Unemployment Scam Has a Sneaky Way of Ripping You Off

"It sounded so good, too good to be true -- and of course it was."

Scammers are finding another vulnerable market to prey on for quick cash - the unemployed.

Many job applicants crave an easy interview, a speedy acceptance email and an instant first payment. But when they find themselves in such a situation, many miss the red flags lying behind the gilded scheme. 

Employment scams have been on the rise due to an increase in those who are out of work during times of economic depression, according to John Novaria, communications strategist at the Better Business Bureau.

"They're looking for people who are desperate or very excited about the prospect of a new job," said Novaria. "So what they'll try to do is get money from you."

The scammers may swindle consumers in a multitude of ways, Novaria said. Some offer fake job opportunities and send fraudulent checks for purchase of office supplies, and then ask the individual to return the remaining funds.

Others claim they overpaid the individual for their first paycheck and ask him or her to return the overpaid sum. In either case, the scammer sends a fraudulent check to the individual, asks the individual to cash it and return part of this cash to the scammer.

"I think we're seeing more of the scammers being more aggressive now," Novaria said. "They'll come to you and say, 'yeah, we looked at your resume; you look like you're ideal for this job, so let's set up an interview.'"

If everything goes to plan for the scammer, the check will bounce, but the job-seeker has already sent off the cash. The structure of this scheme would allow the scammer to walk away with this cash, and the person swindled is out however much they sent out.

In addition to this, Novaria said other employment schemes simply ask the candidate to send payment for a "training program," and the scammer walks away with the money. 

Nicole Brown, a graphic designer, experienced the employment scam for herself. A few weeks ago, Brown had been laid off of her job and was searching for employment opportunities through websites such as ZipRecruiter. She received an interview request via Google Hangouts from a consulting firm, which offered her a contracting position at the company about an hour after the chat.

"There were just a lot of bells going off," said Brown. "It just seems really suspicious."

From there, Brown's experience followed the common structure of an employment scam. The consulting firm sent her a check for $7,645 to purchase office supplies such as a MacBook computer, printer, scanner and other items for her remote office. The representative asked her to cash the check and send a certain sum back.

There were other several warning signs that tipped her off from following through with the request, said Brown. She said the company's LinkedIn and website were bare-bones in terms of information and design. Once she received the check from the company, she said she realized the return address and the address where she was supposed to send the cash didn't match up.

Brown said that for her, $7,000 is a tremendous amount of money that would have impaired her day-to-day life if she had fallen victim to the scam.

"I couldn't have afforded to pay for the place I live, nor buy groceries for my kids, nor put gas in the car," she said. "It would have devastated me."

Brown had also tried to contact her local LAPD office, but she doesn't feel confident that the consulting company scammers could be shut down, along with all the other employment scammers running the same type of scheme.

"If you get a weird feeling, trust your instincts would be my advice," Brown said. "It sounded so good, too good to be true -- and of course it was."

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