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Job search scams: Protect yourself against identity theft

Meridith Levinson | Nov. 16, 2009
As U.S. unemployment has increased, so too has the number of job search scams identity theft rings are perpetrating against desperate job seekers.

2. Never share your Social Security number up front. Legitimate employers will ask for your Social Security number only when they're serious about making a job offer (e.g., after they've interviewed you) and need to conduct a background check, or after you've accepted their offer and they need your Social Security number for tax purposes, says Oaks. Identity thieves will find sneaky ways to ask for your Social Security number up front. Don't fall for their ploys.

3. Never agree to a background check up front. "Until you know you're a candidate for a position, it's not necessary for an employer to do a background check," says Oaks, adding that the only exception may be the government. "They need your Social Security number to complete a background check," she says, "and if you give them the opportunity to do that, they'll learn all kinds of personal information."

4. Research potential employers. If you're unsure whether a potential employer you've found on a job search site is legitimate, Oaks says to find out whether the business has a physical address and to check with the Better Business Bureau in the state where the business is allegedly located to make sure they're licensed.

5. Consider sharing less information on your resume. Many people include their phone numbers and mailing addresses on their resumes, and indeed, employers like to know job applicants' area codes and Zip codes because they sometimes screen candidates based on that information. But if you're wary of identity theft, you may want to include only an e-mail address, at least during initial stages with prospective employers, says Oaks. She also recommends creating a unique e-mail address for your job search. "If employers are interested in you," she says, "they'll contact you."

6. Opt out. When you sign up for e-mail newsletters and offers from legitimate businesses, opt out of receiving offers from their third-party business partners. That can cut down on the amount of spam e-mail you receive and decrease the chances of your personal information ending up on the black market.

Oaks says she hasn't seen any sign of these job search scams abating, but she expects that as the holiday season approaches, identity thieves will shift their tactics to target bargain shoppers.

"We'll see some shift to that, then we'll see it come back [to job search scams]," she says. "As long as job seekers are willing to share information, identity thieves will be happy to take it."


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