Pandemic is ‘the perfect storm’ for scammers

Published 3:16 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2020

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A recent study released by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that nearly three-quarters of those who lose money to employment scams are already in financial crisis, and do not have enough income to cover their monthly bills. In addition, more than half of the people targeted by employment scams (53 percent) reported being unemployed at the time of the encounter.

Employment scams were the No. 1 riskiest scam in 2018 and 2019, according to the BBB Risk Index, which measures exposure, susceptibility and monetary loss based on reports to the BBB Scam Tracker. These types of scams typically occur when job applicants are led to believe they are applying or have just been hired for a promising new job, but they have actually fallen for a scam. Many of the scammers conduct in-depth interviews through Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts and other online technologies, provide employment forms and ask their targets to perform job duties before the scam is discovered, according to the study.

Each year, an estimated 14 million people are exposed to employment scams with more than $2 billion lost, according to the study.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has left hundreds of thousand of people unemployed and searching online platforms for new jobs, BBB launched a new research project to better understand how employment scams are being perpetrated, who is being targeted, the overall impact of these scams and how to help people avoid losing money to them. The Employment Scams Report examined findings from an April 2020 survey of 10,670 U.S. and Canadian consumers reporting employment scams to BBB Scam Tracker.

“The variety of scams that have been trotted out, it’s almost endless,” said Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina. With so much uncertainty the last few months for many people, “It’s been like the perfect storm for scammers to take advantage of folks,” he said.

Bartholomy said scams during the pandemic have included targeting businesses applying for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, which was established by the federal CARES Act.

Bartholomy said since the pandemic began in March, more than 1,200 people in North and South Carolina have contacted the BBB reporting they had received some type of scam, though only 67 people had actually fallen victim to a scam.

“This research was timely as we found that more than half of scam targets were seeking work-from-home opportunities,” said Melisa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, which produced the report. “As more people search for flexible employment opportunities following the coronavirus outbreak, they need to know that scammers are out there in force and targeting those most in need.”

Impersonation is another popular tactic used by scammers who utilize online platforms (including Indeed, LinkedIn and Facebook) to perpetrate scams. Most people who reported employment scams, according to the study, said they continued to engage with the scammer because it sounded legitimate.

The report found students and individuals ages 25-34 were more susceptible and likely to be victimized, while those ages 45-54 and 65+ reported higher median dollar losses. In addition, military spouses and veterans were more likely to fall victim than non-military consumers, and reported losing significantly more money to employment scams.

Bartholomy said the biggest tell for many employment scams is when people are being asked to pay for training materials or software themselves.

“If that’s what they’re asking you to do, that’s a big red flag saying ‘don’t do that,’ because the money is going in the wrong direction,” he said.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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