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Consumer Reports


Bogus online ads put job seekers at risk

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) When she hunted jobs online, Brenda DeArmint didn't expect to get embroiled in a murky international crime spree.

But last year a company's ad seeking a "USA representative" on CareerBuilder.com caught her eye. "They were looking for a representative to receive and ship packages that would be sent from (U.S.) companies, for distribution to their partners throughout Europe," said DeArmint, who at the time lived in Atlanta.

"It was something I could do from home," she said. An experienced Internet user, DeArmint, 55 years old, was cautious before proceeding. She checked the company's Web site and exchanged e-mails with its chief executive, who offered details on how the business operated.

She was told she could open shipments to repack them, which assured her she could keep an eye on the contents, so when the company faxed an employment contract, she accepted the position.

All went well, until 30 days passed and she wasn't paid, despite company e-mails assuring her a check would arrive. That prompted her to investigate.

An e-mail message to a law enforcement agency in Latvia, where the company was based, revealed that hers was the fifth inquiry seeking information on fake businesses at the same address.

When she learned the destination for the packages - Minsk, Belarus - was a country threatened with U.S. trade sanctions because of human rights abuses, and that the nation's leader had reportedly offered refuge to Saddam Hussein in the days before the Iraq war, she wasn't just angry. "I was so afraid," she said.


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The boxes she shipped contained laptops, global positioning systems, and a mapping device containing geographical details of the U.S. (Against the company's instructions, she detailed the boxes' contents on shipping labels, and U.S. customs returned them. She has since given them to the police.)

Today, DeArmint remains unpaid and unreimbursed for shipping charges. While U.S. officials have yet to uncover the scam company's motives, she fears she unwittingly took part in illegal activity. "I've never again looked for a job on the Internet," she said.

The risk of fraud - from drained bank accounts to identity theft and check scams - is a risk faced by most online job seekers, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group.

Job seekers don't "know how common this is, how many of these jobs are not checked," Dixon said. "Unless the job site is very small and unless they are extremely conscientious, they are not checking these ads ad by ad."

Many job sites offer automated job postings, where companies conduct the entire process online. "If you see they have automated job postings, then they have job scams," Dixon said. "I can go right now and post 50 job ads for less than $1,000. I can post one job ad for about $75. And no one is going to check on me."

For their part, job sites say their employees scan postings to ensure they're legitimate. "We have a customer-service team in place and they monitor the site. They use various research methodologies to look for postings that may seem suspicious," said Jennifer Sullivan, spokeswoman with CareerBuilder.com.

"If we come across anything that we feel is in violation of our standards or we're alerted by job seekers, we will immediately investigate that posting, remove it from our site and red flag the source," she said.

At Monster.com (MNST: news, chart, profile), some employees "scan the job database everyday to look for suspicious job postings," said company spokesman Kevin Mullins. "We're always looking for red flags. Anything that asks for checking account information or other sensitive or personal information."

Still, with millions of job postings at numerous online boards, frauds find a way in. "It's rare, but it can occur," Mullins said. "It's important for job seekers to take every precaution."

That means job seekers need to be as careful responding to job ads as they are with any other Internet transaction:

— Don't send confidential personal information such as your bank account numbers or credit-card numbers, and don't respond to odd requests, such as for your hair color or marital status. "There is not a single employer who needs your bank account information or your mother's maiden name," Dixon said.

— Think twice before sharing your Social Security number. The federal government often requires your SSN to apply online, but for other potential employers, ask whether you can bring your SSN to the first interview. "An employer may ask for your SSN to conduct a background check. It's a good idea to wait until a first interview to give an employer that," Dixon said. And if the employer insists? "That's a tough call right now," she said.

— Be particularly careful when dealing with overseas employers. While there are legitimate overseas jobs advertised online, most of the scams are offering work in other countries. "The ones we've found tend to be overseas," Mullins said.

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