The FBI issued a public service announcement this week warning of a rise in job scams that trick victims into handing over sensitive personal information like social security numbers in order to accept a job offer that’s actually fake. Such scams target people at their most vulnerable, when they’re in need of work to pay the bills.
While job scams aren’t new, the FBI says that they’ve become a lot more sophisticated in recent years because scammers can easily create websites that appear to represent legitimate companies. With the barrier so low, and the value of personal information so high, it’s easy to see why this is happening.
Technology has made job scams easy — Once a scammer has cobbled together a legitimate looking website, they then post openings on job boards that link back to these sites, where applicants can submit their interest and get an “interview,” often using VoIP software like Skype.
“After being interviewed by cyber criminals, victims are offered jobs, usually in a work-at-home capacity," the agency writes. “In order to appear legitimate, the criminals send victims an employment contract to physically sign, and also request a copy of the victims’ driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, direct deposit information, and credit card information.”
The FBI added that sometimes scammers will ask new “hires” to send along money for background checks or equipment, and to be reimbursed in their first paycheck — which, of course, doesn’t happen because the scammers simply end communication after the money is received.
This is insidious behavior — Anyone who’s been in the job market knows that when you’re desperate for work you’re more willing to overlook question marks if it means landing the job. The FBI says that the average reported loss from one of these scams was nearly $3,000 per victim, not including any damage to credit scores.
The rise and normalization of remote work has also made it easier to pull off such a scam because a physical business presence is not needed. The scammers themselves can work from home even if you can't!
There are some obvious things to look out for — Even if your interview isn't conducted in person. Most importantly: Don’t send along your social security number until you’ve begun the onboarding process. And under no circumstance do you need to give your employer any money or credit card information.
Those should prevent the worst possible outcomes, but you should also check out the URL of the employer’s site. Does it seem legitimate? Google the business name and see what comes up. Simple stuff that should protect you.