Friday, September 9, 2011

There's a scam for that

Desperate times create desperate people and with unemployment being "epic" by American standards, scammers just can't resist the urge to take advantage of as many folks as possible  I'm talking about job scams.  You are not stupid if you fall for a scam. Smart people fall for scams all the time. Some scams are more obvious than others. "My name is Mubuto and I am part of the Nigerian royal family, but my dream is to run my own business. I am willing to pay you $1M a year to keep my identity a secret," scams are pretty easy to spot, but other scammers go to great lengths to lull victims into a false sense of security.

Fake websites to match fake job ads to get you to accept fake checks that cost you real money. You'll get fake emails from fake people setting up fake interviews. You'll be told very detailed fake information. You'll be taken to real offices to be given fake presentations and sold fake training materials. The falsities of the job market are enough to make reality tv seem real.

It's not just cheap con artists on craigslist either. Some, who've obviously been successful enough in their scamming, manage to place ads on the higher dollar job sites like,, and  While all these sites have legally binding terms of service, people who break the law for a living aren't really concerned with breaking the rules of a website.

To avoid wasting time and getting scammed in your career search, here are some pointers:

1. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER pay money to work...EVER! Do not pay for start-up kits, specialized guides, marketing information, instructional materials, training programs, or informational courses. They're all lies. It's frightening how real some scam companies seem, but it doesn't matter how many real people you meet, how nice of an office space they rent, and how many pictures they have of themselves in the Bahamas. It's merely a credit to their abilities to bullshit people out of money. I've even been physically brought in to real, lavish offices full of seemingly real employees sitting at real desks, typing on real computers, using real phones and breaking only to explain to me how their initial $800 investment was a hard decision to make, but now they're livin' large! Doing what? Who knows, but they make a billion dollars a week by doing virtually nothing! Note: No one will tell you exactly what the training covers or what you'll be doing at work until after you've paid for it.

There are exceptions to this rule, but they are very particular exceptions. For example, to work as a lifeguard, you may be required to pay out of pocket for CPR certification through the Red Cross. To work as a personal trainer, you may be required to get a nationally recognized fitness certification such as ACE or ISSA at your own expense. The difference is, these are nationally recognized, public certifications available to anyone and can be used in a variety of ways at your discretion. They're not some top secret method for one company only that costs $800 up front and guarantees you'll make it back quickly in a day as long as you HAVE THE DREAM and stuff enough envelopes one day a week.

2. Never send (or accept) money to anyone you don't know. This is usually an advance-fee fraud. Someone offers you a job, but there is some necessary equipment you need. So, the company will send you a check for $4000 and tell you to take a $1000 signup bonus, spend as much as needed on a list of necessary materials and to wire or send a check back to them for the remaining amount. So, you take the signup bonus, spend $2500 on the equipment and send them a check or a wire transfer for the remaining $500. The problem is, their check was fake. Not only have you sent $500 to someone and bought a pile of crap you don't need, but you're also liable to you bank for the $4000 bad check. 

3. Never buy THE DREAM. If the company's main selling point is, "Look how much money you can make," or, "Look at this fabulous lifestyle you can lead," and not the product itself, then it's a dream only because you'd have to be asleep to believe it. They should be able to tell you what the product is, how it works, and who your target is. If they emphasize income over product, then there is no product or it's a product no one can sell.

4. Stay away from refer-a-friend jobs. This is another technique often, but not exclusively, used by the above dream scammers to sell pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes are everywhere, but they have new names such as "Multi-level Marketing" or "Vertical Marketing." Arguably, it is possible to make money off of these jobs, but they almost always require an initial investment, knowing all along most people won't make that money back. Since you likely paid a handsome sum for that initial investment your brain really wants to find a way to justify it. Scammers are banking on this principle knowing it makes you more likely to try to get other folks to make the same mistake you did so you can feel like you didn't waste your money. Again, the product should be the focus, not how many friends you can get to fill their basements with herbal supplements they're never going to sell.

5. Africa and Russia have no jobs for you. Unless you're in the Peace Corps, on a specific program, or a Mormon, you're not getting a job Africa, Russia, or Eastern Europe. First of all, Russia, Eastern Europe, and most African countries are facing their own economic, unemployment crises. Boris isn't going to hire an American at $30 an hour to do data entry when he could hire Natasha down the street at an extremely small fraction of that. It's usually bait for an advance-fee scam.There are legit work at home jobs, but they're usually based in your home country.

6. Beware of multiple postings of the exact same job. Some people don't even try to cover their tracks and will post, "EARN $1000 A DAY - ENTRY LEVEL MARKETING - IMMEDIATE START," three times in a row every single day. Some will try to change it up with one instance of the previous quote, one instance of, "Sales and Marketing - Entry Level," and another of, "Immediately hiring entry level sales and marketing," but if upon clicking the ad, you're feeling deja vu, it's the feeling you've been scammed before. These aren't always straight up scams, but when they're not, they're real, albeit extremely unpleasant work such as door to door sales.

7. Look for customized domains. This isn't fool proof because, as mentioned, some scammers do go to great lengths that include fake websites and fake domains, but if someone who claims to work for a multibillion dollar, Fortune 500 company has a hotmail account, you may want to raise an eyebrow. It may seem like for the purpose of hiring, an anonymous email address would make sense to protect the company from receiving a flood of applications through their website. There is a simple solution called "Company Confidential." Through many job sites, companies can post job ads confidentially and will only accept applications through the job site if they don't want a billion phone calls to their offices or a billion applications directly from their Careers page. If your application is received and selected, you should receive an email from an official domain. It may also seem to make sense that a small business would have a regular ol' Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail address. Custom domains are not that expensive, a web address is as vital as the yellow pages once were, and if a business is too cheap and incompetent to buy a domain, how much money do you think they're going to spend on you?  Plus, Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail etc., are free and easy to dump if a scammer is found out.

8. Federal government jobs are available online in one place only: and it's FREE. Any other company, email, website, job ad, employment offer, or service claiming to offer federal jobs is selling some serious bovine booboo.

9. Craigslist...Craigslist IS a legitimate website that is full of real offers. I have personally found real jobs, paid surveys, and paid focus groups on It's a great option for small businesses since most of the bigger name sites' ads start at $200. Unfortunately, due to its loose terms of use and inexpensive posting costs, Craigslist is a haven for scammers. While scammers can use any job site, they want to spend the least amount of money to steal the most. Take extra care when viewing ads on Cragislist.

10. If it seems too good to be true, it is. Period.

So, there you have it, the 10 Commandments of avoiding job scams. It is sad there are greedy, sociopathic crooks out there, but the best way to protect yourself is to recognize a scam before it starts. If you have been a victim of a scam, call your bank and credit card companies immediately, place a fraud alert on your credit by contacting EquifaxExperian, or TransUnion (you only need to file it with one of the three), and report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Have you ever been scammed? Have you ever avoided a scam? Share your stories below!

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