Better Business Bureau warns of college student job scams

By Lane Montz, Better Business Bureau

        Many college students seek flexible, part-time employment to help cover school expenses. Finding a job can be challenging, and students may feel pressure to find work quickly. If this situation describes you or a student in your life, watch out for scams. BBB Scam Tracker has gotten reports of employment scams impersonating professors and university departments.
        How job scams work
        You receive an email to your school email address encouraging you to apply for a job. The message appears to come from your school’s job placement office, student services department, or even a specific professor. The position, which may be anything from pet sitting to mystery shopping, sounds perfect for a college student. The work is easy, has flexible hours, and offers excellent pay.
        When you reply to the message, things start to get strange. The “employer” hires you without an interview. Then, they send you a check with instructions to deposit it before you’ve even done any work. You are instructed to use this money to purchase gift cards, money orders, prepaid debit cards, or other supplies you’ll need for your new job. Part of what you purchase should be sent to your new employer. The rest of the money will be your payment.
        However, the check is a fake. I can take weeks for your bank to discover the fraud. By then, any money you send to your “employer” is gone for good, and you're stuck paying back the bank. In addition, the scammers now have your personal information.
        One student reported this experience: “I received a message via my school email about a job opportunity with a professor. I reached out to the number and was asked for my resume and a non-school email. When I asked questions about the position, I was told the school would pay for my expenses and I would receive materials from them. They asked what bank I used and if I could deposit checks into my account. When I asked for the professor’s email, the person said they were the professor. However, when I reached out to the professor personally, he said he was not looking for a research assistant and that I must have been dealing with scammers.”
        Unfortunately, not all students who reported this scam to BBB Scam Tracker avoided losing money. Another student lamented, “I received a job offer from what I thought was my school. I was sent two checks in the amount of $1,650. I withdrew cash as instructed and bought Bitcoin for the “employer” and sent them a receipt. The next day, the checks bounced and overdrafted my account.”
        How to avoid employment scams
        • Do your research. Before you say yes to any job, research the company that wants to hire you. Does the company have a professional website and legitimate contact information? Search for what others are saying about their experience with this company. Do an internet search with the employer's name and the word “scam” to see if there are reports involving job scams.
        • Beware of red flags. Scammers often send emails with many typos and grammatical errors. They offer to hire you without an interview and even pay you before you’ve done any work. None of these are behaviors of a reputable business. Further, the “hook” usually includes an “urgent” call-to-action. Obviously, not every offer with urgency is a scam but creating a sense of urgency is a tried and true part of an effective scam campaign.
        • Examine the email address of those offering jobs to see if it matches the domain used by an actual company. Be alert to Gmail business email addresses.
        • Never send money to strangers. Never send funds in cash, checks, gift cards or wire transfers to someone you don’t know or haven’t met. No legitimate company will ask you to pay them to get a job.
        • Be very wary of some positions. Some types of jobs are more likely to be scams, such as mystery shopping or secret shopper positions or work-from-home jobs that involve receiving and reshipping packages.
        College student job scams aren’t new. I remember one involving a “premium water” distribution multi-level marketing scam back in my college days at University of Cincinnati. But they’ve become more prevalent – and more profitable for scammers – thanks to modern technology.
        Lane Montz is the President, CEO of the Better Business Bureau and Better Business Bureau Ethics Foundation, Inc. Visit for more details.


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