Even in the face of improving unemployment rates, many people are still looking for work and many scammers are on the prowl, ready to take advantage of desperate job seekers beaten down by the toughest recession in many decades.Most employment scams are too unsophisticated to fool savvy job hunters. They make claims such as “earn $200 a day stuffing envelopes at home” or “make big money processing corporate e-mails.” Lately these transparent ploys have been joined by cunning job scams that can snare even the most skeptical job seekers.

Among the trickiest…

 

STIMULUS PLAN SCAM

A scamster’s official-looking e-mail, letter or phony government Web site informs you that because you recently lost a job in a particular sector, you qualify for a grant from the federal economic stimulus plan.

You may be lured to the phony Web site by a suggestion on a job-search site or in a pop-up ad. The message says that this money is intended for retraining in a different sector… or that it is part of the government’s bailout of the sector that you worked in. You are told that you must fill out a form to obtain your stimulus money. This form asks for your Social Security number and perhaps your bank account information so that the stimulus funds can be directly deposited.

No bailout program provides added benefits for those in particular professions. The notification really is from a scammer. This scammer might have learned that you lost your job from a résumé that you posted on a career Web site… or a résumé that you mailed to a potential employer that fell into the wrong hands.

If you fill out the phony stimulus application, you will become a victim of identity theft. If you provide an account routing number, your bank account may be emptied.

PAYMENT-PROCESSING SCAM

You are offered a job as a US payment-processing representative for a foreign firm after the phony company representative finds your résumé on an Internet job site and interviews you over the phone. This company’s American customers are to send their payments for items purchased off eBay or the fake company’s own Web site directly to you.

Your job is to forward the money to your employer overseas, keeping a small percentage for yourself as compensation. The payments might be deposits in a PayPal account (a free, secure way to make online payments), wire transfers or checks, and you are told to forward the money through a wire-transfer service, such as Western Union. The fake employer might explain that hiring an American payment-processing representative has legal or tax advantages… or that sending money to a domestic address is more convenient for the firm’s customers.

The job goes smoothly for weeks or months — until the police show up at your door because your fake employer’s customers have never received their orders.

By using you to forward payments, the thief was able to supply a domestic address for payments, which increases buyers’ trust. You could be sued or even prosecuted. Prosecution is unlikely, assuming that the police believe you were an innocent pawn in the deception, but a civil lawsuit against you requires only that you failed to use “reasonable care” concerning the whole process.

GOVERNMENT JOB SCAM

An official-looking e-mail, Web site or letter explains that state or federal government jobs are available in your region. A phone number is provided for those who wish to hear updated job listings. (Or the jobs are listed in the original message, but you must call a phone number to ask for an application.)

The message drones on endlessly when you call — no surprise, considering that you are dealing with the government. When you receive your next phone bill, you find that you have been billed an astoundingly high rate for this call — perhaps $5 per minute. If the phone number was in area code 809, 876 or 284, you unknowingly called the Caribbean. Scammers in some Caribbean countries impose high fees on incoming calls, much as companies in the US can charge high fees for calls to 900 numbers.

There are many legitimate phone numbers and employers in the Caribbean, but there’s no legitimate reason that you would be asked to call the ­Caribbean to find out about a US ­government job.

BACKGROUND-CHECK SCAM

You recently were interviewed over the phone for what you thought was a job with a well-known company located in a far-off region of the US or overseas. The fake company might have posted a help-wanted ad on a job Web site, or it might have contacted you when it found your résumé on such a site.

Now things are looking good. You’re told that as long as you pass a routine background check, you’re in line for an in-person second-round interview. The fake company’s human resources rep asks for your Social Security number and permission to access your credit history. You even may be asked to provide a copy of your driver’s license for “security purposes.”

Legitimate employers do request Social Security numbers to conduct background and credit checks — but so do identity thieves. Before giving out this information to an apparent employer, confirm that the job opportunity is legitimate.

If the firm is well-known, call its switchboard and ask to be connected to the human resources rep to confirm that the person you’ve been dealing with really works there before handing over any personal data — ideally before the initial interview. If the company is unfamiliar, do a Web search for its name and phone number to find evidence that it really exists… or evidence that it is a scam.

TRAVEL-COST SCAM

A scammer claiming to be from the human resources department of a well-known company located some distance from your hometown calls to tell you that your résumé was found on an online Web site (or that your résumé was passed to the company by a headhunter) and asks you to come in for an interview. The company won’t pay your travel costs for this initial interview, but you are told that you can get its discounted corporate airfare if you buy the ticket through the company’s travel department. The phony human resources rep makes it sound as if the company is doing you a favor by allowing you to access this discounted travel program, in which costs for last-minute travel are well below what you would pay if you bought the ticket directly from an airline.

You accept this offer, and the phony human resources rep takes down your credit card number or asks you to wire a payment to cover your airfare. He says that he will contact you with your flight information shortly. You never hear back. When you call the real company’s human resources department, no one there has ever heard of you — you were talking to an imposter, not the employer. Call the real company’s human resources department before giving out any credit information.