Lots of us grew accustomed to commute-free jobs during the pandemic and are hoping to find a way to continue to work from home. Scammers hoping to capitalize on that are taking elaborate measures — going as far as fake interviews and background checks — to get people’s personal data and/or money.
Lilly Gallaher of Pleasant Valley, New York, applied for several jobs online last year. After a brief online interview process, she appeared to land a position with McKesson, a large distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.
Gallaher was told by someone posing as a company recruiter that she'd receive a check to cover her purchase of a computer workstation from its Venmo store. The procedure seemed odd, but she was reassured by the company’s size and reputation. Then the check bounced.
Another Venmo user noticed the transaction and let her know they'd been similarly scammed. When "McKesson" asked for her Social Security number, she refused to give it and reported the scam. Gallaher estimates she lost about $850. McKesson now has a "recruitment fraud alert" webpage warning about the scam.
According to the FBI, 16,879 people reported being victims of employment scams in 2020.
How victims get hooked
According to the FBI, the newest scams typically work like this:
- Criminals create a domain name similar in appearance to a legitimate company. They may add a space or flip a digit in the URL — a change so small it’s likely to be overlooked.
- Next they post job openings on job boards, directing applicants to the spoofed sites.
- Applicants get an email requesting an interview, which is conducted remotely.
- Applicants are told they got the job or are finalists.
After that, what happens can vary, but it tends to involve victims unwittingly revealing their Social Security and bank account numbers to criminals, losing money or unknowingly becoming involved in money laundering.
Know the signs
Job scams have long been a problem, but cloning websites and conducting fake online interviews is newer, says FBI Special Agent Jeanette Harper of El Paso, Texas.
Harper says those with little experience with job interviews and offers are especially at risk.
To them, it may not seem odd to be asked for a driver’s license number early in the process or to be asked to pay for a background check. Other signs that could suggest a scam:
- Interviews conducted by teleconference using email addresses rather than phone numbers.
- Requirements that applicants purchase startup equipment from the company, sometimes specifying payment with gift cards.
- Requests for bank, credit card or other sensitive personal information.
- Job postings that do not also appear on genuine company websites (type in the company URL yourself).
- Requests that you pay for lists of job openings before they are published.
- A request that you send money or packages overseas (it may be money laundering).
Even if you don’t hand over your Social Security number, your resume and list of references have value to identity thieves who will try to "present themselves as you." says cybersecurity expert Adam Levin.
Another hallmark of a scam is a higher-than-expected salary for a relatively low-skill job. Recently, a Reddit poster warned about a Facebook ad for "ramp attendant jobs" paying $40 an hour.
"Bad actors have scoped out these companies," Levin says.That means the name of the person sending you an email may well match an actual person at the company. Your best bet is to call the company, using contact information you looked up yourself. .
If you think you were scammed
Your best protection against identity theft is a credit freeze. If someone has your Social Security number, a credit freeze can help keep them from opening credit accounts using your personal data.
If you have given out credit card or bank account information, contact thefinancial institution as quickly as you can.
You should also report an online job scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
Bev O'Shea writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.