Job-seekers can fall prey to phony deals

As posted on November 28, 2010 on www.ajc.com

By M.B. Pell

While the economy struggles and tens of thousands of Georgians search for work, others profit on desperation by running job scams that promise jobs for a fee but ultimately fail to provide employment.

Fred Elsberry, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau of Metro Atlanta, said his organization does not have an estimate of how many job scam companies are operating in the metro area, but he believes this type of con is a growing problem.

“It is a daily occurrence that we get calls about job scams,” Elsberry said. “We hear about it more now than we ever did before.”

It’s difficult to quantify the number of complaints against specific scam operators or how many there are because companies change names frequently, he said.

Fake job scams have become such a pervasive problem recently that the Federal Trade Commission announced a crackdown on these operations earlier this year.

Known as “Operation Bottom Dollar,” the FTC program has resulted in seven cases nationwide against deceptive and illegal job scam companies, according to an FTC press release.

One case had more than 100,000 victims, according to the agency.

The FTC warns these scams often offer jobs as movie extras, as mystery shoppers or with the federal government. Some advertise fake stay-at-home jobs like stuffing envelopes or assembling ornaments.

Elsberry recommends that anyone who believes he is a victim of a job scam should, “first, contact the local police, then let the FTC know about it and then let us know so we can tip off unsuspecting people. This will help other people avoid it.”

Earlier this year in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, headquartered in Atlanta, the FTC completed its prosecution of an alleged job scam company registered in Nevada but operating out of Norcross.

The case is awaiting a judge’s verdict.

The FTC complaint names U.S. Work Alliance, also known as Exam Services; Tyler Franklin Long, owner of the company; and Brenda Long, president of the company. The complaint alleges the defendants, using a series of advertisements in newspapers across the country, led people searching for employment to believe the company could provide jobs with the U.S. Postal Service.

Job-seekers paid between $120 and $140 for material to help them pass a postal exam, according to the FTC complaint.

The FTC alleges that many of the jobs the defendants claimed were available were not, that they overstated the degree to which training materials would help applicants get jobs, and they falsely claimed achieving a certain score on a postal exam would assure applicants jobs. The defendants had no affiliation with the post office, as they claimed to, the FTC said in the complaint.

Harold Kirtz, the senior litigator with the FTC who is prosecuting the case, warned that con artists often use post office jobs as bait. The post office is conducting little outside hiring, he said.

Kirtz said he is not sure when a final ruling will be handed down.

Differentiating between a legitimate job opportunity and a scam is often difficult, said Dan Salsbury, assistant director in the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection. But he offered some advice.

“One red flag is, the purpose of a job is to make money and not to spend money, so if people are asking you to spend money, you should be very wary,” Salsbury said.