In December of 2008, the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent—The highest rate it’s been at in a number of years. The economy is down, people are losing jobs, and identity thieves are praying on those who are in the bleakest spots. Yep, identity thieves. The only thing that an increased unemployment rate and decreased economy mean to them is additional targets for their scams.
Employment and unemployment identity theft scams aren’t new. They’ve been around as long as identity theft has, but they’re becoming more common as the economy flounders. These scams target two groups of people: those looking for jobs, and those who are employed.
Those who are employed can fall victim to identity theft when a person from their employer takes advantage of access to personal information. It happens more often than most people realize. Your employer fires someone who has access to personnel records, and that person steals the information in those records in retaliation. The information can then be sold to criminals who resell it to illegal aliens, or it can be used to apply for (and receive) government benefits.
For those who are unemployed, the dangers are equal if not greater. Scammers don’t care if you’re already down on your luck. What they’re concerned about is gaining access to your personal information. So it’s not at all uncommon to for scammers to place ads for jobs that don’t exist and then try to coerce job searchers to provide personal and even financial information under the guises of getting what sounds like a great job.
It’s tough to protect yourself from data breaches, but you can protect yourself from employment scams if you’re actively seeking a job. Be cautious, as always. And understand how to protect your identity. Here are some tips to help you avoid employment and unemployment scams that can lead to identity theft:
- Guard your social security number. One employment scam that’s often seen is when job seekers are asked to provide their social security number before an interview so the company can do a preliminary background check. If this happens to you, politely refuse. Not only is this something that should immediately cause concern for you, but it’s illegal. Legitimate employers cannot do a background check until after they have interviewed you.
- Never provide financial information. If a potential employer requests credit or bank account information for the purposes of doing a credit check, beware. A credit check can be completed with your name, address, and a social security number. It’s not necessary for you to provide any account information at all.
- Be attentive when applying for jobs online. Much communication passes between employers and potential employees online these days. Unfortunately, identity thieves know that and they’re using this opportunity to steal identities. Always pay attention to the email addresses of the people you’re communicating with. Usually, official communications come from company email addresses, not personal email addresses. A personal email address could be an indicator that you’re being scammed.
- Use caution when filling in online forms. Online forms are the perfect place for an identity thief to steal your personal information. These forms usually request private information such as driver’s license number and Social Security Numbers. If you’re filling out an application online (or even if you’re just sending a resume online) be certain you’re on a legitimate web site and that the site is secure. If you’re not sure of that, find out if the information can be sent directly to the company.
- Beware of companies that request your direct deposit information before you’re formally hired. A scam that’s common in the work-from-home arena is companies that promise simple jobs with big pay. All you have to do to get paid is provide direct deposit information. This information, however, gives them access to your bank account. Not a good idea. If you’re not completely comfortable with a company, and if the company doesn’t have a good reputation then don’t give out that account access. If you do, you could find your bank account empty.
It’s bad enough when you lose your job. But to add identity theft on top of it makes it much worse. Use caution when you’re searching for a job. And always remember that if something seems to good to be true or too easy, then it probably is.