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Scam Alert

5 Ways to Spot a Job Scam

Your personal and financial information is at stake

En español | Despite an encouraging January employment report indicating that more jobs are on the horizon, don't expect job scams — among the most common cons in recent years — to end anytime soon.

For months, the number of fake job advertisements has quietly increased on employment websites. Recently, the fraudsters have turned to the Internet's Instant Messenger (IM) service to make promises of phony jobs to out-of-work people.

See also: Need help refreshing your resume?

With an improving jobs forecast, it's easier for fraudsters to pose as "We're now hiring!" employers. Their goal is always the same: to separate you from your money or confidential personal information that can be used in identity theft. Here are the tip-offs of an impending rip-off:

1. Your cash for your check. The most common ruse is getting job applicants to pay fees that supposedly go for background or credit checks, drug tests or other employer due diligence. Later applicants are told they didn't get the job (and in fact it may never have existed). This week, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with a company accused of this practice, one of about 20 closed by that agency since 2008. According to the agency, this one charged clients $97 on false claims that it had a unique ability to get them hired at Fortune 1000 companies.          

What to know: A legitimate company may run a background check on you, but it will do so on its own dime. Applicants should never pay.

2. Language to lure. "Easy money" working from home? A "guaranteed" offer? "No experience needed"? The second-biggest job scam cons involve ads that make outlandish but vaguely worded claims of riches you'll achieve, but don't even specify job duties.

What to know: These ads typically flog work-at-home "kits" — sometimes featured in fake online news stories touting invented success stories. The kits require upfront payment for supposed secrets of wealth. Pay the requested fees, typically more than $100 (and sometimes include ongoing, hard-to-cancel monthly "memberships") and you'll find little, if any, value in the provided materials.

3. Government job gotchas. Another job scam tries to get you to pay for a list of vacant "previously undisclosed" federal jobs.

What to know: Your money merely pays for a list of the same vacancies you can get at no charge at www.usajobs.gov. Scammers copy the postings for profit.

4. The salary side step. Most phony job ads boast impressive salaries, intended to lead you to provide personal information such as your Social Security number in your "application." This can be the prelude to scammers posing as you to apply for credit cards and generally ruin your credit record.

What to know: Before answering any job ad, check realistic salary ranges for various occupations at www.salary.com or www.paywizard.org. If there's a big gap with what's being offered, assume you're being set up for a fall.

5. The company con. Scammers often steal the names and logos of recognized and legitimate companies for phony postings on job boards. Sometimes they even create fake corporate websites that look like the real McCoy.

What to know: Visit www.whois.net to determine who really owns the address of an apparent corporate website (if it's registered to a foreign address, chances are good it's a scam). If a supposed recruiter is claiming job openings at company X, check the website of company X for confirmation. Also, make sure any prospective employer is listed in a major business directory such as Dun & Bradstreet or Hoovers.com. Or contact the licensing office, such as the division of corporations, in the state where the firm is said to be headquartered. Finally, any "recruiter" or HR rep who corresponds via a free email account from Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail is very likely a scammer; legitimate job-related emails will come from a corporate account.

Also of interest: Watch out for Social Security scams.

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