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As unemployment stays high, job seekers warned to be cautious of ‘job scams’ in LA County

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Sean Belk/Signal Tribune<br><strong> Job seekers often find job listings on Craigslist or online message boards that promise positions, but consumer-protection agencies warn that any job offer that asks for money upfront may likely be a “job scam.

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune
Job seekers often find job listings on Craigslist or online message boards that promise positions, but consumer-protection agencies warn that any job offer that asks for money upfront may likely be a “job scam.

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

They’re often found on Craigslist, online message boards or even Facebook— listings that promise big job opportunities, positions or long-term careers but turn out to be merely rip-offs.
After being turned down by employers amid a brutal hiring climate, struggling job seekers at their wit’s end often agree to pay for background checks, training materials and/or equipment, only to find out later that they’ve been hoodwinked by a well crafted scheme.
In a heavily populated, high-unemployment area such as Los Angeles County, the number of “job scams” reported each year has remained relatively high, said Keven Chavez, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs.
“With the way things have been, we’re seeing plenty of job scams,” he said. “Generally speaking, whenever unemployment is high and jobs are in demand, job scams will follow.”
Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate jumped to 10.2 percent in June, according to statistics from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) released on July 19. Long Beach’s jobless rate was 10.2 percent while Signal Hill’s was 8.1 percent, according to EDD.
Though there hasn’t been any large rise or fall in reports this year, complaints of job scams in Los Angeles County have remained relatively high throughout the economic downturn of the past five to six years, and this year has been no different, Chavez said. Last year, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs received a total of 25 job-scam complaints, and so far in 2013 there were 10 reported, he said.
“It’s fair to say that job scams are a consistent problem throughout the years, particularly when the economy is tough, but we have not seen an unusual leap or drop this year,” Chavez said.
These scams typically involve an organization that promises job opportunities but requires upfront fees, leading to little or no compensation and in most cases no job at all.
Knowing that many people looking for work are vulnerable, organizers of these scams may continue to persuade job-seekers into believing there will eventually be a payoff by boosting their confidence or making promises of being able to “be your own boss” or “work at home.”
Chavez said some schemes involve job-seekers paying for “job-placement opportunities” or training when such services should normally be free. He said other schemes include “mystery shopper” job offers.
“We suggest consumers and job seekers be particularly cautious whenever there is a situation where they want you to pay them so you can eventually find a job,” Chavez said. “It’s supposed to work the other way around. If you’re doing a job, you are the one that is supposed to be getting paid.”
Chavez warned to be cautious about giving any individual, whether a potential employer or not, personal information, such as bank-account or Social Security-card numbers, during a job interview. He said legitimate employers rarely ask for that information in a job interview.
“We suggest people proceed with caution and take a better look at that company,” Chavez said.
One way to make sure a company is legitimate is by working with the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, said David Gonzalez, executive director of the organization, which utilizes federal funding to work with the City of Long Beach, providing services free of charge to unemployed job-seekers in the region.
Last year, the network provided services to about 31,000 customers who walked through the doors. Job-seekers are able to get on-the-job training and learn about recruitment events, hiring information and many other benefits, he said.
Chavez added that the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs also could help job-seekers in a variety of different ways. For one, consumers may file complaints with the department about any reported job scams, and the department will look into the situation, coordinating with local law enforcement.
“If people run into an issue with a company, they can file a complaint with our office, we can investigate that complaint and we can contact that business in question,” Chavez said.
Consumers may also request background information or complaints filed with the county or the California attorney general’s office on a certain company before heading into an interview.
Though the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs is not responsible for enforcement, the department has helped to “build a case” against certain “shady businesses,” Chavez said.
Last year, the department launched an investigation into allegations of a company scamming children and young adults aspiring to become actors and models.
The investigation resulted in charges being filed against Candace Vanessa Brewington, owner and operator of Contour Management and Modern Talent Group.
Victims alleged that Brewington’s “talent scouts” solicited them at public places in Los Angeles, such as Montebello Town Center, Target in Culver City and the North Hollywood subway station, convincing parents and young adults to buy expensive photo packages from a business called N Focus Studio.
Unknown to customers, Brewington allegedly also owns N Focus Studio. The photo packages, ranging from $300 to $900, were advertised as professional, industry-standard engagements by a high-end photographer, but turned out to be a rushed, 10- or 15-minute shoot in a room packed with 15 to 20 other customers.
Chavez added, however, that the filing of a complaint doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular business is operating illegally. Many businesses are able to work around the “edges of the law,” he said.
“A lot of scammers are in business because they’re good at what they do,” he said. “They know their practice and tend to know what they can and can’t get away with.”
Chavez said consumers should speak out against being taken for $20, $50 or $100, and they shouldn’t simply brush the instance aside. A scam for “small dollars” can add up over time, and staying silent only allows the company to continue the scheme, he added.
“We encourage people to make complaints, and, if they run into this sort of thing, to contact us,” Chavez said.

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As unemployment stays high, job seekers warned to be cautious of ‘job scams’ in LA County