"It got really weird:" Milwaukee student's warning about online job scams

MILWAUKEE — For job seekers, a majority of the hunting and hiring process takes place online these days. However, sometimes the job you're applying for isn't what you think. Online job scams are becoming all too common.

A Milwaukee-area student, who asked to only be identified as Sara, recently started looking for jobs online.

"It started with me just kind of typing in jobs in my area," Sara said.

Part of Sara's job search took her to the website ZipRecruiter.

Sara was looking for jobs on ZipRecruiter when a scammer lured her in with an at-home clerical job.

"I've known people who actually got jobs using it really quick, so I was like, 'OK, well, if it's so successful — they've got it on the news, they've got it on the radio — then why not?'" Sara said.

Soon, Sara got a message from a person identifying themselves as James Homes, who claimed to work for Century Pharmaceuticals.

After responding to a few interview questions online, Sara was offered an at-home clerical job.

"From there is kind of where it got really weird," Sara said.

Sara was sent a check for $3,450 for supplies. She was asked to deposit the money into her account, and then transfer a portion of the money to another account.

Sara started getting messages about a job from a man who called himself James Homes. He was trying to scam her.

Thankfully, Sara's credit union put a hold on the check, because it eventually bounced. The check was fake.

If Sara had taken out any of that money and deposited it into another account, she would have been responsible for it and lost money.

"Honestly, it would be really bad because I don't even have that amount in my bank," Sara said.

FOX6's Contact 6 reached out to the real Century Pharmaceuticals in Indiana. The company confirmed it has never advertised jobs on ZipRecruiter and no one by the name of James Homes works for them. The company had already filed a police report.

ZipRecruiter knows jobs scams sometimes make it on their site. The company sent Contact 6 this statement about the issue:

"We at ZipRecruiter take great pride in our role in bringing job seekers and employers together.  We are also 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.  And while we are pleased that our growth has enabled a dramatic increase in both the number of people we can help and the quality of our service, we are also aware that we have become more visible not only to legitimate participants but also to bad actors.  

That is why we have implemented, and continue to refine and improve, our systems to address this important issue.  On the front end, we use proprietary detection software and have stringent client on-boarding processes to vet potential posters and deny access for those who fail to pass our screens .  On the back end, we re-run our detection software on job listings as they're posted and have customer service representatives available seven days a week to investigate and weed out suspicious posts.

Still, no system is perfect, no matter how sophisticated or well intentioned.  That is why we take steps to educate job seekers about how to spot suspicious activity and encourage reporting of all such activity to us so we can investigate and take prompt remedial action.  Any such reports should be sent to our dedicated e-mail address:  trustandsafety@ziprecruiter.com."

ZipRecruiter isn't the only online job board being targeted by scammers.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, thousands of students and alumni go to Panther Jobs to find employment, but back in the fall of 2016, some of those job posts were scams.

"We had an increase right around Thanksgiving," explained Jean Salzer, director of UWM's Career Planning & Resource Center.

Jean Salzer

Salzer said one of those scam posts was for a grocery stocker at Whole Foods that paid $16 - $18 an hour.

"The only unique thing for this particular posting was the contact email was not at wholefoods.com," Salzer said.

Salzer said UWM does try to verify job posts and has implemented a more stringent vetting process since the fall. There's also a big warning on Panther Job's front page.

Salzer said only four scam job posts made it onto their site around Thanksgiving. Once the school became aware, they notified students who applied for those jobs.

"We do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen," Salzer said.

Salzer said job seekers should never accept a job without a phone or face-to-face interview first. Also, she said completing money-related task, like depositing a check, is never part of the interview process.

Sara learned that lesson the hard way. 

"Nobody needs to go through this ever," Sara said.

Oftentimes, scam artists pretend to represent a valid business -- so the scam can be hard to spot. One thing to look for is the email address. Typically, it's a little off and not coming from the company.

Another red flag is the compensation for the job. Scammers try to lure applicants in with a job that pays more than it should, like $25 an hour for a part-time job.

ZipRecruiter offers jobs seekers additional ways to protect themselves from a scam: