Personal Finance

Employment scams are on the rise in tight labor market

Key Points
  • Unemployment stands at 3.7 percent. There were about 7 million job openings in September, far above the 6 million or so unemployed workers.
  • Most employment scams are for nontraditional positions, such as a work-from-home opportunity or secret shopper job.
  • The Better Business Bureau says even savvy job hunters can fall victim.

Con artists are the ultimate party crashers.

With economic growth strong and jobs plentiful, employment scams are on the rise, according to the Better Business Bureau's scam tracker. This year through October, more than 3,700 incidents were reported across the country, more than double the 1,800 or so recorded during the same time last year.

"Scammers are opportunists," said Katherine Hutt, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. "So the more that legitimate companies advertise open positions, the more these shady operators will post job scams."

Mikko Lemola | Getty Images

Unemployment stands at 3.7 percent, the lowest it's been since 1969. There were about 7 million job openings in September, far above the 6 million or so unemployed workers, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday.

The changing dynamics of the labor market also have emboldened scammers. With remote jobs being more common and a growing number of people taking on part-time or gig work, it's easier for fraudsters to hide behind electronic communications and present fake opportunities.

However, that also limits criminals to some degree.

"Most employment scams are not for traditional jobs," Hutt said, adding that the fake positions could be a work-from-home opportunity or a secret shopper gig.

While the fraudulent offers can differ in the particulars, they are similar in that the goal is to get your personal information — i.e., your bank account number, Social Security number — and your money. For instance, you might be told you need to pay a one-time fee to apply, or that you need to prepay for a uniform required for the job.

Even savvy job hunters can fall prey to employment scams — including on legitimate job search websites.

"Anyone can be a victim or a target," Hutt said. "We've seen these scams cross all levels of incomes and required skills."

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Seasonal hiring, on the verge of its yearly late-fall surge, also provides an opportunity for con artists to take advantage of job seekers hoping to earn extra money during the holiday season, according to the BBB.

That makes it important to vet any company that posts a job opening or reaches out to you via email, phone or text. If you can't find information about the employer online that confirms its services or products, its executives and contact information, you might be about to step into a trap.

And if the job appears to be from a valid company, visit the company's website to make sure the position truly is available. Sometimes, large companies like Amazon or Target are impersonated, because logos and other official-looking elements can be copied.

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