Recruitment scams target applicants in hot job market

At a time when employers are frantically searching for candidates to fill open jobs, scammers are taking advantage of those looking for job opportunities on seemingly trustworthy employment websites.

Mineral, a human resources firm based in Portland, said someone targeted its job applicants earlier this year by pretending to be recruiters for the company on LinkedIn, the online network for building professional relationships.

“I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have fighting LinkedIn scammers on my bingo card this year,” Suzame Tong, vice president of corporate marketing at Mineral, said in a video post to other professionals working in her field.

The scammers created three fake profiles to pose as employees for Mineral, including as a hiring manager for a legitimate open position and a human resources manager.

The scammers hosting these fake accounts then made connections through the social network with real Mineral employees. By connecting with legitimate employees, Tong said in an interview, the scammers built a veneer of credibility.

Luckily, Tong said, a colleague sent her one of the profiles, which she was immediately able to identify as a fake because it claimed to be one of the company’s graphic designers.

“Those people report to me,” Tong said. “That was when I thought, wow, what is someone trying to do by pretending to be a person in the role I’m hiring for?”

While LinkedIn has a system in place to automatically delete fake profiles — nearly 16 million were deleted in the second half of 2021 alone, the company says — scammers often escape detection.

The recruitment scam counts on convincing eager job applicants to hand over personal information or even send money.

After going through the motions of a fake interview, often via text message, the scammers targeting Mineral applicants told applicants to buy equipment — through fake vendors associated with the scammers — and mailed fraudulent reimbursement checks that would eventually bounce.

Mineral said none of its applicants had their money stolen. After the fake profiles were reported and removed and it was clear the company was aware of the scam, the scammers gave up.

Just over $38 million was successfully stolen from Oregonians by scammers in the first six months of 2022, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Of these scams, imposter scams are by far the most frequent.

“(It’s a) new and creative twist on the scam of the day — that’s really what they do, they take something in the news and exploit it,” said Ellen Klem, director of consumer outreach and education for the Oregon Department of Justice. “That’s what they’re good at.”

While pointing to state resources, like where to file a report of scam and fraud, scams can be best avoided when people know what red flags to look for, Kelm said.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum released a statement last Tuesday warning Oregonians of banking scams, after she and her husband almost fell victim to one.

Rosenblum was sent a text that asked her to verify a $750 purchase from Walmart, according to the Oregon Capitol Chronicle. When she responded to the text denying the purchase, she immediately received a call from the number and after ten minutes on the line, the person hung up, reportedly because Rosenblum had become suspicious.

“Do not — under any circumstances — provide personal information to anyone who calls claiming to be from a bank or other financial institution and tells you your account has been compromised,” Rosenblum said. “That’s because they’re — more than likely — trying to scam you.”

Scams can be best avoided when people know what red flags to look for, Kelm said.

In the era of money transfer apps like Zelle and Venmo, it can be even easier for scammers to ask for money and even harder for victims to ever see that money returned to them. While bank tellers can warn customers before they wire large sums of money, there are no mediators on these apps.

“Those are really difficult for me because there’s nobody who has knowledge about frauds and scams that’s facilitating the transaction and is able to say ‘Let’s pause for a minute, I think you’re being scammed.’ There’s nobody there to do that when the victim is sitting on their couch making the transaction,” Kelm said.

Having to send large sums of money via wire transfer, being asked personal information early in the conversation and things seeming “too good to be true” are telltale signs of a scam, according to the Department of Justice.

This article was authored by Adriana Gutierrez and originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive.