The Long Run Blog

Critical Thinking on Money, Finance, and Economics

Job Scams

My friend Roseanne is back in the job market and she’s been applying for jobs. She’s an executive assistant (EA) by trade, which means she works under high powered business executive types who are also highly fickle. Think of Elaine from Seinfeld, think of Elaine’s boss Mr. Pitt. Anyway, she necessarily gets fired a lot for picky weird reasons. Skirts are above the knee this fall and she’s wearing skirts below the knee. That kind of stuff.

Watching Roseanne’s job hunt the last couple weeks reminds me of employment scams. People in need, be it a need for a job or a need for a cancer cure, are always viewed by some as needing to be deprived of their money. There are a number of tried and true job scams out there. The one Roseanne has encountered, and I recall encountering when I first graduated in 1991, is the employment agency advertising jobs it doesn’t actually have. Employment agencies (aka headhunters) match employers with prospective employees. Many companies use these services as they do all the grunt work. I dare you, post an ad like “advertising firm looking for a junior copywriter” on Craigslist in any major city and see how many resumes you get within about 3 days. Now imagine it’s your job to sort through those resumes and shortlist 6 people. The scam (not a big one, mind you) comes in when the employment agency doesn’t actually have the jobs it’s advertising. These agencies just want to build up a database of qualified applicants and then go out and try and sell that to employers. Of course this kind of scam doesn’t really hurt you, other than providing a bit of false hope. You’re not out of pocket.

Another one that I kind of benefited from are companies (not headhunters but actual companies) running ads for jobs they have no intention of hiring for. Huh? Basically it works like this. A company has a foreign worker on staff (like a Canadian technical writer the company simply can’t dispense with because he’s such a darn good writer and gets the coffee started in the morning). Said company has applied for a green card for said foreign worker. To justify why this foreigner should get a green card, the company has to demonstrate they simply can’t get a qualified American to fill that job, and therefore America should invite this foreigner to be part of your more perfect union. So what they do is run ads for the job on their web site (and sometimes in obscure technical journals with a circulation of 8 ) and, darn, isn’t it odd no one applies for that job?

It should go without saying you should never, as a job hunter, pay a headhunter a fee. Headhunters provide a valuable service to companies and companies have the motivation to pay for this service. A good worker brings amazing value to the corporation. My first job out of university was as a technical writer, working for a tax software company. I kept sending ideas to my boss how the company could directly sell my services to our customers. My boss sat me down and related a story about when she first started at the company. She kept sending suggestions to the president how he could directly sell her services to the customers. The president sat her down and said “Maureen, that you’re at your desk, writing tax code for our software, brings value to this company. Without your services we can’t sell our software. We make a nice profit selling that software. You don’t have to do anything else to be valuable to me.” I quickly understood her point. No one is going to buy a tax program if it doesn’t have online help and a manual. The product can’t ship without my services. We all want to be super stars in our job but merely doing the job for which we’re hired is what makes us valuable.

Up the scumbag food chain is the model/acting scam. You see these advertised in cities, claiming a modeling agency is looking for real people (all races and sizes) to appear in ads and TV commercials. Now, you have to ask yourself isn’t it remarkably easy to find average people? Do you need to pay a high line rate in your local daily paper or TV guide to get these people? If an ad agency needed a real person, couldn’t they just get their family members? Another problem, with the exception of the Sears flyer and PBS, when was the last time you saw average people in ads and on TV show in such great numbers? It would appear to me there isn’t that huge of a demand that modeling agencies are spending large coin on ads to find these elusive thoroughly average people.

Of course like the headhunters who advertise jobs they don’t have, these modeling agencies claim they have modeling gigs they don’t. Unlike the headhunter who actually intends to get the gigs, the model scammer has no such intent. The angle is you’re told you need a portfolio of expensive pictures and modeling lessons. Most legit modeling agencies get so many photos they don’t have time to look at a large, expensive portfolio. And if they’re not finding models from the slush pile they’re using scouts.

Most people are aware of modeling agencies get their models via scouts and in the last few years this has become another way these agencies prey upon our hubris. You’re waiting in line for an Orange Julius at the mall and someone approaches you out of the blue. This person tells you he/she is a scout for a modeling agency and you just have, you know, that look. That real, fresh look they’re looking for. You’re given a card and told to show up at the agency office at X time on Y day.

You feel on top of the world. You tell all your friends. You’ve been scouted. You got that look. You always knew it. They always doubted it. Now you’re going to show them how wrong they’ve been.

You show up at the appointed time and find no highly attractive receptionist behind a fabulously expensive desk is offering to get you an espresso while you wait for Serge to see you. No. The waiting room is filled with a lot of other people with “the look” but a look entirely different from yours. And you guessed it, if you bother to wait for your interview, you’re urged to get an expensive portfolio.

Lots of people are going abroad these days to teach English. I did. It’s lucrative and it’s a chance to see another part of the world before you become some corporate slave toiling away in a cubicle for the next 25 years, spending every day craving the cubicle that’s slightly closer to the window. In your search, you might stumble upon several ESL jobs boards where you can post your resume and announce you’re looking for work. If you do, odds are you’ll get a version of the ol’ Nigerian Bank Scam. The Nigerian Bank Scam is better known as the advanced fee fraud. This version, the ESL teaching version, usually comes from some deposed African potentate like the former Prince Domtar of Ghana. Domtar is now living in Switzerland and has need of an ESL teacher for his children. You have the qualifications he’s looking for. On top of a generous tax-free salary of $5,000 a month and a three hour work day, there’s a free apartment, and liberal use of his car collection. Of course before you get the job, you need to pay a series of fees. A mere formality.

