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LaDonna Koebel: Employment and work-from-home scams prevalent during COVID-19 pandemic

Reports of scams to the Attorney General’s Office have skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with dollar losses up as much as 8,000 percent compared to 2019. In August 2020, employment and work-from-home scams accounted for nearly half of the dollar losses reported to our office.

Scammers are preying on the vulnerabilities created by the pandemic and know that employment scams are the perfect lure for someone who has lost their job or is looking for a work-from-home opportunity.

Here’s how employment scams work. A scammer will pretend to be a recruiter or employer offering the ability to work-from-home. In some cases, the scammer may run an ad stating that you can “earn an excellent salary working from home.” In other cases, a recruiter might reach out to you after seeing your resume on a job search website.

LaDonna Koebel

Once you’ve responded to the work-from-home opportunity, employment scammers will usually try to get you to pay for training or special access before you can begin employment. Once they receive your money, there is no job, and you’ve been scammed.

Some employment scammers may direct you to make purchases for the company as a “secret shopper” and tell you that you will be reimbursed for the purchases after you submit an expense report. You’ll never receive the reimbursement, and you’ll be left holding the charges for the items you purchased.

Another twist on the work-from-home scam initially looks like a safe bet, but don’t be fooled. Using a ploy from a longstanding check scam, a fake employer may send you a cashier’s check to cover your initial expenses and payroll. After the funds clear, your new employer will ask you to buy a computer or other expensive items, and then ship them to an address they provide. You’re told to keep the rest of the money from the check for your time. But, there is no job. While the check initially clears your bank and the money appears in your account, after 10 days the bank will reverse the charge because the check was unauthorized or stolen. You’re left holding the debt once the money is removed from your account.

Be extra cautious in your job search during COVID-19. Not only can you lose money to fake employment scams, you could become the victim of identity theft after completing new employment paperwork for a fraudulent employer – unknowingly turning over your name, address, and social security number, as well as your driver’s license number and even bank account information to scammers.

If you experience an employment-related scam, please report it to:

• Attorney General’s Office: Report online at ag.ky.gov/scams or by calling the consumer protection hotline at 1-888-432-9257 [press 3]. Attorney General Daniel Cameron and our office of Senior Protection and Mediation are committed to assisting you and providing additional resources and guidance regarding scams;

• Federal Trade Commission: Report online at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or TTY 1-866-653-4261. Your report can help protect other people. By reporting fraud, you can help the FTC’s investigators identify the scammers and stop them before they can get someone’s hard-earned money. It really makes a difference.

LinkedIn, one of the largest professional online networking platforms, also offers the following tips to protect yourself from employment-related scams:

• Financial requests: Do not provide payment or account credentials as part of the application process. Legitimate companies should not require transfers, checks, or the wiring of funds as a condition of the application process.

• Promises of compensation: Beware of postings that prominently focus on the amount of pay you will receive in the first year, as an advance, or as a signing bonus.

• Bad grammar: Avoid postings that include multiple misspellings and grammatical errors.

• General anonymity: Proceed with caution if you can’t quickly verify the origin of the post. One way to confirm a post’s identity is to use a search engine to look up information on the sender. Simply input any available contact information from the sender (phone number, email address, and social media handles) to verify they are who they say they are.

LaDonna Koebel is the Executive Director for the Attorney General’s Office of Senior Protection and Mediation. 

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