July 16, 2004
With more job seekers surfing the Internet in search of opportunities, consumers should carefully research potential employers and avoid providing personal and financial information over the phone or via e-mail during the application process.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan reports that her office has received numerous complaints from consumers who lost thousands of dollars after signing up for fraudulent job schemes advertised on legitimate sites such as monster.com.

Most of us know what its like to be looking for work and eager to provide information, Madigan said. Consumers must remember that just because a Web site may be legitimate, that doesnt mean every company posting an advertisement on the site is legitimate. Like everyone else on the Internet, job seekers should be stingy with personal information.

In some of the cases, unsuspecting job seekers were hired by overseas con artists in a modern-day take on the old-fashioned check cashing scheme. In these cases, the scammers claimed to need a financial agent to cash and write checks for their international company, with a percentage of each transaction promised to the employee.

The checks cashed by the new "employees" were actually counterfeit, but the consumers already cashed the checks in their personal accounts and wired the money back to the company before the checks bounced. The consumers were then left to deal with their banks.

Madigan said other schemes are more straightforward. Fake employers claim they need a persons Social Security number or financial information for a pre-screening application or a background check. In fact, no such information is necessary and, in some cases, it is illegal to ask for certain personal information on job applications.

Madigan said a number of the complaints stem from advertisements for jobs with titles such as import/export specialist, marketing manager and financial manager in which the scammers pretended to be a representative from a legitimate company.

The complaints allege the scammers used recognizable company names to create a false sense of security for applicants, and then asked the applicants to submit to background checks and provide Social Security numbers, mothers maiden names and other financial information.

The fraudulent employers claimed the information would be used for screening purposes, when instead it was used to drain their victims bank accounts.

Madigan offered the following safety tips for those searching for jobs online:

• Do not disclose Social Security numbers. A Social Security number is not necessary for an employer to do a background check or credit check. If a company insists on the number before processing an application, the applicant should research the company independently to verify its legitimacy.

• Never give out financial information. Employers very rarely need a prospective employees personal financial information. Applicants should be very cautious of a company requesting bank account numbers, credit card numbers or other personal financial information.

• Check the companys contact information and Web site. An applicant should verify that a company is legitimate before continuing with the application process. This can be done by checking the address and telephone number the company has provided and making sure the Web site is operating.

• Watch for indications that the advertisement or job offer is bogus. Many online scams contain misspellings and bad grammar. Also, an employer using an e-mail address that is not affiliated with the companys domain name can be an indication of potential fraud.

• Be cautious of job postings from overseas employers. A legitimate overseas company should have the resources to conduct business in the United States without using a privately held bank account. Overseas companies also have proven to be very hard to investigate and prosecute.