January 27th, 2008 10:30 EST
Easy Job. Easy Money. Easy Fool.
At first it looks like your dreams have come true. You receive a wonderful employment offer, shortly after you post your resume on an online job search website. The e-mail says that if you only spend a couple of minutes and fill a special form, you may immediately start climbing the career ladder. But days pass and the contract does not arrive. The employer, who was so eager to get you on board only yesterday, now seems to have forgotten you. What if the employer has never existed and the perfect job opportunity has just been a clever way to steal your personal data?
A job offer received by one of the SOP writers read: “I've been searching for a superior job candidate and came across the resume you posted on the Internet. The administrative experience on your resume is exactly what my company needs. I think you'd be a great match for this vacancy, so I included some basic information about it below.” Of course it is easy to predict what the basic information would be. Apart from $20 per hour, the worker would receive a compensation package – health insurance, quarterly bonuses, rapid career advancement opportunities, and last but not least, paid holidays. The e-mail was signed by a senior recruiter of USA Careers.
According to its website, USA Careers is part of the broader “Career Network.” Although it advertises itself as a great “resource for employers, recruiters, and placement agencies to find and contact qualified applicants,” it is scarcely known on the U.S. job market. In fact, quick research on the Internet reveals that USA Careers and its clones pollute the web. Job Match Now has a different design than USA Careers, but both websites contain the same information. The two pages also provided the same mail address: a dubious suite in St. Louis, Missouri. No telephone number was disclosed.
USA Careers, Job Match Now, and other similar websites work in the same way. All candidates must fill out a special “job seeker registration” form to be considered for the offered position. Little do they know that by doing so they provide the website with crucial information which, otherwise, would cost hundreds of dollars. If a candidate has any doubts as to the honesty of the website, it lists companies which have used its service. Among others, there are such hot names as the United Nations, Pepsi Cola, IBM, Barnes & Noble, and Verizon. I have been unable to confirm this impressive rooster as neither USA Careers nor Job Match Now's e-mail addresses worked. Also the mentioned employers seem not to be aware of the Career Network service. On its own website, the United Nations warns potential job seekers that it “does not charge a fee at any stage of the recruitment process. The United Nations does not concern itself with information on bank accounts.” What is more, all the positions offered by the organization can only be found on its website, without the help of a third party.
In the 21st century, information has become what gold and money were once worth. Companies are ready to pay big cash for names, dates, or numbers of potential customers from around the world. The reason is simple: today your bank account is your biography. Knowing when you were born, where you live, your social status, and what you buy at your local stores, firms can adjust their offer to your characteristics. This is how tons of junk mail litter your mailbox every day, regardless of whether or not you ordered it. Not to mention if someone undesirable comes into possession of your personal data, such as your credit card number, he can easily steal your money and the odds that he will be caught are slim to none.
But if you think that your personal data is the only thing your naivety can cost you, you are wrong. Last year European Internet users received e-mails offering them a work-at-home job worth over 4,000 euros (around $6,000) a month. All they had to do was to help a Polish store with some money transactions abroad. The store wanted to expand into western Europe and needed people in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and other countries to oversee its business activities there. It is unknown how many people responded positively to the offer, but only a small percentage would be enough for a big-scale scam to take off.
Soon it turned out that the Polish store was, in fact, an international criminal group which used servers in Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Spain, and the United States. The group recruited anyone who would fall for easy money and turned them into “mules,” or proxies who unconsciously laundered dirty money. It didn't take long for the police to uncover the scam and charge the mules with illegal money transactions; the real perpetrators disappeared untroubled.
Mikel Perez of PandaLab – a company that creates some of the most powerful anti-virus software and who first informed authorities of the scam – told Onrec.com that “attempted online fraud is a recurrent threat nowadays.” Cheaters come up with more and more clever ways to attract people to their projects, offering them big money and quick promotion opportunities. “Although the majority of users do not pay attention to this type of email, if one in every one hundred does, they have already achieved their goal,” admitted Perez.
The history of online scams is almost as lengthy as that of the World Wide Web itself. Those who are old enough surely remember the notorious Nigerian letters of the 1990s, which promised millions of dollars in return for a check for as little as $100. The letters' authors ranged from obscure former managers of an African bank to a disposed minister of finance to even an absolute monarch searching for a way to move his funds abroad. That is why they needed an American or European partner to help them start a bank account to which the millions would be sent immediately. The idea was simple: since very few people had any knowledge about Africa, they were easy targets for scammers. Although it may seem stupid now, a decade ago thousands of inexperienced Internet users believed that they had really been chosen by an African nabob to share his wealth. As time passed, fewer and fewer people fell for the seemingly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by a generous African, but the letters have not disappeared from the Internet. The Nigerian Fraud Email Gallery website lists 542 different e-mails that have appeared in people's e-mail boxes throughout the years. Among them is one from Russia, promising a large percentage of over $100,000,000 that the multi-billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky located in American before being arrested in 2005. The only true fact from this e-mail is that Khodorkovsky was actually arrested when he started supporting the Russian opposition, but it exemplifies how quickly and easily Internet fraudsters adjust to new situations.
If we are to believe financiers, the United States and much of the world are heading for an economic recession, what means fewer jobs on the market. Desperate people will catch any opportunity to start earning money, regardless how suspicious and impossible a job proposal may sound. How can we protect ourselves then? Experts advise to use only acclaimed websites, such as Yahoo or Google, both of which provide job search services. When we receive an employment proposition, it is worth checking whether the offered position really exists; most companies do list their vacancies on their own websites. Finally, under no conditions should we disclose our bank account numbers and other vital information. It is better to miss one opportunity then discover that our savings have disappeared. But first and foremost, we must remember our strongest defense – our common sense.
When we meet a stranger on the street who promises us large sums of money in return for a small favor, we usually rush to the other side of the road. There is no need to make any exceptions for the Internet.
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