En español | While employment scams are widespread and aimed at all job seekers, veterans and military spouses are victimized more often and lose more money than their civilian counterparts, a July report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reveals.
The BBB states that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a “perfect storm” for scammers as millions of workers have suddenly found themselves unemployed. More than 50 million Americans have filed first-time claims for jobless benefits since mid-March, when businesses nationwide started shutting down.
Employment swindles take various forms. In one, a phony employer steals personal information from job candidates to use for identity theft. In another, new hires are asked to pay for bogus training or equipment. And then there's the sham company that “overpays” a new employee and asks for the difference to be returned; typically, the employee learns later from the bank that the original payment was made with a fake check.
Ways to Avoid Employment Scams
• Research the job offered, and find the ad directly on the company's website.
• Be cautious of posts that offer work-from-home, shipping, warehouse or secret-shopper positions.
• Beware of on-the-spot job offers.
• Being asked to deposit a check or transfer funds for training or some other reason is often a red flag.
• Be wary of sharing personal information or sending a “prepayment."
• If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
• Be skeptical of a vague job description designed to get as many people as possible to apply.
• Even if you start working, the job still may be a scam.
Source: Better Business Bureau
Breaking down the numbers
Military spouses were most frequently victimized by employment scams, with 19.2 percent of those who encountered a scheme reporting a financial loss. Veterans reported losing money in 16.6 percent of cases; the rate for nonmilitary workers was 15.5 percent. Typical veterans victimized by an employment scam lost $1,905 (that's the median loss); followed by military spouses, at $1,825; servicemembers, at $1,680; and civilians, at $1,000.
Beyond the money lost immediately to con artists, some victims worked but never received their promised pay. Some also disclosed personal information that could lead to future identity theft.
The BBB ranked employment ruses as the riskiest category of scam in 2018 and 2019, and preliminary data show a similar trend for 2020. The BBB measures scam risk based on three factors: the prevalence of a scam, the likelihood of losing money and the dollar amount of losses.
Age matters, too. While younger job seekers were more likely to encounter employment scams, older adults typically lost more money to them. The highest median loss ($1,600) occurred among victims ages 45 to 54, followed by those 65 and over ($1,550) and those 55 to 64 ($1,250). Job seekers ages 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 reported a median loss of $1,000; for workers ages 18 to 24, the amount was $540.
How employment scams start
Con artists initiate contact in 80 percent of the cases surveyed, according to the BBB, usually through email or text. But some scammers impersonate legitimate businesses like Amazon or Walmart and post fake vacancies online.
"Sixty-five percent of job offers were related to becoming a ‘warehouse redistribution coordinator’ or some similar titles involving the reshipment of packages,” according to the report.
The top three websites with bogus job listings reported were Indeed, LinkedIn and Facebook.
More than half (53 percent) of people who reported job scams were unemployed. Fifty percent of job hunters were seeking full-time positions, 28 percent desired flexible employment, and 10 percent part-time employment. The option to work from home was far and away the biggest motivating factor for responding to employment scams, cited by 53 percent of affected job seekers. The flexibility to work remotely is particularly appealing to military spouses, who may have to move frequently.
The BBB report surveyed over 10,000 people in the U.S. and Canada who reported encountering an employment scam in the past three years.
Operation Protect Veterans
Fraud cost veterans, service members and their families more than $338 million in the five years ending in 2019, according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data.
Types of scams and frauds include fake veterans charities, service benefits buyout schemes, fraudulently charging for military records that veterans can get for free and bogus job listings.
Often an impostor pretends to represent an organization that will help veterans gain military benefits.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service created Operation Protect Veterans to help former service members and military families protect themselves by raising awareness of scams and fraud.
AARP's Fraud Watch Network offers additional resources, including alerts about the latest scams, a scam-tracking map, tip sheets and a podcast called The Perfect Scam. The AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook: Veterans’ Edition explains 10 ways that con artists target veterans. Report suspicious emails, texts, phone calls or mailings to trained volunteers by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 877-908-3360.