Financial insecurity is frightening, but during this dreadful pandemic going to work can be scary, too. Tragically, scammers are perpetually ready to exploit those fears, luring many of the U.S.’s 8.4 million unemployed into cruel “work-from-home-opportunity” traps. Job scams aren’t new, but an increasing number of Americans looking for remote work means more opportunities for criminals to manipulate us.
The Better Business Bureau’s International Investigations Initiative, a collaboration between the BBBs headquartered in Omaha, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and St. Louis, this month released an in-depth investigative study on employment scams, and our findings were devastating: A whopping 14 million people are impacted by such schemes every year, with losses exceeding $2 billion. Just between 2018 and 2020 alone, losses reported to the FBI spiked by 27%.
And those are just the victims who tell.
The full study is available online.
According to a recent BBB survey, targets most often fall prey through online job platforms. Nearly all platforms now post on-site warnings acknowledging that scammers use their platforms to get information or money from job seekers. While the playbook varies, many schemes involve identity theft, reshipping schemes and/or payments sent to victims using fake checks.
Unlike many of the scams BBB reports on that target an older audience, younger people (aged 25-34 and 35-44) account for the largest percentages of victims of specious job offers, and those groups lose an average of $1,000 each. There are also older victims, though, and they lose even more money. Those over the age of 65 lose a median of $2,299 per person.
In Omaha, a woman recently filed a report on BBB’s Scam Tracker stating that she’d started a contracted position as a quality control inspector with a company that advertised job openings via LinkedIn (and probably other job recruitment websites.) When BBB investigated the company’s business practices, we found that they “hire” individuals to receive packages and inspect the items contained, then print a new label and reship the parcels. This is a reshipping scam; she lost $3,800.
It’s pretty despicable and here’s how it works: Thieves use stolen credit card numbers to purchase items and then use their “employees” to help mail the goods overseas.
Besides unwittingly fencing stolen goods, victims usually fill out W2s, providing their Social Security number and other identifying information and giving their “employers” the means to steal both their money and their identity.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about such hoaxes is that justice is often elusive. Most of these scams are perpetrated by experienced and well-funded crime gangs that reside offshore, making law enforcement action frustratingly challenging. So, sadly, we can expect such crimes to continue and to become increasingly sophisticated.
Scammers exploit our naïveté, so our best line of defense is awareness. Here are some ways to avoid becoming a victim:
Ignore “work-from-home” jobs that involve receiving and reshipping packages. These are probably scams.
Be suspicious of “mystery shopping” or “secret shopping” positions or jobs that pay you to wrap your vehicle with advertisements for products. Most of them are scams, too.
Don’t fall for a fake check. BBB isn’t aware of any legitimate employer that sends applicants checks to deposit and then forward cash to a third party.
Watch for spelling errors and bad grammar in correspondence regarding a job opportunity. Nearly all fake listings contain an abundance of them, and this is often a huge tipoff to the rip-off.
Contact your Better Business Bureau (800.649.6814) with any questions you might have or to report business practices that seem spurious or crooked.
This world is pretty scary, at the moment, but staying vigilant helps us to remain both healthy and safe. It’s true there are bad actors out there who’ll willingly take advantage of us when our fears make us vulnerable, but we do not have to be easy marks.
Jim Hegarty, of Omaha, is president and CEO of Better Business Bureau, Inc. serving Nebraska, South Dakota, the Kansas plains and southwest Iowa.