Everyone knows a good job is hard to find in this economy, but almost as hard to find right now is a good job listing.
With the unemployment rate in the high teens throughout the Central Valley, more and more bogus postings have popped up in job ads promising work but offering scams. They seek to take advantage of people's desire for work in an increasingly tight job market.
"Because there are not a lot of legitimate job opportunities out there, people are a little more tempted to grasp at anything they feel might lead to a job," said Alliance Worknet director Jeff Rowe. "I think (the scam ads) are increasing. The people out there that are trying to perpetrate these frauds know that people are desperate."
Job seekers across the valley have run into a variety of scams. The high unemployment rate makes it fertile ground for everything from scammers using computer phishing schemes to check fraud and phony serv-ice fees.
Modesto resident Mark Greenblatt has been looking for work for two months. The former collections agent works part-time but is seeking a full-time job. What he has found instead, he said, is mostly scam ads phishing for personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers.
"They are making money off of sometimes- desperate people's search for employment, and that's very disheartening for me," said the 45-year-old. "I am working part time now out of choice and trying to find full-time work.
"But I am sure there are a lot of people living on food stamps who can't get a break," he said. "You add that in with the scams, and it's the icing on the cake of frustration."
Greenblatt estimates that 65 percent of the online ads he sees are scams.
Many of the most notorious postings can be found on free sites such as www.Craigslist.org. But scams can be found across the board on established Web sites including www.Careerbuilder.com, www.Monster.com, www.HotJobs.com and newspaper classifieds.
Going after crooked offers
The Federal Trade Commission this month announced a crackdown on con artists who target the unemployed with bogus job placement and work-at-home scams.
The consumer protection agency asked federal courts to shut down seven entities charged with peddling such schemes and to freeze their assets. The Justice Department has pursued criminal action in 44 additional cases and state attorneys general are pursuing 18 more, FTC officials said.
David Vladeck, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said such schemes aren't new but are taking advantage of the increasing number of people who are unemployed or working fewer hours because of the recession, the worst downturn since the 1930s.
"These are scam artists targeting the most vulnerable people," he said. "They are tricking job seekers into parting with their last dollars."
The scams range from simple to elaborate. Many fall into the computer phishing category in which the supposed employer will ask for an applicant's Social Security number, bank account information, credit report or more.
Modesto resident Linda Detwiler has been out of work since June. Forced to wade back into the job market, the 60-year-old said she was shocked by what she found.
"I could not believe that every job that looked like, 'Hey, I can qualify for this,' turned out to be a scam," she said. "It's disheartening. They look totally legit. Then when I send in my résumé, they come back and ask for a credit report."
Detwiler said she stopped searching for jobs on Craigslist three months ago because of the high numbers of scams. Instead, she found out about a job at CarMax in Modesto when taking a car in to be appraised. She was hired part time and starts next month.
Other fake ads are a variation on a long-standing check scam. The business sends a check with a payment or an advance for materials, and then asks the employee to disperse the money into other accounts or send some back. The original check bounces, leaving the worker to pay the full amount plus any fees.
Frank Whitney, president and chief executive officer of the MidCal Better Business Bureau in Stockton, said this scam is often seen in secret shopper listings and similar postings that promise immediate money for training or materials.
"The bank tells you it's a counterfeit check, then next thing you know, you can't pay your rent, can't pay your mortgage," he said. "You never send money. You shouldn't have to ever pay money when you apply for a job."
Modesto resident Michael Caine has run into several sorts of scams in the past year while looking for work. The longtime accountant worked for a solar company that went under. Since then, he has come across all sorts of scams in his daily search through the employment listings.
"There are a lot of different flavors. Some of them are just blatant. But the extent to which they'll go includes impressive-looking letterhead, a pretty extensive interview online," he said.
Caine, 62, said the work-at-home scams are particularly extensive. They include everything from overpromising potential salaries to requiring payment for training with the promise of work afterward.
Work at home? Right!
The MidCal BBB has issued an alert for similar work-at-home schemes, particularly those advertising lucrative jobs in medical billing.
In his job hunt, Caine has been sent checks and told it is imperative to distribute the money to other accounts. He has filled out personality tests and, a few weeks ago after a long online interview, sent in his information for a credit check the company insisted was required.
"I never heard back from them since that," he said. "That is scary because now they know ... my address, my credit cards, my Social Security number."
Caine said he is monitoring his credit reports to see if suspicious activity crops up.
A credit or background check can be part of a legitimate job application. But it will come much later in the hiring process, never at the beginning of an assessment, said Alliance Worknet's Rowe. Job seekers who are suspicious about a listing can contact the BBB to see if the company has had complaints filed against it. Those who feel they have been victim of a scam can file a complaint with the FTC.
"The general rule of thumb is if the job seems too good to be true," Rowe said, "it probably is."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
For more information on scam jobs visit http://ftc.gov/jobscams.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.