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Scammers targeting people looking for jobs

Updated: Mar. 2, 2022 at 4:39 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Criminals are taking advantage of changes in the job market created by COVID-19 and targeting people who are applying for jobs.

News 4 Investigates discovered scammers are upping the ante by posing as real people, working at real companies, but offering jobs that are anything but real.

A St. Louis man learned that the hard way. He asked News 4 Investigates not to use his name concerned about the repercussions.

“I wouldn’t have known this was a problem. It’s very scary,” he said. “What’s the point of taking advantage of someone who’s trying to better their life?”

The man is now questioning who was behind a job post, that has since been deleted, which he saw on LinkedIn.

“I don’t know where they are, who they are,” he added.

He says the post was for an administrative assistant job with a company called Italgas. Italgas is a publicly-traded company, based in Italy that distributes natural gas.

“They said they were building offices in St. Louis and Kansas City,” he said. “They were offering $72,000 a year.”

He says someone pretending to be human resources set up a Skype interview.

“I thought that was pretty normal because of COVID,” he added.

When it was time for the interview he says he was expecting a video call, but whoever was behind the other screen never turned their camera on.

Instead, he says they typed a message saying, “the online interview will be conducted via IM only.”

He says he went ahead with the interview and kept a log of the conversation, something he gave News 4 Investigates. The conversation log shows the interview involved typical questions including, “what are your long-term career goals?”

“I got a text in like 4 minutes saying that I got the job starting tomorrow the next day,” the man said.

He says he was sent tax forms and an offer letter. The letter was allegedly signed by the Italgas CEO. He claims he was also told that he would need to go to one of the company’s approved vendors to buy a list of supplies including, software programs, laptop, printer, and scanner. He says he was promised the company would mail a check to his house.

“I immediately thought that something was wrong with that so I contacted you guys,” the man told News 4.

At the FBI investigators say criminals are using the pandemic and remote work to target people.

“It has the appearance of legitimacy,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Spencer Evans of the FBI St. Louis Division. “Cyber criminal actors got smart and realized this a vulnerability that can be exploited.”

The FBI says in 2019 before the pandemic 14,493 were victims of employment scams, when COVID hit in 2020 that number swelled to 16,879.

Evans says catching the people behind these scams can be challenging.

“It could be a very sophisticated transnational criminal enterprise at the other end,” Evans said. “It can be a real challenge to identify where they are.”

Evans says it doesn’t help that these scams are under-reported, whether it’s because people are embarrassed to come forward or don’t want to involve investigators.

Professor Peter Boumgarden studies employment trends at Washington University in St. Louis. He says working from home and remote options aren’t likely leaving.

“I do think that it’s something that is here to stay,” said Boumgarden, who’s the Koch Professor of Practice for Family Enterprise. “Some people are asking hard questions around how they want to work and where they want to work.”

Boumgarden says since COVID hit more people are on the job market, and he pointed to recent studies that found some people were willing to take a slight pay cut if it meant they could work from home a couple days a week.

“If people are wanting something new that their employer is not giving them, and they’re keeping their eyes open for opportunities, you might see this match between the scammer and scammed all too often,” Boumgarden added.

The FBI says on average people hit in employment scams lose around $3,000.

According to the FBI, people looking for a job should:

  • Conduct a web search of the hiring company using the company name only. Results that return multiple websites for the same company (abccompany.com and abccompanyllc.com) may indicate fraudulent job listings.
  • Verify job postings found on networking and third-party websites on the hiring company’s own website or through legitimate HR representatives at the hiring company.
  • Legitimate companies will ask for PII and bank account information for payroll purposes AFTER hiring employees. This information is safer to give in-person. If in-person contact is not possible, a video call with the potential employer can confirm identity, especially if the company has a directory against which to compare employee photos.
  • Never send money to someone you meet online, especially by wire transfer.
  • Never provide credit card information to an employer.
  • Never provide bank account information to employers without verifying their identity.
  • Never share your Social Security number or other PII that can be used to access your accounts with someone who does not need to know this information.
  • Before entering PII online, make sure the website is secure by looking at the address bar. The address should begin with “https://”, not “http://”.

More information from the FBI on employment scams can be found here.

Employment scams can be reported to the FBI online, more information can be found here.