With the wheel came the getaway car; with the printing press came counterfeiting; and now scam artists continue to keep up with technology by exploiting the internet's anonymity to approach victims over the web. While internet fraud is nothing new, would-be swindlers have found a new avenue by which to reach victims: Online job postings.
While offline activities set the precedent for this type of fraud, the move to the web allows con artists to reach vast numbers of potential victims. Their goal often is identity theft, and cons can be sneaky. Taking advantage of job seekers' desire to please potential employers, they ask for all sorts of personal information: your name, birth date, credit information -- all the things they need to steal your identity and spend your money.
The best protection is constant vigilance when searching for jobs. Since the point of the scam is to prey on your hopes for a great job and to hit you where you least expect it, being wary about even the most legitimate-sounding requests for your personal information is always warranted.
"There's an old saying that you should never buy anything you can't see from someone you don't know," said Paul Barada, Monster's salary negotiation expert. While it's legitimate for employers in the early stages of the hiring process to ask you for information about your education, training and qualifications related to a prospective job, "you don't provide proprietary information until you're farther down the road."
And he means so far down the road that you're standing at the human resources manager's desk, and even then, there should almost never be an occasion to give out your bank or credit-card information. As his best piece of advice on what to do to avoid being fleeced by a bogus job ad, Barada says you should ask someone who approaches you for their contact information, then independently look up the company's phone number and call them to verify that the company is legitimate and the person who approached you actually works there in a legitimate capacity.
Also look at the details, because they may reveal a thief. If someone approaching you under the guise of a well-known business asks you to reply to them through a third-party address that doesn't bear the company's name or trademark, that's a clue to a possible con. While many large recruiting firms may ask applicants to do this, it pays to make sure the person you're working with is legit. Also look at phone numbers and letterhead. Do they line up with the company's mailing address, other phone numbers and images?
Even given the current job market, Barada advises job seekers not to let their desire to please employers overpower their better judgment. "[Job seekers] shouldn't perceive themselves to be totally at the mercy of prospective employers," he said. "It's not worth losing your identity."
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the government agency responsible for receiving and processing identity-theft complaints, even if you've been very careful about keeping your personal information safe, you can further minimize your risk by regularly checking your credit record and making sure the information is correct.
You can order a report from one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. It also pays to follow up on a late bill from a credit-card company, as people who fraudulently use your card number will often change the billing address so you won't find the extra charges until much later.
If you find that you've been a victim of identity fraud, the FTC recommends you do three things immediately:
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and ask them to flag your account so no new charges can be made without your approval.
- Alert all the financial institutions with which you have accounts and close anything that has been accessed illegally. Put new passwords on the ones you keep open, and password-protect your new accounts with different codes.
- Report the crime to the appropriate police department and get a copy of the report for your files.
You can also file a complaint directly with the FTC, and calls may be warranted to the Social Security Administration, (800) 269-0271, and the IRS, (800) 829-0433, depending on what information you gave out. In addition, there are other authorities to whom you may report possible fraud on the internet, such as the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). IC3 maintains a database of fraud complaints and offers statistics and information on such crimes. Get more tips for a safe job search on Monster's Be Safe page.
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