For many high-school and college students, the end of the school year means it’s time to look for a summer job.
For scam artists, it means quite something else: new potential victims.
So if teens aren’t careful, not only won’t they find a legitimate job this summer, but they also could end up losing money or opening themselves up to identify theft – and all the ills that go along with it.
Several years ago, Scambusters.org – a free public website founded in 1994 and dedicated to helping people protect themselves from Internet scams – published an article titled “10 Telltale Signs of a Summer Jobs Scam.” In it, co-directors Audri and Jim Lanford identified the most-common ploys and offered tips on how to steer clear of them.
And while many months have gone by, the advice is as sound today as it was when the article was first published more than a year-and-half ago.
“There is nothing in here that is no longer true,” co-founder Audri G. Lanford told the Journal last week, which says something about the state of summer job scams today.
The only thing that may have changed, she said, is scam artists are relying even more heavily on what is known in the trade as “advance fee” scams, which I’ve written about before in conjunction with work-at-home schemes.
In this version, bogus companies send along a check to new “hires,” instructing them to deposit it and then wire a portion of it back to the sender or a third party. The check inevitably bounces, and the new “employee” is out a sizable amount of cash.
“For a summer job, we didn’t see that as much,” she said. “We saw it certainly, but nothing like we do today.”
In fact, this scam has become so popular that she expects it to be in the running for a special distinction in 2014.
“This will vie for one of our Top 10 (scams) this year,” she said.
So what can students do today to protect themselves against these and other scams aimed at summer-job hunters?
Here are ScamBusters’ 10 “telltale signs” of summer job scams as originally published in the summer of 2012:
- It looks like easy money – the pay seems too good to be true.
- The offer is unsolicited – you haven’t even advertised your services or posted on a job site.
- The “employer” doesn’t seem interested in your qualifications or background. They don’t ask for references or details of past experience.
- The job description is vague. If you ask questions or seek more details, you don’t get them.
- The “employer” refuses to meet you and you have no contact details beyond, maybe, a cell phone number.
- Their email address is generic – that is, it comes from the likes of Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo!, rather than from a company.
- You’re asked to provide personal information at a very early stage of the recruitment process.
- The job description or offer is written in poor English, with spelling and grammar mistakes.
- The “employer” claims to be either out of the country or traveling around.
- You have to pay some kind of expenses upfront.
As a result, ScamBusters advises teen job applicants to:
- Do a thorough background check: That doesn’t mean just checking out the company’s website, either. If the firm is legitimate, applicants should be able to find a street address, telephone number and a contact list of company employees. An online search combining the name of the company with the word “scam” can be helpful, too.
- Don’t pay a fee in advance: In some summer job scams, applicants are told they will have to pay a fee in advance to cover the cost of drug tests, uniforms or other services. For those who pay by credit, doing so can put your credit-card account at risk.
- Be stingy with personal information: Unless you have a job offer in hand or are certain it’s on the up and up, be wary of offering too much personal information in advance. If you use an online service to find a job, for example, don’t include your personal contact information – let employers contact you through the jobs board.
- Pay strict attention to details: Before formally accepting a job offer, be sure to read the fine print on any application form or contract.
Nick Pappas is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal and writes a blog called “Scammed, Etc.” Contact him at email@example.com or 505-823-3847 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.