"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
If nothing else, this age-old adage might be the most important piece of advice to remember in your job search, especially in today's market.
Though job scams are prevalent at any time, today's tough economic times have increased the amount of scammers looking to take advantage of people desperate to make money and find a job.
"With the economy sliding, people who might otherwise be skeptical want to find a silver lining and too often mistake the glitz-and-glamour promises of a scammer's ad for their path to financial security," says Christine Durst, co-founder and CEO of Staffcentrix, a training and development company that focuses on home-based work.
Durst says Staffcentrix researchers screen about 5,000 home job leads every week, and there is a "56-1 scam ratio" among work-at-home job ads. Any opportunity where you can "make money fast," "no experience is necessary," or "work in your pajamas" is appealing to people, so they get thrown into the scam mix.
Mindy A. Bockstein, chairwoman and executive director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board, agrees that people are trying to capitalize on the strong desire for work and income in different populations and communities.
"Don't fall for get-rich-quick schemes, work-at-home scams, pyramid schemes and numerous other approaches promising employment and wealth but being used to separate job seekers from their money," she says.
Who's the target of job scams?
Anyone seeking a better job opportunity or looking to earn some money -- even smart people -- can get sucked into scams, says Robin Giroir, regional vice president of Spherion Staffing Services. With the wide scope of the Internet, every bogus "job" can reach hundreds of thousands of people, she says.
Durst says victims of work-at-home scams are typically -- and unfortunately -- those who can least afford to part with their money. One particular scam reviewed by Staffcentrix targeted women who were between the ages of 18-49, had children, were less affluent and did not have a college education.
"We are also seeing a rise in the number of seniors and retirees falling prey to these cons, as many of them are now looking for ways to supplement their income due to the declining stock market," Durst says.
Spotting a scam
While identifying a scam seems like as if would be easy, you must remember that the people who create them are practiced con artists. Many scams are linked to what seem like legitimate Web sites that have professional photos, testimonials, audio and video -- all the things that can convince someone that it must be real, Durst says.
Here are some things to keep in mind when spotting a job scam:
1. Hold tight to your cash
"No legitimate employer asks you for money. This is a foolproof tip off that something's not right," Giroir says. "There are a number of scams that work this way. You deposit your money in an offshore account and wait for your investment to make you wealthy, or you purchase a list of high-paying jobs you can do from home. Whatever the scam is, don't fall for it."
2. Make money while you sleep
"Beware of ads that make outrageous claims, don't specify job duties and don't require that you send a résumé. Legitimate employers are seeking candidates with specific skills, knowledge and education. Watch for ads, even for entry-level jobs, that use the phrase 'no experience necessary,' especially when there is a promise of big money," Giroir says.
3. 'Work at home' appears in the header
"'Work from home' is not a job title," Durst warns. "If it appears in the ad header, there's a good chance it's a come-on. Scammers can rarely resist including it in the header -- it's the bait of their 'hook' as they fish for desperate people to reel in."
4. Miracles arrive in your inbox
"How could this man from Romania have known you were looking for home-based work? Miracles do happen, but not via spam," Durst says. "Move [the e-mail] to your trash file without using the 'remove me from this list' link you're likely to find at the bottom of the page. These links are often used to confirm that your e-mail address is active, and using them can result in even more spam."
5. Palm trees, mansions, beaches and bikinis
"Successful scammers often bag their prey by dangling enticing things in front of them -- much like kidnappers do," Durst says. "'If you get into my car I'll give you this candy bar...'"
6. Put on your detective hat
There are essentially two ways to get listed with the Better Business Bureau: Buy a membership or get reported for bad business practices, Durst says. "While the absence of a company's name in their listings is not unusual -- not every business is a paying member of the BBB -- a C, D or F rating and multiple complaints are a flashing warning signal."
Durst adds that you must be careful about ads that look legitimate and that contain the name and Web site of well-known companies but carry a "free" e-mail address for a reply.
"Reputable companies have been victimized by scammers using their company names and reputations to scam unwitting job seekers. Always take the time to stop by the company Web site before responding to a job ad," she suggests. "You may find a notice warning you of the scam. What you won't find, is a job listing for someone to accept checks and wire funds to someone."
Too little, too late
Unfortunately, many job seekers still fall victim to job scams. So what happens when you realize that you're involved in something you probably shouldn't be?
Consequences include identity theft, loss of savings, unauthorized charges to your credit card and, at worst, a run-in with the law. At minimum, you lose some money and a little pride, but consider it a lesson learned, Durst says.
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