Between the Great Resignation and the layoffs of the pandemic, there are a lot of people looking for new jobs these days. And that’s presenting a ripe opportunity for scam artists.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), on Monday, issued a warning to Americans about bad actors who use fake job offers to steal money and personal information, a continuation of a heart-of-the-pandemic scam. By gathering that information, the scam artists are able to file fraudulent unemployment claims in their name, which not only costs the government, but also could significantly impact the victim’s tax bill and eligibility for future benefits.
“They promise you a job, but what they want is your money and your personal information,” says the FBI.
The fake postings are often on social media or a spoofed version of the company’s legitimate website. After an interview (frequently done via email), the applicant is asked to provide information, like their address and phone number, so a “formal offer” can be sent. That’s often followed up with a request to provide their Social Security number and sometimes photos of their driver’s license or other forms of ID.
“Scammers continue using the pandemic as a device to scare or confuse potential victims into handing over their hard-earned money or personal information,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement. “I urge everyone to be leery of suspicious calls, texts, and emails promising benefits that don’t exist.”
Spotting a job offer that’s actually an identity-theft trap isn’t always as easy as it seems. Last year, 15,253 people fell victim to employment schemes, losing $47.2 million in the process, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
In the past three years, employment crime has impacted 46,625 people, resulting in over $152 million in losses, according to IC3. The actual number is likely much higher, as few victims report these crimes to the agency.
Not sure if that new job offer is legit or not? Here are a few things that should set off alarms in your head.
- If a job is listed on a job board, but not on the company’s website, proceed with caution, says the FBI. That’s a common sign of a hiring scam.
- Conduct an internet search of the hiring company using the company name only. If you see multiple websites for the same company, that should serve as a warning. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also suggests running a Web search with the company’s name and the word “scam.”
- The more vague the job description, the better the odds it’s not legitimate.
- Both the FBI and BBB urge applicants to examine the email address of the person offering the job to see if it follows the same email format as other email addresses at that company. (For example, is the email coming from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org?)
- If the recruiter or manager doesn’t have a profile on the job board or that profile doesn’t seem to fit their role, that also could be a warning sign.
- The FBI says interviews that aren’t conducted in person or via a secure video call are often indications of a scam.
- Additionally, teleconference interviews that are done through an email address instead of a phone number are suspect. (If possible, compare photos of employees on the company’s website to the person on the teleconference to ensure it’s the same person.)
- The BBB urges caution when providing personal information, such as your address and birth date. And never give your Social Security number until you’ve independently confirmed the offer is legitimate. (If you decide to provide financial information, setting up a separate, siloed bank account is one way to potentially shield your savings.)
- Work-from-home jobs that involve receiving and reshipping packages are likely scams, says the BBB. Mystery shopper or secret shopper positions are often not legitimate offers, either.
The application process
- Beware employers who require you to purchase startup equipment or to pay upfront for background investigations or screenings, says the FBI.
- Also, employers who send an employment contract to physically sign that asks for personally identifiable information (like a bank account number) could also be a sign of a scam operation. Legitimate companies will ask for that sort of thing after an employee is hired.
- There’s never any reason to give out your credit card number as part of any job interview process.
If you fall prey to any of these scams, there are a few steps you’ll want to take. First, keep a close eye on your financial accounts for fraudulent activity and set up credit monitoring to ensure no one uses your personal information. (Consider a credit freeze, which prevents new credit from being issued without your direct permission.)
Also, report the incident to the website where the job was posted, as well as the company being spoofed. And report the incident to your local FBI field office or the Internet Crime Complaint Center. If you act quickly enough, you might be able to prevent the scammers from taking advantage of the information they obtained.