Consumer Advocate: Employment scams target college students

Many college students are looking for flexible, part-time employment to help cover school expenses. Finding a job can be difficult, and students 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 received reports of employment scams impersonating professors and university departments. 

A college student in Oregon reported, "I'm currently a college student and got contacted to interview for a Finance/Accounting internship... Due to this pandemic, it has been hard to find a job for this summer, so I read the employment offer and everything looked real. After I signed the contract (where they have my name, address, date of birth, phone number, email), it started getting suspicious. First, the company sent me a $2,000 check to mobile deposit, so I can Zelle transfer the payment ($860 and $1000)... I did it, not knowing that the funds would eventually be fraudulent." She was later contacted by her bank that the check didn't clear and she was likely the victim of a job scam.

How the scam works

You receive an email at 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 – it could be anything from pet sitting to secret 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 – a detail your bank will let you know a day or two after depositing it. Any money you sent to your “employer” is gone for good. In addition, the scammers now have your personal information.

How to avoid employment scams

For more tips and scam prevention, visit BBB.org. If you see a scam, whether you’ve lost money or not, report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Whether you’ve lost money or not, your story could help others avoid a scam.