Monday, November 1, 2010

Job scams multiply as economy festers

LOS ANGELES — A weak labor market is hurting the U.S. recovery, but it has been lucrative for scammers, who are bilking unemployed workers out of millions of dollars in fees to steer clients to jobs that never materialize, watchdogs say.
Many of these schemes have been around for years, promising people who send money a chance to work as bartenders, home inspectors or "secret shoppers" for retail chains. But with nearly 15 million Americans out of work, consumer groups and law enforcement agencies say these scams are multiplying as con artists capitalize on the misery of the unemployed.

"It's an epidemic. It's opportunity time for fraud artists, and people are so desperate to earn a living that they easily fall for the scam," said Ellyn Lindsay, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles who has prosecuted several of these swindlers.

Although federal authorities don't keep statistics on employment-related fraud incidents, the Better Business Bureau says such cases are on the rise.

The bureau received nearly 3,000 complaints about work-from-home scams in the first eight months of this year. That's more than double the 1,200 it received in the same period in 2007, just before the recession began, said Alison Southwick, spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Victims have little

Ida Jimenez, an unemployed mother of four from Fontana, Calif., said her attempt to work from home cost her $200 she couldn't afford to lose. It all started with an unsolicited e-mail: "If you have 60 minutes a day, here's a certified, proven and guaranteed way to make $225 and more every day, the easy way — from home!"

There was just one catch: She had to pay $197 for a guide before she could start processing manufacturer rebates from home. It seemed like such a good opportunity. After all, somebody has to do the paperwork on those things, she figured. Jimenez cut back on grocery purchases until she had saved enough money to get started.

The guide never arrived. Jimenez spent weeks pursuing a refund, then gave up.

(2 of 2)

Real Estate Outlook: Small GainsJobless benefits extension is mired in political bickering