Actually, posting your resume on any board, from Craigslist to Monster.com can bring many similar scams. I just got one today offering me a fabulous job as a mystery shopper. Who wouldn’t want to be paid to shop? Who wouldn’t want to write pithy comments about the quality of Wal-Mart’s service? And these outfits will pay $300 for your services. $300! That’s easy money! It’s like being paid to breath! The scam is a play on the Nigerian bank scam. It runs variously: you’re sent a check to cover your fee plus some high ticket item like an iPod or a laptop. You’re instructed to ship the purchased item to some address along with your notes. Uh huh. Anyway, the check ends up bouncing, you’re left paying for a laptop computer, and the guy on the other end is quickly flipping it for a dozen two-fours of Lagos Brewery’s finest.

Phone soliciting is another job scam I have to chuckle at. It’s not so much the actual job itself. It can be a legit way to earn a buck and it’s hard, thankless work. I’ve known people who have done it to pick up some quick cash to blow on a spring break trip to Mexico. What I take issue with is the way the jobs are advertised. It’s never “we need phone solicitors”. The ads are always worded in such a way as to imply anything but a phone soliciting job. Marketing or promotions is always the buzz word. If you call the number on the ad and try to enquirer about the position, what it entails, you’re given few details other than “come to this airport hotel for the interview/seminar and all your questions will be answered.” In my experience, most prospective employers are more than happy to give you a detailed job description, lest you’re unqualified and you waste your time and their time.

The most euphematized (probably not a word) job scam is the “envelope stuffing” scam. It can take many forms, usually advertised as “work from home” type jobs. These jobs are always advertised as having outrageously high “earning potential”. $5,000 a month for part time work. You see them advertised on the sides of bus shelters. Last time I checked, people needing to fill $60K a year jobs don’t typically recruit their staff out of bus shelters, unless that bus shelter is in front of MIT. Anyway, the envelope stuffing scam basically boils down to paying money to find out the secret that you can make money running ads offering people the chance to pay to learn the secret that you can make money running ads offering people the chance to… you get the picture. Such scammers are rarely so bold as to simply offer you the bald faced secret in return for $250. Most sell you a sales kit which reveals the secret in 2,000 words instead of 12. As technology changes the “story” changes. Back in the olden days, envelope stuffing was just that, people were led to believe major corporations needed to outsource the job of putting correspondence into envelopes. (It just seems weird that for people taught in grade school about the miracle of Angela Smith’s cotton gin that business has not managed to automate any other repetitive job requiring fine motor skills since 1792.) In the early 1990s I remember one that made it seem like if you had a computer and modem you could get a job routing phone orders for things like pizza delivery chains. These days its things like processing medical claims over the Internet or start your own Internet business.

Back in high school a couple friends thought they could ride this scam to riches. They bought a classified ad in the National Enquirer, got a PO Box , and urged potential suckers to send their $25 to a Reverend Peter Dunford. They believed if people thought a religious man was involved people would feel better sending away their money. Their ad produced exactly no revenue. It did, however, result in them being targeted by other people trying to make money off of them. Most of the mail they got was people offering to sell them mailing lists.

Along the lines of selling basically nothing for something are those ads offering cruise ship and airline jobs. Hey, who doesn’t want to work on a cruise ship? But wait, have you been on a cruise ship? You have basically three kinds of employees: North Europeans driving the boat, people from the Philippines and South East Asia doing the grunt work, and Eastern Europeans juggling and dancing. Where might you fit along that spectrum? Anyway, you’re urged to buy a “kit” (it’s always a kit) and should you send off your fee, you’ll simply be supplied with a list of addresses for cruise lines and airlines where you can submit your resume.

– Karl Mamer

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September 16, 2008 - Posted by | Internet Scams

3 Comments »

  1. Actually, posting your resume on any board, from Craigslist to Monster.com can bring many similar scams. I just got one today offering me a fabulous job as a mystery shopper. Who wouldn’t want to be paid to shop? Who wouldn’t want to write pithy comments about the quality of Wal-Mart’s service? And these outfits will pay $300 for your services. $300! That’s easy money! It’s like being paid to breath! The scam is a play on the Nigerian bank scam. It runs variously: you’re sent a check to cover your fee plus some high ticket item like an iPod or a laptop. You’re instructed to ship the purchased item to some address along with your notes. Uh huh. Anyway, the check ends up bouncing, you’re left paying for a laptop computer, and the guy on the other end is quickly flipping it for a dozen two-fours of Lagos Brewery’s finest.

    I’ve seen these before and always smelled “scam” but I wondered what the details were and how they worked. But then again I never bothered to look and hoped someone somewhere would just tell me out of the blue, q.e.d.

    Comment by Skeptigator | September 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] hair care device. Our receptionist (who was coincidentally Roseanne from my previous post about job scams) was charged with the task of running the renewal envelopes through the slicing machine. Not really […]

    Pingback by What does it take to get a credit card in America? « The Long Run Blog | September 24, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] bewilderment of my non-car driving friend Roseanne (who I’ve mentioned in previous postings: here, here, here). Roseanne, having last owned a car back when gas was 40 cents a liter ($1.52 a […]

    Pingback by Minimum Wage: Much ado about nothing? « The Long Run Blog | January 28, 2009 | Reply


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