For virtual jobs, click with caution

  • Article by: H.J. Cummins
  • Star Tribune
  • September 26, 2007 - 9:21 PM

Candace Thompson is finding the job market awash with opportunity.

A Japanese lumber company wants her to be part of its team, as "remote financial manager in the USA."

A Swedish luxury-goods company is offering her a chance to work at home as a part-time "virtual assistant" -- with the possibility of advancing to full time.

The problem is, both jobs are bogus, from nonexistent companies.

They and plenty of offers like them started coming to the laid-off collections worker in New Brighton about four months ago, after she posted her résumé on

Thompson, 55, quickly decided that the offers were too good to be true.

And when she called the Better Business Bureau in St. Paul, she learned that her caution saved her from job scams -- tricks to get her bank account or Social Security numbers -- that privacy advocates and employment professionals say are the biggest source of identity theft from job boards.

To be sure, online job sites are big businesses that have helped millions of people find jobs., owned by Microsoft Corp. and three of the largest newspaper companies in the country, has more than 1.5 million job listings. Monster Worldwide, parent of, has a market capitalization of $4.3 billion, even with its stock trading near 52-week lows.

And, by and large, such boards are very secure places, said Gerry Crispin, founder of CareerXroads, a recruitment technology consulting firm based in New Jersey. Problems happen when people fail to pick up how far-fetched -- and badly written -- these bogus jobs are, and quickly give up personal information to scam artists, Crispin said.

"The reason that's still growing is just that more people can access more people using the Web," he said.

Some scams are getting more sophisticated, triangulated and harder to deconstruct, countered Pam Dixon, founder of the World Privacy Forum in California. The nonprofit public-interest research group focuses on privacy issues including consumer data, the workplace, background checks and public records, among others.

Maybe the bogus offers look goofy, but given the woeful state of writing these days, so do lots of the legitimate ones, Dixon said. And withholding important financial numbers is not an absolute protection.

"Getting a name, home address, phone number and e-mail address, that's gold," she said. "In an age of identity theft, résumés are the road maps."

The two biggest job sites, and, each host tens of millions of résumés and more than 1 million job listings. The companies declined to release a count of complaints, and Dixon said her center is just embarking on a study to quantify it.

Both said, in e-mail responses to questions about their safety practices, that they have layers of protections for résumé posters, which are regularly updated, including advice to job seekers about how to post safely. Most job sites offer anonymous postings that allow you to mask your contact information on the résumé. This allows you to decide to whom you choose to release it.

Monster made headlines last summer, after hackers took the personal information on 1.3 million job seekers. The company, in its e-mail response to questions, said that it has added more monitoring and surveillance controls. said that its protections include screening every résumé purchase and a "scrub" procedure that masks all but "telephone book type" information.

The scams

One of Thompson's bogus job offers was called "pay it forward," said Barb Grieman, vice president of the Better Business Bureau in St. Paul. Someone claiming to be from an international firm doing business in the United States said that it needs a domestic bank account to handle cash transfers to its headquarters. If you sign on, you get a big check in the mail. You deposit it in a bank, and send off another check to the company for the amount -- minus your 10 to 15 percent. The problem is that the original check is a forgery, which the bank notices a few days later, and you're stuck covering it, Grieman said.

Bogus jobs that involve merchandise work like this, Grieman said: The company buys goods with a stolen credit card and has them sent to you. Then, you are supposed to repackage the items and send them on to the company. The problem is, when the manufacturer realizes the credit card is bogus, you're the one who received the stolen goods.

It's happening so often that banks and retailers are now pressing charges against the victims for bank fraud and receiving stolen goods, Dixon said.

The site, the state's job bank, has one advantage over commercial sites, said Brian Lambie, program specialist there. It doesn't allow any employers access until confirming -- through the state's own unemployment tax database -- that it is a Minnesota-based employer, Lambie said.

Because for-profit job boards make their money through volume, their greater incentive is to add names to their databases, not screen them out, Dixon said.

"The problem is, their business model doesn't lend itself to great security practices," she said. "Some websites are better than others, but there is no such thing as a safe résumé database."

H.J. Cummins • 612-673-4671

H.J. Cummins •

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