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Beware of employment scams

In the troubled economy, thousands of Minnesotans are without work. The State faces some of the worst unemployment figures in decades. Other people report that their hours have been cut back, or they have received cuts in pay or benefits that have made it even harder to pay for the rising costs of health care, housing, and other living expenses.

People who are out of work or looking for supplemental income are sometimes targeted by unscrupulous employment agencies or other job scams. Some job hunters report that these scams have cost them thousands of dollars that they could not afford.

The Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson provides the following tips to avoid employment scams:

Be suspicious of any agency that charges front fees. Beware of companies that charge up front fees, and guarantee or promise to get you a job. Although some agencies make "money-back guarantees," it may be difficult to obtain a refund if the company goes out of business or disappears.

Get it in writing. Thoroughly review the contract and do not take the company's word for it. Know what you are agreeing to and exactly what services will be provided. Make sure that any verbal promises match up with what's on paper.

Research the company. Employment agencies are required to register with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Check with the Department to make sure an entity is registered before agreeing to do business with it. Consumers may also check with the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau to obtain more information.

Be wary of companies that respond to your online resume, but provide little information. Agencies may claim they are following up on your online resume for a given company, or that they work with specific companies hiring people who match your skill set. Ask the agency what companies it works with, and check with the employers to make sure they are really hiring and actually work with the agency. If the agency is hesitant to give you information, or answer your questions, think twice about doing business with the company.

Don't be rushed. Some employment agencies may use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to agree to purchase their services. Don't be blinded by claims that you may miss out on a given job or opportunity if you do not hire the company immediately.

Beware of other employment scams. Consumers should also be on guard against other employment scams such as the "Mystery Shopper," or payment processing scams, in which the scam artist sends the consumer a "check" and convinces him or her to cash it, send an "excess amount" to a third-party (usually located outside of the country), and keep a remaining amount as a commission. The "check" soon turns out to be fake, and the consumer's bank account is debited for the loss.

Other employment scams are predicated on the "phishing" scam, in which a scam operator convinces a consumer to disclose sensitive personal information such as his or her Social Security number or banking information, in order to either "verify their identity" for an "interview process," or to set up a payment process for the "new hire." Don't be fooled into giving out such sensitive information over the Internet or telephone.

For more information on employment scams, work-at-home scams, or other scams targeting job seekers, contact the Minnesota Attorney General's Office at 1-800-657-3787 or 651-296-3353.