How to spot a job scam, no matter how sophisticated

Employment scammers have become very sophisticated, convincingly claiming to represent real employers, demanding interviews and even providing fake offer letters. If you apply for jobs online, you will constantly have to do your research before accepting an interview or a job offer. It’s the best way to protect yourself against these schemes designed to steal your money – and your personal information – instead of helping you make money.

Individual submissions to BBB’s Scam Tracker show that these sly new twists are increasingly being added to traditional employment scams. In fact, according to BBB’s latest Scam Tracker Risk Report, employment scams have risen to the second riskiest type of scam, after online shopping.

How the scam works: You apply online through a reputable third-party job search site. A few days or weeks later, you receive an SMS or an e-mail asking you if you are still interested in the position or a similar position in the same company. Since you made your contact details available to your potential employer when you applied, the message doesn’t seem unusual to you.

For example, one person told BBB Scam Tracker about their partner’s experience with such a job scam. “He was texted by someone claiming to be with [Healthcare Company] on a position for which he did not apply. He applied for another position, but not the one for which he was contacted. He decided to answer in case there was some kind of confusion. The text said their name is Tara and they were reaching out because they wanted him to have an interview.”

If you reply to the message, the scammer will invite you to interview for the position. However, this is when the red flags start to appear. Instead of doing a traditional interview, the “employer” asks you to download a messaging app and answer a few questions via text. Then, you are offered the position on the spot, with an attractive salary and benefits. Your new “employer” may even send you a compelling offer letter. After your “job offer”, the fake employer asks you to fill out a form with your personal and banking information, claiming that they need it for direct deposit. In other cases, the scammer may ask you to set up a home office, either with your funds or with money that he will send you in the form of a (fake) check.

A job seeker admitted to the scam, telling BBB Scam Tracker, “It looked like a real interview, and they even sent me a job offer letter that looked real. They were going to send me a job. ‘sending materials to set up my mini office. However, a day later they were asking for money – $400 to transport my office equipment to the nearest airport to my home.’

If you send money or share your personal data, it will now be in the hands of scammers. You are very unlikely to get your money back and your shared personal information puts you at risk of identity theft.

How to avoid employment scams:

— Find the person who contacted you. If you think the person contacting you might be a scammer, look them up. A quick search online should reveal if they work for the company they claim to represent. If you’re still unsure, call the company at a phone number that you’ve confirmed is legitimate (not the one provided by the representative). Verify that the person is an employee and is interviewing and hiring.

— Do more research on the company. You may have done this before applying for the job. Still, if you receive a surprise interview offer, it’s worth doing more research to learn more about their hiring process, home office requirements, salaries, and benefits. If these don’t match your offer, you could be dealing with a scammer.

— Protect your personal information. Never give sensitive information to anyone you are not sure you can trust. Be especially wary if someone pressures you to divulge your information by saying that the job offer will only last if you fill out all the forms.

– Beware of overpayment scams. Many employment scams involve sending fake checks with extra funds. The scammers ask their victims to deposit the check and return the excess amount, hoping they will before they realize the check was fake and bounced. Legit companies will only send you money once you’ve worked for them, so be wary of jobs that involve receiving and returning money.

— Don’t fall for jobs that sound too good to be true. They probably are. If you’re offered a job – without a formal interview – with great pay and benefits, it’s probably a scam.

BBB’s next Shred Day will be on April 15

A great proactive approach to securing your identity is to securely destroy and dispose of unnecessary documents and hard drives containing your personally identifiable information. BBB is here to help with our Spring “Shred Day”. BBB will host this free, bi-annual event in partnership with Times Free Press, River City Shredding, Resource 1 Tier 3 Data Security, Coca Cola Bottling Company and the Hamilton County Coalition on Saturday, April 15 from 9 a.m. to noon. (The shredding will end sooner if the trucks fill up).

The event will take place in the Coca-Cola Bottling Company parking lot at 2111 W. Shepherd Road in Chattanooga, which is located just off Exit 1A (Airport Exit) of Highway 153.

It’s also a wonderful opportunity for residents to have electronics recycled and drop off expired or unneeded prescription drugs for safe disposal.

Please limit documents to three large document bin bags per person. For more information, please visit or call BBB at 423-266-6144.

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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