'This is really sick': Unemployed Calgarians fed up with online job scams

Some unemployed Calgarians say they're tired of wasting time and energy dodging fraudsters trying to scam them out of money or personal data. And one woman says she's found a way to work around the problem — even if it means it will take her longer to find a job.

Employment scams cost Canadians millions each year, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

Mehdi Badel says he’s been the target of two employment scams — but says fortunately he caught on before losing personal information or money. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Mehdi Badel thought his luck was turning around when the mining and environmental engineer got a text stating he had just been shortlisted for a job in data analysis with CNO Financial Group.

A quick Google search and Badel found a legitimate company website and a LinkedIn account for the human services officer he was told he'd be talking to through Google Hangouts.

Then some red flags started to emerge after the interview got underway. 

"So [she] is like, 'Good evening, how are you doing today? I am blessed.'

"I am blessed? I have never heard of this before," said Badel.

But he brushed it off. Perhaps, he thought, English wasn't the interviewer's first language. And he was desperate for work.

In the end, it was a fake employer, searching for personal information.

Badel said luckily he figured it out before he got scammed. And he said that experience helped him preempt a second employment scam that began with an email offering him a job interview.

Mehdi Badel says this text was sent to him by a fake employer looking to do an online job interview. (Submitted)

"How do you sleep through a night to steal money from someone who is struggling with his daily life … this is really sick," said Badel.

Yet this scam is not new — nor will Badel be the last unemployed person to be targeted.

CBC News recently asked members of the private Facebook group Calgary Job Board about whether anyone else had been scammed during their job search and many people replied yes and shared their own stories.

"Online job searching is a lot like online dating, you need to Google who you are about to give your information to and even then, you need to limit the information you give someone until you've met them in person and can be sure they aren't some weirdo," said Jacq Nelson, in an email to CBC News.

Job sites targeted

People who have been the target of employment scams tell CBC they believe they are most vulnerable while using online job platforms such as Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, and Facebook, as well as the federal government's Job Bank which advertises private and public sector positions.

They say they have either unknowingly clicked on a fake job or been contacted by a fake employer who saw their resume.

Dawn Stewart started the Calgary Job Board Facebook group after losing her job. She said the private group, which is now up to nearly 9,000 members, is often targeted by scammers.

"It didn't start right away with my board, I started seeing it once our numbers started going up," said Stewart, who has had to bring in more administrators to monitor the page.

She said she doesn't allow anyone to join the group without a solid Facebook account and history in Calgary.

And she said there are rules about what people can post. She said all of the job details must be included in the post including contact information — no private messaging allowed.

And she's banned "personal assistant" ads because she said they are often just seeking banking information.

What we're finding is identity is often worth more to the fraudsters nowadays than the money than they can get out of you.- Sgt. Matt Fredericksen

CBC News reached out to Indeed, ZipRecruiter and the federal government to ask about the prevalence of job scams and what is being done to stop them.

"As an employment marketplace that connects job seekers and employers, we are acutely aware that there are bad actors out there who, whether on job boards or on other platforms for internet commerce and communication, seek to use the cloak of anonymity provided by technology to take advantage of others," said Scott Garner, senior communications manager for ZipRecruiter.

Garner said the company uses software and screening processes to try to weed out "bad actors" and investigate complaints. 

Indeed said it has a team dedicated to the search quality effort and employs a variety of techniques to review job advertisements to determine their suitability.

A spokesperson for the federal government said when it comes to jobs that are posted directly to Job Bank officials try to ensure the jobs are genuine but adds that users should report any issues.

Job Bank also posts jobs from other sources such as Indeed and in those cases the spokesperson said it puts a notice at the bottom saying: "This job posting has been provided by a partner site. Job Bank is not responsible for this content."

ID worth more than cash

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre tracks complaints. It recorded 1,702 reports of employment scams in 2019 and of those 682 victims lost a total of $2,157,587.

That same year, Alberta ranked third across the country with respect to the number of reports (234), victims (72) and total losses ($247,443).

The Calgary Police Service knows of three types of job scams. 

The first is where someone applies for what turns out to be a fake job and the fraudsters try to steal personal information.

The second has a newly hired employee deposit a fake cheque, sent via email, return a portion of it as cash, gift card or bitcoin.

The third involves a soon-to-be-hired employee, such as a nanny, take care of a few things such as paying rent or bills, again by cashing a fake cheque.

"What we're finding is identity is often worth more to the fraudsters nowadays than the money than they can get out of you," said Sgt. Matt Fredericksen of the CPS fraud team.

Fredericksen said the fraudsters can generate credit with stolen ID to purchase items such as a vehicle.

This fake company website has a similar design to a legitimate company. The real company says it's reported the fake site to authorities. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

"Most of these types of things are mass exposure type frauds where they are trying to hit as many people as possible. And when they get the responses that's when they go, OK, now we can wrap it up on whoever called us back," said Fredericksen.

Fredericksen said even though these crimes are challenging to investigate and result in any charges he urges people to contact them if they've lost any money or provided any personal information such as a driver's license, passport or social insurance number.

In the latter case, he said people should also let credit reporting agencies know if one's identity has been compromised.

Otherwise if people catch on to the scam he said they don't need to call police — but they should report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. 

Redacted resumes

Nelson said after being told repeatedly there's nothing more anyone can do to stop the scams from occurring, she's found a unique way to reduce the number of scammers targeting her during her search for an executive assistant job.

She now uses a redacted resume, that includes limited personal information — both hers and her previous employers'.

Do I want my information out there and a better chance at a job or do I want to not be approached by scammers and possibly wait a little longer.- Jacq Nelson, unemployed executive assistant

The redacted resume includes her name, as well as an email and phone number dedicated to the job hunt so she can keep better track of her applications.

And she said it doesn't include any references, nor any previous employer names.

For example instead of "Cardel Home," she said she would put "North American homebuilder," indicating the size and general location of a company. 

She said that way she isn't contacted by a scammer who said, "I used to work with you at [blank] and I have a job for you."

"The real employers, a lot of them, have been skeptical about why and I think a few of them have actually flatly rejected my resumé thinking it wasn't real," said Nelson.

But she argues employers request too much personal information that is not required until they've narrowed their search. She said she provides it when she meets prospective employers in person or confirms a recruiter or employer is legitimate.

"What price do I want to pay? Do I want my information out there and a better chance at a job or do I want to not be approached by scammers and possibly wait a little longer."

She said it's important job seekers practise online safety even when desperately applying for a job.

In the end, Nelson, Badel and others say they would just like more attention paid to these scams to help prevent others from becoming victims and try to encourage better ways of screening out the "bad actors."



Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.


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