Consumer Law

New Scams Target Job Seekers Use Fake Checks

Scammers are good at knowing when and who to strike to make some easy money. For example, when there's a natural disaster, they go after people who want to donate money to the victims, or they go after homeowners hit hard by the economy.

With the economic crisis and a record-high jobless rate, scammers have targeted people looking for jobs.

Texas Scams

Events in Texas show how typical job or employment scams work. For instance, would-be job applicants from across the country were contacted by a furniture company located in Abilene. The company's name is "Galvin Furniture" and its web site shows an Abilene street address.

The problem is, however, "Galvin Furniture" doesn't actually, physically exist, and the address given belongs to a well-established furniture store that's completely unrelated to Galvin.

According to the local Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers got the names of job-seekers who posted their names to their states' labor and employment web sites. The scammers send the job-seekers checks, supposedly to pay for furniture around the world. The victims are instructed to deposit the checks into their personal bank accounts and then send the money via Western Union to the scammers. The victims are told to keep a portion for their work.

Of course, the checks are fake. And once the victims' banks discover this, the victims have to repay the bank.

A similar scam is being investigated in Tuscola, Texas, which is near Abilene. Here, scammers recruit "mystery shoppers" to go undercover in retail stores and report on things like customer service. The scammers ask the victims to wire money to them, as usual in these scams.

One job-seeker, however, was convinced to buy some checks and mail them to people in Texas and other states. The scammers later contacted those who received checks and asked them to wire money to help support an orphanage in Tuscola. That orphanage doesn't exist, however. The scam was uncovered when a letter-recipient in Oklahoma called the BBB to get more information about the orphanage.

Be Cautious

Job and employment scams aren't new. In fact, one of the first job scams was reported in 2003, and it included the use of fake checks. However, when unemployment in the US continues to rise - or at least doesn't drop significantly - the chances are good that employment scams will become more and more widespread.

The consequences for scam victims can be harsh. If you cash bogus checks for the scammers and then send them the money:

  • It's almost a certainty you'll have to repay the bank the amount you sent to the scammers, out of your pocket, unless you can track down the scammers and get the money back
  • You run the risk of having your identity stolen because the scammers may gain access to your bank account numbers and other personal information
  • You may face federal criminal charges of mail and wire fraud

Here's what to do to protect yourself:

  • Be wary of any job-related email or newspaper ad that mentions mailing or wire transferring money
  • Don't give a prospective employer your bank account numbers, even if it claims that the information is needed to direct deposit your "paychecks"
  • Be suspicious of any employer or company that doesn't have a bricks-and-mortar street address (not a P.O. Box or web site only) and telephone number. Call the telephone number listed and ask to speak to someone in the human resources office. While there are hundreds of legitimate online (or "dotcom") businesses, most job scams work exclusively through email and web sites
  • Don't pay upfront for "job lists" or "employment leads"
  • Check on the employer through the local Better Business Bureau(BBB) in the city or state where the employer is located
  • Report suspicious job offers to the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) and your state attorney general's office

Questions For Your Attorney

    • How can I get my money back from a job scam?
    • What might happen if I'm unable to repay my bank the money I got on fake checks from scammers? How long does the bank have to come after me for the money?
    • How can I tell if a check is fake? I got a check one in the mail that looks like a genuine check from a well-known US bank.

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