By Dorothy Tucker

CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois and Indiana are still out of work.

They spend every day looking for a job – more than a year into the pandemic. Just when they think things are looking up because they get an interview – they learn another tough lesson.

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CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker dug into a new type of scam and found out who is being targeted and why.

When Benjamin CN Graves looked up Slalom Consulting on YouTube and watched one of the company’s professional and polished videos about the company’s purpose and culture, he thought it would be a great place to work.

“Looks like a very diverse company,” Graves said. “They have a lot of great ideas.”

That is why he was excited to see a data entry position at Slalom posted on the job search platform Indeed.

“The salary was in the upper $40,000, $50,000 range,” he said.

It was an attractive salary to the disabled veteran who just got a college degree in December and is now on the hunt for a job. He applied, and got a response saying he qualified for the “next step.”

“That just lit up my whole world,” Graves said. “It really did.”

The person conducting the virtual interview via an online messaging platform offered Graves the position within just a few minutes. That person then told Graves he needed specific software and a $1,200 Apple laptop to perform the data entry duties.

The company would send him a check to cover the costs and Graves could send the remaining amount back to the company. The check came in an email.

“It was a cashier’s check for $2,000,” Graves said. “At that point, my red flags were really up.”

While still in the interview chat, Graves became an investigator – calling the bank on the check. Gold Coast Federal Credit Union, based in Florida.

“I read off the numbers, and sure enough, the teller said that’s a fraudulent check,” Graves said.

That’s when Graves realized the job interview, offer, and the post were all phony.

“To prey on the unemployed – that’s just the worst of the worst to me,” he said.

Graves lost time dealing with the interview impostor, but the con that lured Latrina Smith was more costly.

“I lost like $1,000,” she said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Smith had been out of work since the start of the pandemic in March.

In mid-December, she thought she had been recruited for and hired as a project supervisor for an international transportation company at their soon-to-open Illinois office. The job came with an annual salary of $92,000, plus up to $5,200 for four weeks of management job training.

Smith underwent the job training, took all the tests, and got offered a week-long trip to the company’s New York City office for an introduction course.

During the training process, the company offered her some part-time work in their procurement department, described in an email as “something to keep you occupied and earn you some pocket money whilst you’re doing the training.”

Smith was to buy four MacBooks and ship them to Hong Kong for the company’s new Asia office. She would earn $400 a week.

According to the email, if Smith accepted this assignment, it could also improve her chances of landing the full-time: “Furthermore, it’ll earn you some extra training points, which will come in very handy against the stiff competition in Chicago.”

The email went on to say, “By the way, if you do take this job it will improve your prospects significantly.”

She accepted the offer and was approved. She was given the company’s own account details to wire $7,200 into her own account. She waited until she thought the transfer had gone through before doing anything else.

“They told me which laptops to get,” Smith said.

So she bought the computers and shipped them to Hong Kong via FedEx. While they were in transit, she heard from the bank that the transfer did not go through.

Smith immediately stopped the shipment, got the laptops back and returned them. But, in the end, she lost around $1,000 in shipping fees and she never got any of the training money she had been promised.

“I was hurt,” Smith said. “You get your hopes up of finding a job – and then to find out it’s not really a job.”

Hundreds across Illinois have lost money to employment scams in the last two years – even more so during the pandemic.

In 2019, the Chicago division of the FBI investigated employment scams involving 388 job seekers who lost $631,000. In 2020, the number of job seekers scammed jumped 37% to 533 victims – and the amount of money they lost to scammers skyrocketed 166% to a whopping $1.68 million.

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Another Job Scam Victim

Job seekers aren’t the only people caught in the scammers’ web. Legitimate companies whose names are being used in the fake postings are also being caught up in the scammer’s snare.

“We were very upset,” said Kurt Schiller, who is head of Marketing at Arcweb, a Philadelphia-based digital technology company. As a department head, he routinely interviews and hires people. But not last December.

“There were people saying, ‘I just had an interview with you Kurt and I’m confused about some of the stuff you said,’” Schiller said.

