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Fake Job Scams Are Exploding. Here's How to Catch an HR Impostor

ID thieves scam applicants with “nearly identical” websites.

NBC Universal, Inc.

There’s a dangerous new frontier for fraud: the online job hunt. Slick identity thieves are tricking gobs of people who just want to find work. 

It happened to San Francisco resident Diego Martinez.

On the Job Hunt

“If I had signed off on everything, my life would have been ruined,” he said.

Diego Martinez sits at a laptop in the San Francisco home where he lives. NBC Bay Area Photo/ Alyssa Goard.

Martinez was vulnerable and right where scammers wanted him: hunting for a new job and under pressure to quickly grab what he could. 

Martinez said he was, “targeting small to midsize companies, mainly because of what was happening over the course of the few months before with the layoffs and the shake-ups in the tech world.”

On an online job board, Martinez said he spotted a remote tech role at a company called isolved. Martinez said he applied and later did an interview by text (on a messaging website). 

The next day, the person claiming to be an HR rep said isolved was hiring him. 

“I was, obviously, really excited,” Martinez said.

He had already shared some personal information on his application. Now the recruiter wanted more: his bank account information for direct deposit of his paycheck plus a copy of his driver’s license. They also told him he’d need to buy a phone for isolved business. 

Here’s the hitch: "It was a fake isolved website,” said Amy Mosher, who oversees HR and recruiting at the real isolved. “They made it look nearly identical to our own site."

Mosher confirmed Martinez was dealing with an HR impersonator. She said he is not alone in falling for a lookalike. 

"This happens very, very often, more often than certainly most people realize,” Mosher said. 

Job Scams on the Rise

94,129 people reported business and job opportunity scams to the Federal Trade Commission in 2022. In total that year, people reported losing $367 million to job scams. And it’s trending upward. Business and Job opportunity crooks stole 76% more money in 2022 than they did in 2021, according to the FTC. 

The FTC says scammers target people who want to work from home and that employees in the tech sector may be at risk

So, how do you protect yourself?

"I would say do your homework,” said Amber Clayton, Senior Director of Knowledge Operations at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). She and Mosher, at isolved, recommend a few extra steps before you hand over any information to an online recruiter. 

How To Protect Yourself

First, do a search for the company name. See if the website the recruiter shared matches the authentic one. If not, beware. 

Also, be leery of recruiters who tell you to buy a phone or a laptop from them before you start a new job. 

"I would be cautious about purchasing any equipment,” Clayton said. 

It’s likely just a ploy to steal money from you. 

Make sure the recruiter’s email address matches the real company website. Figure out if the recruiter is who they say they are. 

"Never give your sensitive information to anyone who can't validate their identity,” Mosher advised. 

Finally, insist on speaking to the recruiter and your future teammates, ideally by video or in person. 

In this case, Martinez only interviewed by text. Clayton saw trouble with that. 

“If they're only doing a text interview and nothing more, I would say that's definitely a red flag for a job scam,” she said.

Learning from a Close Call

“I felt embarrassed,” Martinez acknowledged.

So, what happened with him? He never shared his bank information, thanks to some savvy friends who smelled a rat. They encouraged him to ask the recruiter some questions. He did. 

Here’s what he said first: “‘I just don’t want to be scammed,’ and as soon as I said the word ‘scammed’ there was radio silence for two seconds…. And they hung up the phone.”

Martinez is glad he wised up and shut down the scam. He recommends all job seekers ask recruiters questions and demand answers. 

“I just think that everyone needs to be more aware, no matter how experienced you are looking for jobs,” he emphasized. 

We recommend that Martinez lock down his credit reports, just in case the scammers got any sensitive information from his “application” and “interview.”

isolved said it shut down the look-alike site and is buying up similar web addresses to prevent other impostors. If you spot a job scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

You can also tell the NBC Bay Area Responds team, just like Martinez did. Have a consumer complaint? Let us know, so we can help.

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