During this back-to-school season, many college students are on the lookout for flexible, part-time employment to help cover their school expenses. If this describes you or a student in your life, watch out for scams. BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker) has gotten reports of employment cons impersonating professors and university departments.

How the Scam Works

You receive an email to your school email address encouraging you to apply for a job. The message appears to come from your school’s job placement office, student services department, or even a specific professor. The position – it may be anything from pet sitting to secret shopping — sounds perfect for a college student.  The work is easy, has flexible hours, and offers excellent pay.

When you reply to the message, things start to get strange.  The “employer” hires you without an interview. Then, they send you a check with instructions to deposit it before you’ve ever done any work. You are instructed to use this money to purchase gift cards, money orders, prepaid debit cards, or other supplies you’ll need for your new job. Part of what you purchase should be sent to your new employer. The rest of the money will be your payment.

However, the check is a fake – a detail your bank will let you know a day or two after you deposit it. Any money you sent to your “employer” is gone for good.

How to Avoid Employment Scams

  • Do your research. Before you say yes to any job, research the company that wants to hire you. Does the company have a professional website and legitimate contact information? Search for what others saying about their experience with this company.
  • Beware of red flags. Scammers often send emails with many typos and grammatical errors. They offer to hire you without an interview and even pay you before you’ve done any work. None of these are behaviors of a reputable business.
  • Watch out for these phrases and descriptions: Scam ads often contain the phrases “Teleworking OK,” “Immediate Start” and “No Experience Needed.” Wording such as “package forwarding,” “reshipping,” “money transfers,” “wiring funds” and “foreign agent agreements” should also be considered a red flag.
  • Always be wary of work-from-home, package reshipment, and secret shopper positions. A company sending you items in somebody else’s name, then asking you to reship them, ask yourself – why aren’t they just doing it themselves? Also, as a re-shipper, you could end up forwarding stolen merchandise and become an accessory to a crime.
  • Ask questions. If you want to take advantage of a work-from-home opportunity, you will need to do your research. The FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule has safeguards in place to make sure you have the information you need to tell whether a work-at-home opportunity is a risky business. Under the Rule, sellers have to give you a one-page disclosure document that offers key pieces of information about the opportunity. Use the information in the disclosure document to fact-check what the seller tells you. Get as much information as you can about the job before accepting the offer.
  • Never send money to strangers. Never send funds in the form of cash, checks, gift cards or wire transfers to someone you don’t know or haven’t met. No legitimate company will ask you to pay them to get a job.
  • Don’t Give or Confirm PII. In this situation, never give out or confirm your personally identifiable information like your Social Security Number, Bank, or Credit Card numbers by email or phone.

Source: BBB.org & FTC.gov: United States Federal Trade Commission, www.ftc.gov – not subject to copyright protection. 17 U.S.C. 403.

For More Information

To learn more about how to avoid employment scams, see BBB.org/EmploymentScam. You can also find valuable information at BBB.org/AvoidScams. If you’ve been the victim of an employment scam, report it on the BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your experience can help others to recognize suspicious behavior and stop scammers in their tracks. To find a business you can trust, check out BBB.org.

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