A Warning for Job Seekers

Being unemployed is hard enough. Hours of job hunting and stressing over how to pay the bills can provide endless anxiety. Now there’s yet one more concern for desperate job seekers – the possibility of falling victim to the increasingly common cyberscam known as “mule operations.”

There are a host of online employment scams on the web right now that prey on the unemployed, but one scam in particular is rapidly gaining popularity among cybercrooks. As the Wall Street Journal reports, criminals are luring desperate job seekers into participating in “mule operations.”

A typical mule operation goes as follows. Scammers post fake listings on job boards, such as CareerBuilder, and then “hire” job seekers who send in their resumes. The applicant, unaware of the scam, is asked to complete a trial project that involves shipping goods for the fake company. The cybercriminals will then wire stolen funds to the new employee’s bank account so that he/she can ship requested goods to a specified address (typically in Eastern Europe). The cybercrooks sell the stolen goods, leaving the “mule” without a real job or any type of compensation for their participation.

While this type of employment scam is difficult to track, federal authorities have been recording these incidents and estimate the number to be in the hundreds. Another source has more accurate figures. According to the scam tracking site bobbear.co.uk, the number has risen in recent years – from 34 in December 2007 to almost 600 in December 2009. The sharp rise occurred as a direct response to the global economic downtown. Cybercrooks quickly discovered that they could easily prey on unemployed people who are desperate after months of job searching without success.

Adding to the frustration for job hunters, cybercriminals running this scam are typically very good at making the operation seem legitimate. The scheme featured in the Wall Street Journal article, for example, operated under the fake name Advanta Transportation Network LLC, and their website used language similar to an actual shipping company in Japan.

If you’re a job seeker, be sure to follow these tips to ensure you don’t become a victim. And if you are duped, be sure to report the cybercrime right awa.

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