Arrow-right Camera
News >  Business

Regional job scam goes worldwide

Con artists posing as recruiters for nonprofits with points of contact in the Northwest have been exposing well-meaning job applicants around the world to identity theft and fraud, consumer advocates say.

“It’s constantly coming on our radar,” said Zan Deery, an investigator for the Better Business Bureau for Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana.

In a variant of phishing practices commonly seen in unsolicited e-mail, people who post their résumés on popular job sites are being solicited to apply for positions at nonexistent organizations in an attempt to glean sensitive personal information.

“It is really amazing what kind of information they wanted to have from me, and I am very glad I only sent them my résumé,” said Julia Gierse in an e-mail.

A resident of Belgium, Gierse applied for a research position with the International Research and Growth Institute. The purported economic development organization listed a fake address in the U.S. Bank Building in Spokane. Gierse contacted Deery after becoming suspicious of the application and the group’s lack of a Web site.

The region’s Better Business Bureau has received about a half-dozen inquiries on IRGI and almost as many from a shell organization called the American Latvian Humane Society Green World in the last several weeks, Deery said.

In many cases fake employers will ask for things like birth dates, graduation dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and other sensitive data under the auspices of running a background check.

Legitimate employers don’t charge fees for background checks or ask applicants for Social Security numbers online, according the BBB.

One trait most online job scams share is a disinterest in actually meeting the applicant. If companies are interested in hiring someone and obtaining the necessary information to do so, they generally do it in person, the BBB said.

In some cases, people are hired to work from home and unwittingly end up laundering money for criminals overseas.

The American Latvian Humane Society Green World features a slick Web site with Flash animation, a professional-looking logo and a wild cat peering at viewers from the limbs of a tree.

It comes off as completely legitimate, unless job seekers realize the phone number connects to the fax machine of a guest ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the address listed is really an art gallery in West Yellowstone, Mont.

“I didn’t know that they’re fake,” Tammy George of Cleveland said in a telephone interview.

The group contacted George after finding her resume on Yahoo Jobs. Thinking she was managing donations that would eventually help injured animals, she set up a bank account and gave the organization access to it.

Money was deposited and she was instructed to send money orders to a manager while keeping a percentage as compensation.

Said Deery, “it’s money laundering. They give you a bogus check, and you’re supposed to launder it through your own account.”

While George said the deposits haven’t been called into question and she hasn’t heard from the group in weeks, others aren’t as lucky.

It takes two weeks after a check is deposited for a bank to find out that it’s counterfeit, Deery said. By that time, many people involved in scams have been asked to wire the money to another party, then find themselves owing the bank for the amount of the bad check.

Other schemes involve re-shipping products that turn out to be purchased with stolen credit cards.

The jobs used as bait for identity theft and online ploys can target just about anyone looking for work, from people with limited experience wanting to work at home to professionals with advanced degrees seeking high-paying positions in their area of expertise.

Even though the Internet provides a way to contact scores of potential employers, Deery and others warn it’s also increasingly important for job seekers to investigate the companies that want to investigate them.

If someone feels their personal information may have been compromised, Deery said they should check their credit report and alert banks to watch for fraudulent activity on their accounts.

“Just really monitor things,” like bank and credit card statements, she said.