In today's hyper-connected world, it's not unusual for job-hunters to post their resume on multiple online venues, including job boards, like monster.com, as well as professional networking sites, like Linked In.
These days, finding a job may require you to cast a wide net and do everything you can to help prospective employers find you. But be prepared for some unwelcome attention when your online profile makes it easy for identity thieves and other scammers to approach you with often elaborate efforts to steal your money or good name.
I was reminded of these risks the other day as I scanned a full in-box of email and found a note from an unfamiliar name, "Keith Miller," at an outfit called UPC Limited.
"Keith" urged me to review his job description and fill out an interview form by clicking on the provided link. Oops! I nearly did so, but caught myself in time. Instead of clicking on that link, which could contain a virus or spyware, I Googled the company name. I came up with one dead link and a London clothing retailer using the UPC Limited name, but with the .com extension, not the .biz extension given in Keith's email. So I typed the URL provided in the email in my browser window and it brought me to a site whose business seemed to be helping sellers and buyers complete eBay transactions.
Reading the website copy provided a great deal of amusement, but more importantly, it underscored the need to be ever vigilant in protecting one's personal information from scammers. Follow these six tips to expose a bogus job lead or offer:
1. If the email or website language reads like a third-grader's best efforts, misspellings and bad grammar included, think twice before responding. Bad grammar and typos could be a sign the email was written by someone living outside the United States and for whom English is a second language. Some of the most prevalent Internet scams come from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Nigeria, for example.
The tagline on the UPC Limited website read, "Solutions that you need, our best propositions for you, we work for your profit." In the About Us section, a photo of a smiling Kimberly Carroll is identified as "Sells manager."
If the email lacks specific details (for example, it states they found your resume on a job board without stating which one), it's more likely to be a generic form used over and over again. If you've truly caught the attention of a legitimate employer with a genuine interest in you, they will take the time to write you a personal note, not a form letter.
2. Consider whether the job offer is related to your most recent occupation, work background or expertise. In my own case, my posted resume clearly spelled out a long track record of work as a marketing writer. Why, then, would an employer encourage me to pursue a job as a "Financial Agent" whose primary responsibility was to "manage and process orders from customers?"
Payment-transfer schemes like this one abound in cyberspace. Such jobs involve accepting deposits into one's personal account and transferring payments as directed to other accounts, which are often overseas. The job offer is really a ruse used to fool job seekers into revealing their bank account numbers.
If the job has nothing to do with the kind of work you've done in the past, it's likely a scam. The so-called employer is less interested in finding qualified candidates and more interested in snaring large numbers of unemployed individuals, a few of whom may fall for the trick. Common sense also tells you that if you receive an emailed job offer from someone you didn't contact or interview with, something's amiss.
3. Beware of email requests for sensitive personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers (SSN) or your driver's license. Legitimate employers won't ask for your SSN before an in-person interview and no job offer should depend on your willingness to accept direct deposit of your paychecks (unless you're applying for a federal government job).
In the UPC Limited case, the Financial Agent job description on their website included, "A bank account to process payments." A statement like that should be an immediate red flag.
Other suspect requests for information include questions about your marital status, height, weight or age. American employers don't ask those questions because they know they are barred from doing so by U.S. labor laws.
4. If at any point you're asked to pay a fee for a work permit or for any other reason, move on.
5. Use of free email accounts suggests a low-budget or fly-by-night operation. Question the legitimacy of any employer whose email includes MSN, AOL or Yahoo as part of the address. Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and many others all provide free email accounts which can be created and used by anyone. Legitimate businesses won't use these services.
6. Legitimate businesses are transparent. Reputable online businesses disclose their physical address, not just an email or PO box number. In the case of UPC Limited, a physical street address in San Antonio, Texas, was provided, but no such business was listed in the San Antonio yellow pages, nor does any street called "Voigt Drive" exist in that city.
Jobs are in short supply these days, but don't drop your guard to pursue a bogus offer.
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I'm on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. What a blast it's been "rediscovering" old friends or colleagues from long ago. Today I reconnected with someone who worked as a news reporter at the same paper I did, about 25 years ago. Since then, he published a book (fiction) and has a contract to publish two more. He's a "success." I would be tempted to tell you his name, because he is the son of a very famous musician, but I will respect his privacy.
I also had a nice online chat with my very first editor at the very first newspaper I worked at on Cape Cod. She still works and lives on the Cape, but at a different paper. I had the opportunity to tell her how her solid editing skills taught me a lot as a young writer, and really set the stage for my future career. How often do you get to thank someone for changing your life in some way? I was grateful for the opportunity.