En español | It was an opportunity that many older adults would find hard to turn down: Earn a six-figure income while working from home. Unfortunately, instead of helping people take control of their career, a Malaysia-based firm behind the pitch scammed them out of millions of dollars, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says. It's a stark reminder to job hunters who are eager, or even desperate, to earn a paycheck that con artists here and overseas are looking for a quick buck, even if it means crushing workers’ hopes and dreams.
Earlier this month the company My Online Business Education (MOBE) agreed to pay the federal consumer-protection agency $17 million for defrauding people with promises that it could train them to start their own online business. MOBE, which is based in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, claimed that its 21-step coaching service would help them set up their own lucrative internet business. But once consumers paid an initial $49 entry fee, MOBE began charging them thousands of dollars more for additional services, all without ever helping anyone build a flourishing business. The FTC says that many people — who may not have been aware the company had its headquarters overseas, in part because it held some training sessions in the U.S. — lost more than $20,000 apiece because of MOBE's practices.
"MOBE falsely promised consumers that it could teach them how to start a successful online business and earn six-figure incomes working from home, and consumers lost millions of dollars as a result,” says Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. The settlement also permanently bans MOBE's founder from selling business-coaching programs in the United States.
Even if you're not looking to work from home, you should be cautious when you're job hunting. The FTC hears thousands of fraud complaints annually from people seeking career opportunities. During a five-year period ending Dec. 31, 2019, the agency reported:
- 58,368 complaints about opportunities to launch a new business or work at home by, for example, stuffing envelopes or processing medical claims.
- 43,549 additional complaints about employment agencies, job counseling and overseas work.
While there are legitimate headhunting firms, most of them do not require candidates to foot the bill for their services.
"If a recruiter asks you to pay for access to job listings or interviews, you should be on your guard,” says Smith. “Research the firm, or ask someone you trust, to make sure the recruiter has a track record in the industry."
That advice applies to any job opportunities you are considering. A scam might not even involve paying a fee, because fraudsters are just as eager to profit off of any personal information they can glean after persuading you to fill out a fake application form. If you suspect that a job ad or other type of employment outreach is a scam, report it to the FTC.
The FTC offers this advice for avoiding job scams:
- Never give out your credit card or bank account information. Some swindlers will say that you have a job but need to pay a fee for your application, training materials or a certification. But once you've given out the sensitive financial information, the crooks can use it to make fraudulent purchases and commit other crimes.
- Keep an eye out for census-job scams. Criminals are looking to profit from an opportunity they get only once every 10 years. The Census Bureau is eager to hire people to help with the population count and will not charge applicants a fee. If you think you've spotted a census scam, report it to email@example.com.
- Beware of “prescreenings.” You may see advertisements from companies claiming to be employment agencies that can offer you job placement with major firms if you set up a quick interview with them. What can happen, unfortunately, is that the people you speak with collect your personal data and sell it to other marketers, a practice called lead generation. That's why you should always research a company before you give out your information.