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Economic downturn leads to rise in employment scams

Employment scams are on the rise in response to the economic downturn, according to Consumer Protection


In the 2015/16 financial year WA ScamNet received 48 reports regarding employment scam attempts, with at least 18 victims confirming losses of $42,100 between them. This is an increase compared to the 2014/15 financial year when there were 32 reports of employment scam attempts and 13 victims confirming total losses of $32,700.

Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard says scammers are putting extra effort into targeting those in need of work or extra cash.

“Fewer vacancies in certain sectors of the job marketplace, combined with increased use of the internet to search for employment, creates a perfect storm for scammers posting fake propositions online,” he said.

“An advertisement on a site like Gumtree may offer an attractive salary for working from home or a great return on a business investment but the schemes are often bogus. Another tactic involves convincing applicants to pay for training or equipment in advance, when the whole scenario is fabricated.”

The Acting Commissioner highlighted the risk of job-seekers becoming mules who might initially unknowingly launder money but then become aware of what they are doing and risk prosecution by police.

“Fraudsters often want to use innocent parties’ bank accounts to transfer money out of the country. They do this by claiming to be ‘paying’ them for work such as ‘mystery shopping exercises’. We have heard of people being asked to cash cheques, which turned out to be counterfeit, or to test the ‘customer service’ at wire transfer agencies when really it’s all about sending money to overseas criminals.”

Consumer Protection WA’s figures show an increase in money mules.

  • There were 41 reports in the 2015/16 financial year – a total of $759,400 was sent through 22 money mules and there were 19 failed attempts to convince people to become money mules.
  • In the 2014/15 financial year there were 30 reports; 18 mules sent a total of $302,215 and 12 others failed to be convinced to launder money.

Tips to avoid employment scams

  • Have a healthy amount of suspicion before responding to job vacancy advertisements. Carry out some independent research. A simple online search or phone call may be enough to confirm that a business, company or trading premises does not exist or is being impersonated.
  • Remember in Western Australia employment / recruitment agents must be licensed and are not permitted to charge job-seekers for their services. They can only take fees from the employer. For your own protection only use licensed employment agents listed on the Consumer Protection (CP)  website www.commerce.wa.gov.au/cp and report anyone trying to charge to find you work, by calling CP on 1300 30 40 54.
  • Guard your personal information including your CV / résumé, tax file number and any proof of identity documentation, such as a scan of your passport. This is all the information required for criminals to commit identity theft.
  • If you’re asked to pay money upfront to secure a job, whether it’s for training, equipment, transport or accommodation, don’t do it. It’s not normal industry practice and likely a scam. Seek an opinion from WA ScamNet by emailing wascamnet@commerce.wa.gov.au or calling 1300 30 40 54.

Mr Hillyard added that employment scams were not the only thing to watch out for.

“A recent suspicious advertisement published in WA newspapers offered subscribers the ability to sell a huge variety of items such as clothing, furniture, electrical appliances, toys and musical instruments. Again this could be linked to the economic downturn. We believe the scam involves overpaying respondents using stolen funds and then asking for overpaid amounts to be forwarded on,” he said. 

“Also, we’ve just had the end of the financial year and that means it’s common for scammers to pose as the ATO (Australian Tax Office) and claim they need to collect a debt. The most recent tactic involves requests for iTunes cards and several WA victims have each lost thousands of dollars by buying iTunes cards and handing over the codes to phone scammers.”

Media contact (Consumer Protection)