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BBB: Job seekers beware of online scammers

Photo by Jason Wright

Photo by Jason Wright

COVINGTON - With unemployment still high and many folks desperate to find a job, scammers are taking advantage.

The Better Business Bureau has issued alerts to several scams lately, including one aimed at job seekers looking for employment online.

Scammers will ask for personal information to fill out paperwork or require applicants to pay fees for bogus background checks or make purchases related to the fake job.

People have been targeted on Craigslist, Moster.com and Facebook, along with numerous other sites. The BBB warns that one tell-tale sign of an employment scam is the phrase "Get rich quick - without leaving your home!"

While some legitimate businesses offer work at home opportunities, many are really scammers trying to take advantage of the unemployed, stay at home moms, the elderly and disabled, BBB warns.

A red flag is if the job posting is rife with grammatical and spelling errors, as many scammers are outside the country and English is not their first language, according to BBB. If the salary and benefits seem too good to be true, they probably are.

Also, a request for personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers is a sign something is amiss. Some job seekers have reported being offered employment without doing an interview, then being asked for personal information so the "employer" can fill out paperwork.

Sometimes, job applicants will be asked to wire money or receive a check through the mail and are asked to send a portion of the check to another entity. The check turns out to be bad and the victim is out the money wired to the scammers.

Scammers always follow the headlines, and they know there are plenty of people in need of jobs, said Fred T. Elsberry Jr., president and CEO of the BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia.

"There are more people at home than at work these days, and more people in dire straits that want to believe it's true, so they fall for something they wouldn't fall for otherwise," he said.

Companies offering work at home opportunities can be researched at www.bbb.org.

A report by Consumer Sentinel Network, an online database of consumer complaints compiled from the Federal Trade Commission and other sources, logged more than 1.3 million complaints during 2010, with 19 percent of those relating to identity theft. Other common complaints were debt collection fraud, Internet fraud and false prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries.

CSN reports that people age 20 to 29 are most susceptible to scams, while people over 70 are least susceptible. That's likely because so many scams are taking place online now, Elsberry said. Also, seniors are less likely to believe the promise of a free offer and are more wary about giving out personal information.

Facebook users make themselves easy targets by listing the city and state where they were born and birthdates. With that information, it's possible to figure out a person's Social Security number fairly quickly, Elsberry said.

He also warned against posting plans for vacation on Facebook. That opens the door for scammers to call relatives, whose name and information they can also find on Facebook, with a false story about you. For example, some have received calls stating their relative has been in a wreck and asking if they can wire money. The scammer knows the vacation spot because it was posted on Facebook.

The easiest way to protect yourself is simply to keep personal information private, Elsberry said.

"Personal information is personal information because not everybody should have it," he said. Shred documents with personal information before throwing them away, he said.

Those who believe they or their loved ones are victims of a scam should call local law enforcement and if credit cards or bank accounts are involved, also their bank or credit bureau.