Many college students are on the lookout for flexible, part-time employment to help cover their school expenses. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and many other people out of work, finding a job may be even more difficult and may create more pressure to find work quickly. If this situation describes you or a student in your life, watch out for scams. BBB Scam Tracker has gotten reports of employment scams impersonating professors and university departments.
In June 2020, a college student in New Jersey received an email that appeared to be from her university’s email domain: “This email was saying that I could make $250 a week plus $50 for gas if I put an advertisement on my car and drove my normal route.” She later discovered that this was a vehicle wrap scam, a common job scam that has been around for a few years.
Another college student in Oregon reported that “I’m currently a college student and got contacted to interview for a Finance/Accounting internship… Due to this pandemic, it has been hard trying to find a job for this summer, so I read the employment offer and everything looked real. After I signed the contract (where they have my name, address, date of birth, phone number, email), it started getting suspicious. First, the company sent me a $2,000 check to mobile deposit, so I can Zelle transfer the payment ($860 and $1000)… I did it, not knowing that the funds would eventually be fraudulent and I was subject to employment scam.” She was later contacted by her bank that the check didn’t clear and she was likely the victim of a job scam.
How the Scam Works
You receive an email to your school email address encouraging you to apply for a job. The message appears to come from your school’s job placement office, student services department, or even a specific professor. The position – it may be anything from pet sitting to secret shopping — sounds perfect for a college student. The work is easy, has flexible hours, and offers excellent pay.
When you reply to the message, things start to get strange. The “employer” hires you without an interview. Then, they send you a check with instructions to deposit it before you’ve even done any work. You are instructed to use this money to purchase gift cards, money orders, prepaid debit cards, or other supplies you’ll need for your new job. Part of what you purchase should be sent to your new employer. The rest of the money will be your payment.
However, the check is a fake – a detail your bank will let you know a day or two after you deposit it. Any money you sent to your “employer” is gone for good. In addition, the scammers now have your personal information.
How to Avoid Employment Scams
- Do your research. Before you say yes to any job, research the company that wants to hire you. Does the company have a professional website and legitimate contact information? Search for what others saying about their experience with this company.
- Beware of red flags. Scammers often send emails with many typos and grammatical errors. They offer to hire you without an interview and even pay you before you’ve done any work. None of these are behaviors of a reputable business.
- Never send money to strangers. Never send funds in the form of cash, checks, gift cards or wire transfers to someone you don’t know or haven’t met. No legitimate company will ask you to pay them to get a job.
For More Information
If you’ve been the victim of an employment scam, report it on BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your experience can help others to recognize suspicious behavior and stop scammers in their tracks.