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How to protect yourself from fraud if you’re looking for a new job

Job hunting can be stressful, but it can also be exciting, especially at times when there’s a high demand for workers in many industries. If you’re in the market for a new position and you’re perusing postings on online job sites, it’s important to keep in mind that not all job postings are created equal. Some, in fact, are created by people hoping to steal your personal and financial information.

Employment-related fraud is something any job-seeker should be aware of. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center notes that more than 16,000 people reported being victims of employment fraud in 2020, with losses of more than $59 million. The good news is that there are steps you can take to greatly lessen the chances that you’ll fall victim to a scam.

The first step in protecting yourself is understanding how employment fraud works. It usually involves fake job listings that are posted to popular career-search websites. In many cases, companies listed in the job postings are real – but the jobs themselves aren’t. Sometimes the scammers will even conduct fake interviews with multiple people, all in an effort to gain a victim’s trust.

In many cases, the goal is to obtain personally identifiable information – such as Social Security numbers, addresses, bank account information and more – which is then used to steal your identity. Because it’s common for some of this information to be shared with prospective employers, the fraud can sometimes be hard to detect.

“By the time you realize they’ve completed credit card applications in your name and fraudulently racked up big bills, the bad guys have already moved on,” says Sandy Ozier, a senior vice president at Commerce Bank who leads anti-fraud initiatives.

She notes that a common type of employment fraud involves scammers telling people they’ve been hired and will be issued a new laptop. “The catch is that the new employee is asked to provide a credit card number to help pay for the shipping of the laptop, with the promise that they’ll be reimbursed later,” says Ozier. “But the laptop never arrives, and as soon as the fraudsters get your credit card number, they use it for their own purposes.”

Sometimes a fake employer will dangle a signing bonus as an incentive to encourage job seekers to share personal information more quickly. “If you start feeling pressured to do something that makes you nervous, take a step back and give it some thought,” Ozier says. “A legitimate employer won’t want a new team member to feel pressured about anything.”

Brendan Inghram, a director of talent acquisition at Commerce, says it’s a significant red flag if a prospective employer asks you to pay for anything before you start working. “I can’t speak for any other employer, but Commerce Bank will never ask a team member to pay for anything prior to employment,” he says. “If we ask for personal information, we do it through a secure platform. If a potential employer wants you to provide sensitive information in a text or an email, that’s extremely out of the ordinary and should be approached with caution.”

Inghram also recommends that job seekers always try to confirm listings found on job websites before applying. “One way to do this is to visit the company’s careers site,” he says. “If a position is listed on a job site, but not on the company’s site, that’s a concern. When in doubt, a quick call to the company’s HR department is a good idea. It takes just a minute, and most companies are happy to confirm whether a job opportunity is real.”

As with many types of online scams, irregularities in a job posting can also be a sign that the position being advertised is fake. “Misspelled words, bad grammar, a logo image that doesn’t look right — these are often signs that something isn’t right,” he says.

If you come across a job listing that you believe is fake, Inghram suggests letting the real company know, as well as the job website where you found it. “Major job platforms have fraud specialists to investigate suspicious postings,” he says. “They’ll typically check with the employer, who can confirm whether the job exists.”

Ozier notes that you can also report any suspicious job postings to the Federal Trade Commission or to your state’s attorney general. In general, she adds, the best advice is to remember that if something feels too good to be true, it usually is.

“Trust your gut,” she says. “If you’re cautious and you do some quick research, you can sniff out a lot of the fake job postings. That will allow you to spend more of your time focusing on the real ones and landing that exciting new position.”

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