Guard Against Job-Search Scams

Here's a rundown of some of the common schemes and what you can do to protect yourself.

Someone claiming to be a headhunter called me and asked for private information, including my Social Security number. Is this a common scam? What can I do to protect myself from scams when searching for a job?Scam artists love to play off the news, and they're making the most of the recession. First they created a slew of stimulus-related scams, and then they offered fake housing help. Now they're preying upon the millions of people who have been laid off and are searching for new jobs.

In early July, the Federal Trade Commission announced the results of "Operation Short Change," a law-enforcement sweep that included 15 Federal Trade Commission cases, 44 law-enforcement actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, and actions taken by at least 13 states and the District of Columbia to crack down on scam artists who have been using the economic downturn as a way to take advantage of consumers.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Scams Exploit Hard Times (opens in new tab)
Row 1 - Cell 0 Scams Ripped From Today's Headlines (opens in new tab)

Many of these schemes focus on job seekers. For people who haven't been in the job market for years, it's tough to tell what's now a normal part of the job search and what could expose you to potential identity theft and other scams. Here's a rundown of some of the common job-search scams and what you can do to protect yourself.

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Job-search identity theft. Job-search information can be a treasure trove for ID thieves. But even if you know not to put your Social Security number, bank-account details or other personal financial information on your résumé, clever ID thieves can use a two-step process to catch you off guard. First, they gather information from your online résumé so they'll seem familiar when they call and pose as a prospective employer. Then they say they need your Social Security number and other details for a background check, which could be enough information to steal your identity. Also watch out for a complex job-search scheme that crooks attempted to use on my colleague Cameron Huddleston, described in this Kip Tip (opens in new tab).

Be careful about the information you provide on your résumé online. You may even want to get a prepaid cell phone and set up a special e-mail address specifically for the job search so you'll know exactly where people found that contact information for you, says Monica Rebella, a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist in Tustin, Cal. Find out about the privacy options for any job-search Web site you use, and verify that an unfamiliar job site or place to which you're submitting an application is legitimate before providing your personal information. See's Security Center (opens in new tab) for more tips on protecting your identity on job-search sites.

Don't provide your Social Security number and other sensitive information to people you've dealt with only online or on the phone, even if they sound legitimate. They shouldn't need that information until further along in the application process. Find contact information for the company and call to verify that the person works there, and check out unfamiliar companies with the Better Business Bureau (opens in new tab). Don't just click on a link that claims to be from the company's Web site or call a phone number they give you - that could be a phishing scam that sends you to a bogus Web or telemarketing center in an attempt to gather even more personal information from you.

Work-at-home schemes. Of course it would be nice to earn hundreds of dollars a week from your home with very little work. The catch: You need to pay an upfront fee to get started with this tremendous opportunity. That's a big red flag. In many cases, people pay the fees and end up with no job. Or some of these prospective employers ask for your bank-account information so they can pay you electronically -- and then they use the information to steal your money. "If anybody's asking you for money upfront, forget it," says Michael Eisenberg, a CPA and personal financial specialist in Los Angeles. See the FTC's Work-at-Home Schemes (opens in new tab) alert for more information about protecting yourself.

Twitter job scams. The Better Business Bureau reports that as a variation on the work-at-home theme, companies are claiming you can make $250 to $873 per day by sending messages on Twitter. That should sound as suspicious as it is. They're offering an instructional CD for $1.95 to cover shipping (charging the fee on your credit card). But the fine print explains that if you don't cancel within seven days of ordering, you'll be charged $47 every month -- and the seven-day trial begins on the day you order the CD, not when you receive it. The crooks have even set up fake blogs with testimonials about how great the Twittering job is. To check out businesses or pitches, or for more information about this scam, go to (opens in new tab).

Federal-job scams. One big employer that is actually hiring these days is the federal government. And scam artists are on top of that -- offering phony test-practice materials for exams you don't need to take, getting your credit-card number by selling informational packets to help you find federal jobs (then making unauthorized charges on your credit card), selling bogus credentials that claim to help you get the job, or charging a fee to apply for a federal job (the federal government never charges an application fee). For real information about federal jobs, go to the USA Jobs Web site (opens in new tab) (the site's Security Center (opens in new tab) also has a lot of tips for avoiding federal job-search scams). For more information about finding a federal job, see columnist Marty Nemko's Land a Government Job Now (opens in new tab).

Crazy money-processing jobs. This old scam is resurfacing as people become desperate to earn some money. The crook says he needs a partner in the U.S. to help him process international payments. He sends you a check, and you're supposed to wire the money back. Guess what? The check is fake, but it can take up to a week for the bank to figure that out. By the time this happens, the money you wired is long gone. Don't let your guard down on familiar scams like this just because you really want a new job.

For more information about recession-related scams, see Scams Exploit Hard Times (opens in new tab) and Scams Ripped From Today's Headlines (opens in new tab). For tips from the Federal Trade Commission, including a video of a crook explaining how some of these scams work, go to (opens in new tab). For alerts about online and e-mail scams -- and information on how to report these schemes to authorities -- see the FBI's Cyber Investigations Unit (opens in new tab).

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.