Schiller learned about the ruse after job seekers began reaching out to Arcweb through various means, including the website’s chatbot and email to ask if the job interview was legitimate.

Schiller eventually discovered scammers were using his company’s name, logo, and profile to post fake job listings on several online platforms.

“It’s deeply troubling from a company reputation [perspective],” he said.

Even more concerning and upsetting for Arcweb was that company heard from more than a hundred ripped-off job seekers during just one week in December.

“We were surprised at the scale and complexity of the scam,” Schiller said.

Arcweb feels most of the job seekers who reached out to him reached out before becoming victims.

But he added, some “people were getting tricked into sending their green cards, their photo IDs.”

Arcweb did get the job site platforms to remove the fake posts and has tweeted about what happened to warn others.

Remember Slalom, the company for which Benjamin CN Graves thought he was interviewing? Graves and CBS 2 reached out to company executives and we received the following response:

“Slalom takes fake employment scams very seriously. When we recently discovered the scam, we contacted the federal authorities for assistance and are currently cooperating with them on the investigation. We have also spoken with every individual who has reported the scam to us, to collect the necessary information to share with the authorities.“

“I would imagine that a significant amount of organizations that are out there whose brands are being used in these types of scams, have no idea it’s happening,” said Crane Hassold, who is Senior Director of Threat Research at Agari.

What’s Being Done To Stop Scams?

According to several popular job sites the CBS 2 Investigators contacted, they do have measures in place that help “spot suspicious activity,” “detect fake accounts”, and prevent fraud.

Smith and Graves think more needs to be done.

“I would want them to vet a little better. There needs to be some type of watchdog group,” Graves said. “Otherwise, everyone loses.”

For now, Graves is taking additional steps himself to vet a job before applying and urges other job seekers to do the same. If he sees a post on a job search platform, he goes to the company’s website, finds the career or jobs page, and sees if that position is listed.

We reached out to Indeed multiple times and have not received a response to our specific questions. But on its website, Indeed offers tips for job seekers about how to prevent and report scams.

Other job sites also issued statements about fake postings and scams:

CareerBuilder:

“CareerBuilder takes the threat of fraud seriously. We work with a third party organization to actively validate that businesses are legitimate when they post content on our site, and have built in safeguards to remove accounts if fraudulent activity is reported. Additionally, there are educational resources available across our website to help job seekers during their search on how to report identified fraudulent behavior.”

Monster:

Monster has a robust set of fraud prevention tools and processes to protect our customers from job scams including spoofs of real companies. We use a combination of automated and manual risk analysis processes to review new employer accounts and all job postings to identify potentially fraudulent activity. These tools and processes are continually updated as threats evolve and become more sophisticated.

The Monster website includes complaint submission forms for website visitors to report this type of issue. The complaint volume since the pandemic began has been relatively consistent with volume in recent years. Our goal is to keep the volume low by closely tracking activity to identify fraud trends quickly and then adjust our tools and processes to limit risks to our customers.

LinkedIn:

“Millions of people use LinkedIn to search and apply for jobs every day — and when job searching, safety means knowing the recruiter you’re chatting with is who they say they are, that the job you’re excited about is real and authentic, and how to spot fraud. We don’t allow fraudulent activity anywhere on LinkedIn. Before jobs are posted, we use automated and manual defenses to detect and address fake accounts or fraudulent payments. Any accounts or job posts that violate our policies are blocked from the site. The majority of fake job postings are stopped before going live on our site, and for those job postings that aren’t, whenever we find fake posts, we work to remove it quickly. Members and job seekers can learn more here.

“Job scams typically involve people pretending to be recruiters or employers offering high-paying jobs for little work. These can include mystery shopper, work from home or personal assistant scams. We share common things to look out for in our Help Center, with examples.

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“We haven’t seen an increase in job frauds on the platform since COVID-19 and our latest transparency report details how scams are detected and stopped before going live on LinkedIn.”

Dorothy Tucker