The coronavirus pandemic triggered the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression when businesses across the country shuttered their doors for months on end. When things began reopening, the unemployed had to weigh the benefits of returning to work with the risks of the lingering virus.
Some chose or were forced by circumstance to stay home. Others returned to work. And some were met with scams.
Employment scams have been on the rise, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The organization is warning job seekers to verify employment offers to avoid illegal jobs, identity theft and fake checks, to which millions are exposed annually.
A woman in Washoe County found and reported a job scam to the BBB branch that serves northern Nevada and Utah. She’d applied to several jobs that offered the ability to work from home. The response from one would-be employer struck her as odd, so she began doing a bit of digging. The initial email offered a finance job that had very basic requirements and no requirement for prior experience in any area of finance.
“I went to the website, and it seemed legitimate, but there were some grammatical errors on the homepage,” the woman said.
The woman looked up the address and found an office building that didn’t list this company as a tenant. When she tried to call the phone number, she was unable to get through. Nothing else was readily available for her to learn about the company online. When she further pressed the supposed employer, they sent her a contract, asking her to sign it and send a photo of her holding the signed agreement.
The high pay rate was what initially drew her in, but taking time to question what seemed too good to be true saved her from a “package forwarding” business that BBB said may have made her part of a reshipping scam.
Employment scam victims frequently become unwitting accomplices in other fraud, used as money mules, to mail fake checks, or to participate in reshipping scams, which represent 65% of the scam job offers reported to BBB Scam Tracker.
Scammers “hire” victims from job boards, Facebook or Craigslist, offering to pay them as much as $2,500 to receive and then send on packages. These fraudsters often use stolen credit card numbers to order laptops, cellphones and high-end goods and have them sent to reshipping victims, instructing those individuals to repackage the goods and providing shipping labels to send the packages to a new address, often in Russia. The unwitting accomplices who were hired for this fraudulent type of work are never paid, and their identities may be used to open bank accounts.
BBB study shows trends in job scams
A recently released study by the BBB details different types of employment fraud and job scams.
Job scams have been a problem for years, but they increased during the pandemic. In 2020, BBB estimated 14 million victims with $2 billion in direct losses related to job scams. Losses reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) about employment scams were up 27% between 2018 and 2020, while complaints to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) nearly doubled in 2020.
A 2020 report on job scams by the BBB found that this fraud most commonly victimized people ages 25 to 34, with women filing 67% of complaints. The median financial loss reported by victims was $1,000; in addition, they often reported loss of their time, as 32% were never paid for the work they did for an employer that turned out to be fraudulent.
Identity theft is a common outcome of job scams, as scammers often steal job seekers’ personal information to open bank accounts to further their fraud. The BBB found 34% of victims provided their driver’s license number and 25% provided their Social Security or Social Insurance number.
Fake checks also frequently accompany job scams. This, too, is a growing problem. The BBB study found that more than a third of job scam complaints involved a fake check. Fake check complaints to the Federal Trade Commission increased by 65% between 2015 and 2020.
In the two years since the BBB issued an investigative study on fake check fraud, losses absorbed by banks themselves due to fake checks went up 40% to reach $1.3 billion. Common fraudulent job offers involving fake checks include mystery shopping or secret shopper jobs, car wrap jobs, nanny or caregiver jobs, and small business jobs such as photography or painting houses.
It is important that victims of job scams report them to:
- Better Business Bureau – BBB.org or BBB.org/scamtracker
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – reportfraud.ftc.gov or call 877-FTC-Help
- Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – ic3.gov/complaint
Tips from the BBB on avoiding job scams:
- Research the job offer. Call or go directly to the actual company’s website for contact information to verify the job posting.
- Check on businesses offering jobs at BBB.org.
- Do an internet search with the name of the employer and the word “scam” to see if there are reports involving job scams.
- Examine the email address of those offering jobs to see if it matches the protocols used by an actual company. Most businesses use email addresses that end in “@” plus their company name. Be wary if a message comes from a free email service like Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, or others.
- Consider creating a separate email address when posting a resume on job boards or applying for jobs. This can help detect “offers” from scam employers you did not contact.
- Consider setting up a second bank account simply to handle pay for jobs where you have never met the employer in person.
- Know what to avoid. Be very wary of mystery shopping or secret shopper positions. Likewise, work-from-home jobs that involve receiving and reshipping packages are likely scams. If you’re paying for the promise of a job, it’s most likely a scam, and beware of jobs that involve receiving and forwarding money. Be wary of vague job descriptions.
- Don’t fall for a fake check scam. BBB is not aware of any legitimate job offers that send checks to applicants and ask them to send money to a third party. Even if you do the work, it still may be a scam.
- Be cautious in providing personal information such as your full address, birthdate and financial information in your resume or to unverified recruiters and online applications.
- Do not respond to calls, text messages or emails from unknown numbers or suspicious addresses.
- Do not click any links in a text message from a number you do not recognize. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren’t hacked.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.