Job seekers, interested in overseas employment that promises high pay, good benefits, free traveled adventure, should be aware that there are unscrupulous operators who have devised elaborate and very convincing scams to bilk unwitting, and often desperate applicants.
Before getting swept away with promises of exotic job opportunities, make sure you have thoroughly investigated the matter and know the potential risks involved in obtaining overseas employment.
Typical Overseas Employment Scams
Unlike legitimate employment firms that have permanent addresses, many unscrupulous operators run their so-called job placement firms from out-of-state, and may provide only a post office or mail drop address. Although there are legitimate firms with post office or mail drop addresses, job applicants should be aware that this practice, when used by unscrupulous operators, makes it easier for the operators to avoid scrutiny by their clients.
In many instances, law enforcement officials investigating a suspicious firm have found a "fly-by-night" operation. The scam headquarters, with little more than a desk and a telephone, may be based in one state, but operate out of other states, making it more difficult for the officials to track the operation.
Typical overseas job scams, include:
- Firms that charge advance fees. These operations usually advertise in newspapers and magazines. The ads most frequently offer construction jobs, one of the industries hardest hit by a weak economy. Consumers who call the number, provided in the ad, are generally told that there are immediate openings available for which they are perfectly suited. But to lock in the job, they are told, they must pay a placement fee in advance.
These up-front charges can range from $50 to several thousand dollars. Firms that charge these advance fees often are so eager to get the money in their hands and avoid using the U.S. mail service that they may send a courier to pick up the deposit, or require that it be sent via overnight delivery, at the applicant's expense.
However, more often than not, these firms actually have little, or no, contacts with employers and can offer minimal assistance, despite their service charges.
Job seekers should not be duped by a firm's promise of a refund, if no job or lead materializes. Most of these firms that require payment in advance do not stay around long enough for dissatisfied customers to get their money back.
- Firms that charge a fee once they provide a job lead. A disreputable firm may fabricate job leads, or bring in a third-party to impersonate a potential employer, in order to get an applicant's fee.
- "900" number operators. A "900" number connected with employment opportunities may charge a high flat fee, or per-minute rate. In some instances,"900" number operators may fail to disclose the cost of each call or, if printed, display it in fine print. As a result, callers may not be aware of how much they are spending. Some unscrupulous operators may even increase their fees by creating delays while the caller is on the line.
In one case, for example, a consumer answered an advertisement instructing job applicants to call an"800" toll-free number for more information. The message on that number directed the caller to dial a"900" number to find out about job openings. The"900" number, however, merely directed the caller to send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to have a job application mailed out. The consumer complied; received only a one-page generic job application, and was billed $39 for the phone call.
The FTC now requires, among other things, that operators of "900" numbers provide information on the cost of the call up front. When calling a "900" number, be sure you understand the charges before continuing with the call.
- Job listing services. There are many firms that make no promises to place you in a job. They merely sell a list of job opportunities, providing little assurance about the accuracy of the information.
For instance, the information may be sold via a newsletter that features photocopied help-wanted ads from newspapers around the world. Many of the ads may be months old, soliciting jobs that already have been filled. In addition, the ads may not have been verified to ensure that the jobs actually exist.
Some ads may be from countries with strict quotas that discourage the hiring of foreign citizens. Other publications may promise access to information on job opportunities, but provide nothing more than a listing of employers in various regions.
How to Avoid Employment Scams
Many job seekers have lost money to disreputable advance-fee placement firms. If you decide to use an overseas job placement firm, the best way to avoid being scammed is to learn as much as you can about the operation:
- Ask for references. Request both names of employers and employees the company has actually found jobs for. Scam artists will typically defend their refusal to provide the information, claiming it is a" trade secret." Or, they frequently claim that if they told you where the openings are, you would circumvent their services. These schemers may also cite privacy concerns as the reason for refusing to provide the names of people they have placed.
- Check out reliability. Contact the local Better Business Bureau, as well as the state's consumer protection agency, to find out if any complaints have been filed against the firm.
- Avoid firms that operate solely via telephone or mail. Any reputable placement firm will almost certainly need to meet you before it can market you effectively to an employer. Be suspicious of any operation that claims it can place you with an employer, without meeting and interviewing you.
Be particularly wary of firms that operate outside of the state where they advertise. In many instances, unscrupulous operators purposefully seek to distance themselves from their clients in order to avoid closer scrutiny. If they are ultimately challenged, the distance complicates an investigation by law enforcement authorities.
- Find out how long the employment company has been in business. Also, ask what is the firm's present financial condition. Compare the company, and the services offered, with other similar firms before you pay a fee.
- Get all promises in writing. Before you pay for anything, request and obtain a written contract that describes the services the firm intends to provide. Determine whether the firm is simply going to forward your resume to a company that publicly advertised a listing, or if it will actually seek to place you with an employer. Make sure that any promise you receive in writing is the same as what was stated in the initial sales pitch.
- Research any information the firm provides to you before you make a commitment. Make certain the job actually exists before you pay a firm to "hold" a slot for you, and definitely before you make plans to relocate.
Some unfortunate job seekers have been instructed to meet at a particular place to fly to their new jobs, only to find no airline tickets, no job, and often, no more company.
- Check with the embassy of the country where the job is supposed to be located. Make certain that, as a citizen of another country, you are eligible to work there.
- Ask if you will be eligible for a refund, if the leads the firm provides you are unacceptable, or do not work out for any other reason. If the firm has a refund policy, ask for specific written details that spell out whether you can expect a full refund, and if there are any time limits for receiving your refund.
Even if you are promised a refund in a written agreement, read the fine print. A disreputable firm may include "red tape" that protects its interests, not yours.
For example, one common scam is to include a requirement that job seekers check in regularly with the firm, at their own expense. Clients who unwittingly fail to make the required contact may forfeit their opportunity for a refund. However, they are not told this until they ask for the refund.
If You Are Scammed
If you have been victimized by an employment scam, you can help prevent these types of incidents from recurring by reporting it to the proper law enforcement authorities. They may be able to put the unscrupulous operator out of business and, in extreme cases, fine them heavily or even put them in jail.
Tips To Remember
- Be very skeptical of overseas employment opportunities that sound "too good to be true."
- Never send cash in the mail, and be extremely cautious with firms that require a money order. This could indicate that the firm is attempting to avoid a traceable record of its transactions.
- Do not be fooled by official-sounding names. Many scam artists operate under names that sound like those of long-standing, reputable firms.
- Avoid working with firms that require payment in advance.
- Do not give your credit card or bank account number to telephone solicitors.
- Read the contract very carefully. Have an attorney look over any documents you are asked to sign.
- Beware of an agency that is unwilling to give you a written contract.
- Do not hesitate to ask questions. You have a right to know what services to expect and the costs involved.
- Do not make a hasty decision. Instead, take time to weigh all the pros and cons of the situation. Be wary of demands that "you must act now."
- Keep a copy of all agreements you sign, as well as copies of checks you forward to the company.
Overseas Job Scams © 1995
Copyright 1995 by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.