Consumer Law

The Job That Wasn't: Avoiding Employment Scams

"I've been out of work for so long. It's tough to get by. I'll take ANYTHING." Can there be a downside to a promise of employment? One Wisconsin woman found out the hard way that a fake job offer can lead to the loss, rather than gain, of hard-earned money.

There are several job offer scams, but the bait and switch and a job offer from an unknown company are the most popular and are discussed below. Other job offer scams include work at home scams.

The Bait and Switch

The unsuspecting woman from Wisconsin so trusted her new on-line employer she answered their plea to transfer money from her own bank account. This seemed like a good idea at the time, because the employer showed her that they had transferred $8,500 to her account from an account in Florida.

They explained they needed her to make a transfer because some staff members were having cash flow problems. Against her own bank's advice, the woman wired $7,500 to an account in the Ukraine; the original $8,500 transfer to her never actually occurred, and she never saw her money again. She's lucky that's all the money they took.

Many people enjoy the ease of having their paychecks direct deposited by their employer. However, an unknown employer, especially from the Internet or from a "blind ad" with no name or address, can use an offer of direct deposit as a ruse for gaining access to bank accounts. If in doubt, ask to be paid by traditional paper checks initially and then, and think about direct deposit when you're satisfied that the employer is genuine.

Job Offer from Unknown Company

In this economic climate, it may be difficult imagining turning down an offer for work as long as it pays. However, unseen strings might be attached which make the "job" more of a financial burden than a benefit. Any condition to pay a large sum upfront for training, equipment or supplies should be treated with suspect.

Waiting too long for an initial paycheck can also be a red flag. Before accepting a job offer, check references who can talk with you personally about their experience and job satisfaction - although if it's a large scam, this might only work to the scammer's advantage to give you "ringers."

Specific laws apply to wages and when you should receive a paycheck. If you would like more information, a general listing of wage and hour laws and related topics can be found here.

If you still have questions, an attorney can offer guidance and suggestions about a questionable job offer. Many law offices have access to databases which can help to investigate a suspect person or organization. An attorney can also offer insight into the applicability of certain employment laws and potential for recourse if problems arise.

Caution: Read before Signing

Some persons may be tempted to race to sign on the dotted line for a job, especially if pressured to do so under the warning that many others are lining up for a "limited time offer" or "only a few jobs left." Any legitimate employer should allow a potential new hire a reasonable amount of time to consider an offer. Remember, accepting one offer in haste may mean that you could miss a better opportunity that comes along later.

Consider seeking the advice of an attorney before signing any documents for a potential employer. Otherwise, you may be out of luck to sue at a later time or get your money back. Generally if you sign a contract voluntarily, it's considered that you know the terms of the contract and you'll likely lose the chance to argue that the contract was unfair and unclear, even if that contract includes "legalese." Even if the employer gives you verbal confirmation that the written contract terms doesn't really matter. Most often courts view a written contract as overriding a verbal contract where the terms of the two are contradictory.

It can be difficult, if not impossible, to identify by name and location the so-called employer who committed fraud when the only communication has been on-line or telephone. If you suspect fraud, report it to local law enforcement authorities, the local prosecutor's office and the state Attorney General's office. Reporting these schemes may help others from being lured into a harmful job scam.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can you help me check out a possible employer; I've only had online and telephone contact with the company about a possible job.
  • If I accept a job from an employer in another state, and work from my home or a local office, does the employer have to comply with the laws of the city and state where I live and work?
  • Can you help me check out a possible employer, and what kinds of information can you access?
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