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Employment scams: The job offer you don't want to accept

Job hunting can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, as you showcase your talents for potential employers in hopes of landing that position. While you’re certainly eager to impress, and want to show that you’ll go the extra mile for your future employer, those instincts can also lead you into trouble. With so much competition for jobs as the country crawls out of a recession, employment scams have emerged as a common way for criminals to take advantage of job-seekers’ enthusiasm.

Employment scams not only damage the spirits of well-meaning job seekers, but can pack a financial punch as well, leaving victims out hundreds or thousands of dollars. So if you’re on the job search, it pays to be skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true.

“Knowing the warning signs can help people steer clear of employment scams. Warning signs of employment scams may include claims of guaranteed employment and requests for payment of up-front fees,” says Shelley Bernhardt, director of consumer protection at Western Union, a leader in global payment services. She says employment scams usually fall into three categories:

1. Scammers pose as a new employer and send victims a check to perform mystery shopping reviews or cover up-front expenses, like supplies. Victims deposit the check, buy the supplies or perform the mystery shopping assignment and are asked to wire the remaining funds back to the scammer. Since funds from the check may be made available by the bank before the check has cleared, the victim often discovers the checks are fake after they’ve already sent the money to the scammer. 

2. Victims receive job offers, but are told to pay for things like credit checks, application and recruitment fees. Victims pay, but job offers never materialize. In this scenario, it’s common for scammers to pose as recruiters.

3. A person posing as a representative of a prospective employer asks victims for sensitive personal and/or financial information under the guise of doing credit or background checks. While no money is initially exchanged, victims are later targeted for identity theft.

Each employment scam can vary, so it’s important to keep a number of things in mind as you search for a job. Here are a few things you can do to help avoid becoming a target of one of these scams:

* Never send money in exchange for a chance at employment. Legitimate companies do not charge application fees and recruiters collect bonuses directly from companies after employment has been granted, not before and never from job applicants.

* Never deposit a check and then return a portion of the money through a money transmitter. Banks often don’t discover fake checks until days or weeks after you’ve made a deposit or received cash.

* Be wary of correspondence that comes from a generic email address, rather than an email address from the business that is hiring. Obvious grammatical and spelling errors are also common in emails from employment scammers.

* Very rarely would an employer interested in your services communicate only via email. If the employer isn’t interested in talking to you on the phone or meeting in person, you should proceed with the utmost caution.

* You should always do research on a company before proceeding with an application or accepting a job offer. The Better Business Bureau ( is a great resource that can help you find out if a company is legitimate and if it’s had any complaints filed against it.

As is the case with almost any other scam, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. While there are plenty of good job opportunities available, it’s a good idea for job-seekers to be aware of the existence of employment scams. To learn more about employment scams and other common scams, visit

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