‘Getting pretty tricky’: Employment scams rise, so job seekers need to take care

A local woman recently thought she was applying for a job in her hometown.

Instead, authorities said she was about to provide scammers with important personal information by completing an application for a nonexistent position.

The Maquoketa, Iowa, resident was contacted regarding a job offer from an official purportedly with a multinational corporation that was opening a location in the city, according to the Clinton County (Iowa) Sheriff’s Department. The agency shared the woman’s experience in hopes of preventing residents from being scammed.

The woman interviewed for a job more than once and was asked a series of questions, all seemingly professional and employment-related. She was sent an employment packet online for her to complete and return.

Then, the woman did some checking and learned that she nearly fell prey to a scam.

“We actually spoke to this woman,” said Nic Hockenberry, director of Jackson County (Iowa) Economic Alliance. “She called our office because we are the economic development professionals for the county. She was doing her homework to see where and when this company was planning on locating in the area. When we replied that we had no knowledge of that company having or planning on having a presence here, it raised red flags to her.”

Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy said that although the particulars often change, attempted scams are rampant in our area.

“We get reports almost weekly regarding some attempted scam,” he said. “Anyone who cold-calls you and asks for personal information can be assumed to be a scammer.”

The Maquoketa scam seems fairly sophisticated. Authorities said the scammers identified themselves with names that were associated with the Swiss company.

“They’re getting pretty tricky,” said Lt. Ted McClimon, of the Dubuque Police Department. “They come up with new scams so frequently.”

Last year, an estimated

14 million people were exposed to employment scams and lost more than $2 billion nationally, often by providing personal information, according to a report by Better Business Bureau.

It indicated that in 80% of the cases, the contact with the scam victim was initiated by the scammer, as was the case with the recent local scam.

“Many scammers will claim to be legitimate organizations,” Kennedy said.

Once contacted, 70% of those contacted by scammers received a letter offering a job and 51% submitted a resume, according to the report.

“You should never divulge information to someone you do not know, particularly if they contacted you online or through social media,” Kennedy said.

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a report on a trend of scammers targeting people who work from home.

Scammers advertise for jobs that make money with little time or effort necessary. Victims often are asked to pay for starter kits, training or certifications.

“Anything that claims you can gain a large amount of wealth quickly and while sitting at home is either trying to get you involved in a scam or a pyramid scheme,” Kennedy said. “If you could actually make thousands of dollars per day without leaving your home, that company would not need to recruit you. They would have thousands of resumes on file to contact to fill those positions.”

According to the Better Business Bureau report, younger people are more often the victim of employment scams. People ages 25 to 34 made up 27.3% of that pool, compared to 20% in the 35-to-44 age range.

However, older people experienced a higher median dollar loss because of the scams — $1,600 for ages 45-54 and $1,550 for ages 65 and older.

Women reported being more exposed to employment scams than men, 69.1% to 30.9%, according to the report.

Hockenberry said the Jackson County woman did exactly what she should have as a job seeker.

“I’d suggest any prospective employee to research the employer,” he said. “Aside from scams, this is a great practice to do so you are informed on what the business does and if it aligns with your career goals. The added bonus here is that it verified that this was a scam.”

The Federal Trade Commission recommends avoiding job scams by searching for company information online. Include the words “scam,” “review” or “complaint” in a search to identify past scams involving a fake company.

“If someone offers you a really good job, and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” McClimon said. “If you are questioning it, contact a trusted friend or family member that you can run things by.”

People are warned to avoid employment offers with vague job descriptions and to avoid requirements to make pre-employment payments.

Kennedy said it is best to follow tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam because the clearance rate on such cases for law enforcement is fairly low.

“Many are difficult to track and often originate outside the U.S., so there is very little help in conducting follow-up and zero chance of the suspect being extradited to answer for their crimes,” he said. “Even scams that originate within the U.S. are difficult to track down.”