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Job Search Scams: Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

By Meridith Levinson, CIO
November 13, 2009 02:22 PM ET

CIO - As U.S. unemployment has increased, so too has the number of job search scams identity theft rings are perpetrating against desperate job seekers.

"We have seen a large proliferation of these scams over the past six to nine months because of the employment situation," says Lyn Chitow Oaks, chief marketing officer of TrustedID, which provides identity-theft protection services to individuals, families and businesses.

She notes that identity thieves are targeting job seekers because they're vulnerable and willing to share personal information as part of the job search process.

[ CIO.com's IT Job Search Bible ]

Two types of job search scams are most common, according to Oaks. One is a phishing scam, where identity theft perpetrators e-mail would-be victims to tell them about potential jobs and opportunities to make extra money. The e-mails direct recipients to websites that identity thieves have created specifically for gathering personal information, just as if it were a job application, says Oaks.

These fake applications request all the information job seekers would expect to provide, such as their name, address and phone number, as well as for information they may not expect to offer so early in the process, she adds, such as their Social Security number, permission to conduct a background check and bank account information.

"They tell you they need your bank account information so they can make sure your check can be direct deposited," she says, adding that they'll sometimes go so far as to say that they'll place money in your account and then remove it just to make sure it works.

[ Five Ways to Fight ID Theft ]

"By allowing them to place money in your account and remove it, you let your bank know that this 'employer' can take money out of your account, and that's how they wipe out people's bank accounts," says Oaks. Never mind the fact that you'll never receive any information about any job from one of these e-mails.

Oaks adds that the identity thieves buy e-mail addresses from legitimate businesses who don't realize they're selling people's information to the Internet black market.

In the second scam, identity thieves pose as employers on legitimate job search sites. They post a generic job that would appeal to a large number of people, Oaks says, and in the course of talking to applicants, they ask for personal information.

"There are identity thieves all over valid and existing job search websites who are posing as employers," she says.

How to Protect Yourself

Oaks' advice to job seekers is simple: Be wary of the information you're sharing and at which point in the hiring process you're sharing it. Here are six specific tips:

1. Never share your bank account information up front. Legitimate employers don't need to access your bank account until you become an employee, says Oaks. If they ask for it as part of the application process, it's a warning sign that this "employer" may be up to no good.

2. Never share your Social Security number up front. Legitimate employers will ask for your Social Security number only when they're serious about making a job offer (e.g., after they've interviewed you) and need to conduct a background check, or after you've accepted their offer and they need your Social Security number for tax purposes, says Oaks. Identity thieves will find sneaky ways to ask for your Social Security number up front. Don't fall for their ploys.

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