Scammers are increasingly targeting job seekers with promises of employment… if they pay for their own background checks.
According to a report by South African researchers titled National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), approximately 3 million people have lost their jobs between February and April of 2020. Add them to the millions that made up the 29.1% unemployment rate at the end of 2019, and you have a lot of people desperate for work.
And where there’s desperation, scammers are sure to follow.
Among the current slew of job-related scams is one that requires candidates to pay an amount to secure employment with seemingly legitimate companies.
These positions are usually local and offered by entities acting as personnel agencies. As a final step in the hiring process, these agencies require candidates to pay for their own background screenings (R280 in the posts we saw) – either to the agency itself, or to a 3rd party.
According to the Employment Services Act, this is unlawful:
15 (4). A private employment agency must not deduct any amount from the remuneration of an employee or require or permit an employee to pay any amount in respect of the placing of that employee with an employer.The Employment Services Act
It is therefore safe to assume that it is the sole responsibility of the employer to pay for any required candidate screening, and that anything to the contrary is likely a scam.
But things aren’t as clear cut when it comes to employment abroad. A BusinessTech article details how scammers target individuals with higher-level education.
According to the article, fraudulent employment opportunities are posted online. Interested individuals are asked to submit personal information which can include ID numbers, bank account information, and even their credit card details (red flags should be going up here).
These types of scams often have the appearance of legitimate job opportunities accompanied by interviews which may be conducted in person or via video conferencing platforms.
In due course the intended target of the scam is informed that a position abroad has become available. “Successful” applicants are required to pay for their own background checks.
The problem is that scams that use overseas employment as bait could be harder to spot. Some US states, for example, allow employers to ask candidates to cover the cost of their background checks.
How to protect yourself against employment scams
Unfortunately there are a lot of creative ways scammers target employment hopefuls, and not all of them ask for money upfront. Some target job seekers in a bid to commit ID fraud, or to get hold of credit card numbers and banking details. Whatever the case, these tips can help you separate scammers from legitimate employers.
1. Verify their online presence
Most reputable agencies and employers will have their own domain, and with that their own website. What this means, aside from visiting their home on the web, is that the domain of the email address (e.g. email@example.com) should match their website address (www.acme-co.co.za.)
Is this a sure-fire way to differentiate between fraudsters and legitimate companies? No, but it’s a start.
You can enhance your verification process by Googling the company name followed with “reviews” to see what others had to say about their experiences with the company (e.g. “acme-co reviews”).
Granted, some companies fake their own reviews, but these are generally easy to spot (e.g. no service specifics are mentioned, and the language style of each individual review is the same as the previous.)
2. Upfront payment & Registration fees
As mentioned above, any local position that requires upfront payment is more than likely not a legitimate position. The same goes for employment agencies who require registration fees.
It might be worth your while to ensure that any agency you’re dealing with is a member of the Federation of African Professional Staffing Organisations (APSO) who, in their Codes of Professional Practice, expressly prohibit members from charging fees.
Where international positions are concerned, the above still applies. But a little more leg work may be required:
- Do the laws of the destination country allow employers to charge job seekers?
- Does the person you are in contact with really work for the agency or company they claim to represent? (Can you call the phone number on that company’s website and reach your contact?)
- Are you required to send money via international cash transfer companies? In most cases, companies big enough to hire abroad won’t use the services of money transfer agents.
When in doubt, consult the South African mission or consulate in the destination country.
Despite the above measures of protecting yourself against scams, the reality is that those individuals behind fraudulent job offers are both creative and persistent. As such all job seekers are encouraged to educate themselves on the various scams, and also on the channels available to those who may have fallen victim to such crimes.
JobMail: Avoid Scams
Careers24: 5 most common job scams in South Africa
Times Live: Don’t get scammed: How to tell if a job offer is not legitimate