Call or email to verify any
problems before taking any action. Chances are the company will be surprised
to hear from you.

Too little information offered

Researching the company with whom you have an interview is not only a smart
step for a successful job interview, it can also help you avoid fraud. Before
you reply to an ad, get as much information as possible:

– At the very least, you need to know a company’s permanent address and
telephone number. Use an independent service such as the phonebook or 411.ca
to verify contact information.

– Visit the company’s website, particularly the “careers”
section, for information about its products and services.

– Try an online search to look for press releases and other news.

– If necessary, ask for references of people or companies that have worked
with your potential employer.

Some companies don’t list their name in an ad, but that doesn’t
mean the position isn’t legitimate. The company may have hired a recruiter,
or simply wants to avoid a deluge of resumes. Reply with caution. You should
be given company’s name and any appropriate information when you are contacted
for an interview. Then do some research. If you can’t find the information
you need, look for a job elsewhere. A company that isn’t straightforward
and honest is one that should be avoided.

Too much information required

Yes, your new employer will require your social insurance number and possibly
your banking information if a direct deposit system is used for payroll — but usually
as part of the first-day-on-the-job paperwork when you arrive. What is unusual
is to be asked for this information during the application or interview process.
Be suspicious if anyone asks you to submit it online, through email or over
the phone. Credit cards and other financial information are off-limits.

You’re asked to send money

As the Better Business Bureau (BBB) notes, unless you have to pay for a uniform getting a job shouldn’t cost you money. Beware of any attempts from a new company to get you to pay
for something, no matter how good the excuse sounds. One such scam involved
a group of false recruiters posing as Canadian Steamship Lines (CSL). Job candidates
were asked for money for seemingly legitimate expenses like work visas, out
of pocket expenses and travel. Others were asked for banking information. (See
CSL’s Employment
Fraud Warning
for more information).

One possible exception is a recruiting or placement agency. Many large companies
outsource the time-consuming process of wading through resumes and performing
preliminary screening interviews — but they pay for this service, not
the job candidate. However, this isn’t the case with all agencies, so
make sure you understand the terms and conditions (and potential costs!) of
working with a recruiter. Some agencies will take a portion of the job candidate’s
earnings, while others may charge a flat fee. Get the details in writing and
review them carefully before signing. In addition, check into provincial or
state laws governing these agencies. For example, a license is required in many
U.S. states. In Alberta, it’s illegal to charge for employment.

Unfortunately, con artists may pretend to be a job recruitment agency. A little
research can help you find a reliable and reputable agency. You can check up
on the company using the Better Business Bureau’s search

You’re asked to handle money

Your new employer obviously trusts you… They send you a cheque to cash
or deposit and ask you to wire them a portion or the entire amount. The cheque
clears — at first — but before long it’s revealed to be a
fake and you’re out the money.

Reputable businesses don’t ask new recruits to cash cheques or forward
money on their behalf. Money handling is the job of an accountant or financial
services department, and should be strictly monitored for accountability purposes.
Besides, your money and bank account should always stay separate from your employer’s.

Too good to be true

The “if it’s too good to be true, it usually is” adage is
good advice for avoiding any scam. Are the salary and benefits a little too
good for the position or your level of experience? Are you guaranteed the perfect
position? Is the employer more excited about the job than you are? Are they
willing to hire you after just one interview or without an interview at all?
These could also be signs of trouble ahead.

Work-from-home opportunities are also highly suspect, especially where big
pay-offs are promised for little work. Consider: can a machine assemble products
or stuff envelops more efficiently and cheaply than a human? For example, in
a warning about these scams, the Canadian arm of the BBB reports that a machine
can stuff up to 10,000 envelops an hour, but a person can only stuff about
300. Would a company be willing to pay for inefficient labour? Not likely. Many
of these ads turn out to be illegal pyramid schemes. (For more information about
work-from-home scams, see How to spot work-at-home scams).

Protect yourself

Once you’ve found a job, remember to feed your unused resumes to your cross-cut
paper shredder to protect your personal information.

In the end, if you have a “bad feeling” about a job or aren’t
comfortable with the arrangements, you should listen to your instincts. Ask
questions and seek clarification, and don’t do anything that makes you
uncomfortable. A new employer should understand your concerns and be willing
to answer your questions.

If you spot a problem, you can help others avoid it by reporting the issue
to the BBB’s complaint
or contact Phonebusters.
If you’re job hunting, check out the BBB
advice on finding help for the hunt
for strategies to protect your information.