Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vegas Job Seekers: Beware!

Combine an unemployment rate of over 12% with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, and what do you get? You get a lot of scammers looking to take advantage of out-of-work people, which strikes me as being not too different from embezzling money from senior citizens.

Back in the olden days, also known as “pre-Internet,” people scoured the newspaper’s want ads on Wednesdays and Sundays. Today, almost all job postings have migrated to online sites like CraigsList. Even those of us who are accustomed to sloughing through CL listings (it’s a common way for freelance writers to look for leads), have noticed an uptick in the number of scams. Does it sound too good to be true? It probably is. Is the ad all in capitals and studded with grammatical errors? Another scam alert. Is the information about the opportunity and/or company vague or non-existent? Proceed with caution. Are you being asked to pay for job leads? Just say no. DO NOT give out your credit card information, or any other personal information.

Even with my cautious approach, however, I’ve still had several dubious responses. For instance, one seemingly normal ad I responded to was a gentleman looking for women to interview naked men. Now, maybe in the years ahead I’ll find that this was a perfectly legitimate opportunity that I let escape. I’m not a prude in any way, and at first it sounded like a odd but actual gig. However, as our conversation progressed, we went from interviews in public places to interviews alone to “Do you have any friends you can bring?”

I decided that signing up with an employment agency would help me weed out the real jobs from the naked interview jobs, but when I didn’t hear back from the first agency I contacted (which really disappointed me because they requested an extensive amount of information that took me quite a while to collect and submit), I thought I would try other agencies. I went to the sites that handle virtual assistants because they have work for both run-of-the-mill administrative work and “creatives,” as freelance writers are often known. I found that the VA field has a whole side industry of certifications and requirements. Some of the sites require that you attend their training sessions on a regular basis, which puzzled me. Training for what? If I meet the requirements to do the job, and I have over 20 years of experience, for what am I attending training? I also found that simply having a regular home office is often not enough for the VA sites. They want you to sign up for virtual fax by e-mail and virtual voice mail, and the sites I looked at charged for those services. These sites specified that having a stand-alone fax and a dedicated phone line were not sufficient. Why a dedicated fax line, high-speed Internet connection, and land line phone were unacceptable was not entirely clear to me, but perhaps I just didn’t read closely enough.

I did find one online job site that looked pretty straight-forward; sign up, upload your resume, and get job leads mailed to you. At least, that’s what I thought it was. I had noticed that in addition to the VA sites pushing their training, some of the job sites were promoting various online colleges, and this one was no exception. When I went through the job app, I de-selected the box for “Send me more information about going back to school!” Within five minutes of sending in my information, my phone was ringing with a telemarketer trying to get me signed up for college courses. I hung up on them. This morning, they called again. The girl gushed, “We see that you asked for additional information about furthering your education and going back to college!”

“That is incorrect,” I said. “I am not interested in going back to college right now. Please don’t call again.” I haven’t checked back with the site to see if there are any job leads, but I sure don’t have any in my in-box. Don’t get me wrong—if the time was right, I’d consider going back to college. However, with a homeschooled child at home, a household income that has been slashed by 75%, and college costs in the stratosphere, this is not the time. Besides, if I wanted to go back to school, I would have called UNLV.

A quick look at CraigsList shows that I’m not alone. On any day, you can read other job seekers’ frustrations over ads that ask for pictures, credit report information, and so on—just look at the “re:” listings. I liked this response from one annoyed person: “If you want to scam people, at least use proper English.” I agree. At the very least.

Update: In addition to telemarketing phone calls, I've also received two e-mails from an anonymous "HR Department" demanding that I supply information about my credit report to complete my application. The e-mails almost look like they are legitimate--they state that an applicant's prior work history and references must be verified, but the only item they're asking more information about is my credit report. Don't be fooled into clicking these links and giving these scammers your information.

On Sunday, July 19, RJ reporter John Przbys wrote about CraigsList scammers in the other (non-employment) sections of the site: "Don't play games with online scam artists." On August 3, RJ columnist Doug Elfman also wrote about CL: "Craigslist: A 21st century den of thieves, deviants, scammers."
Photo courtesy of Carin Araujo at

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