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Consumer Alert

Job-seekers are among scammers’ latest targets

By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / September 11, 2011

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Downturns in the economy bring their own scams, which, sadly, prey on those who can least afford another blow. Those desperate for jobs are a ripe target.

With more than 9 percent of the US labor force (about 7.6 percent in Massachusetts) officially unemployed, that’s a lot of potential for a con artist. And because most unemployed Americans are eager to get back to work, they are vulnerable to offers of training and employment that sound far better than they really are.

It’s usually not apparent at the outset, but most of these pitches - they frequently come by e-mail or appear in online classified ads - will involve an upfront payment.

The Federal Trade Commission has halted several operations that go after job-seekers with the promise of work and some type of bogus training that never takes place. But those running these scams are nimble and are often overseas.

Here are some warning signs of a jobs scam:

■ An offer guaranteeing you’ll get a job by participating in a program.

■ Charges in advance of any service provided.

■ A promise of insider information on federal jobs or some unpublished list of jobs that you would have to pay to see (Federal job openings are posted to USAjobs.gov).

■ Someone offering opportunities at a company you didn’t apply to.

It’s important to verify who you are dealing with when a random job or training opportunity is tossed your way. Sometimes a simple Web search of the e-mail address can reveal a host of complaints. Many times it won’t, but don’t assume that the operation is legitimate. E-mail addresses connected to scams change constantly.

Of course, there are ways to get real job training. Above-board companies will have track records that can easily be verified. Also, check with the state career services offices for training and education programs offered by the government.

If you avoid random sales pitches, and research training opportunities carefully, you’ll be in a much better position to avoid having an already tough situation turn worse.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.