Jobs Crack-Down Nabs Crooks Who Con the Desperate

Last Updated Feb 17, 2010 6:39 PM EST

Regulators launched a joint federal and state crackdown on cons involving job seekers on Wednesday, dubbing it "Operation Bottom Dollar."

Responding to the proliferation of scams aimed at unemployed and increasingly desperate consumers looking for work, the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department, state attorney generals and U.S. Postal Inspectors announced they'd nabbed some 70 different con artists who had used classified advertisements, fliers and web-based marketing to lure unsuspecting victims into spending their last dollars on job scams.

"These scams are particularly noxious because they are tricking job seekers into parting with their last dollars," said David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Our goal is to stop these crooks in their tracks."

By and large, the crack-down focused on companies that charged fees for job leads. A Texas-based victim, Cathy Wilburn, who spoke at the news conference, explained how a company called "Career Hotline" lured her into paying $89--twice--as a so-called "placement fee." Wilburn, out of work for more than a year, had to borrow the money for the fee, which got her nothing but unreturned phone calls.

A similar company, which was charged with fraud in Ohio, charged consumers $250 to register for it's "job line" that promised local listings. The listings eventually provided were old and publicly available elsewhere for free, said Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

The FTC said they also charged the principals of Government Careers Inc., which allegedly ran deceptive advertisements claiming that they could guarantee people jobs with the post office, border patrol or federal government, if they'd just pay $965 for their "training and resume editing" materials. The fees were real. The "guaranteed jobs" were not.

Real Wealth Inc. conned more than 100,000 people into buying booklets that purported to teach you how to make "an extra $350 per week!" according to authorities.

Entertainment Work promised jobs as movie extras--naturally, for a fee. Abili-Staff sold work-at-home opportunities online. Darling Angel Pin Creations had a particularly cruel con, according to regulators. They talked people into paying between $22 and $45 for supplies to make Angel pins, but said your craftsmanship had to be approved by the company to get paid. They rejected everything, no matter how well put together, so the "darlings" demoralized their victims while stealing their money. Clever.

And the list goes on.

Only a day earlier, the National Consumers League came out with their list of top cons, noting that fake check scams continue to top the list. The twist: They're mostly linked to job cons, such as bogus mystery shopper positions.

Also near the top of the NCL list: Fake scholarships. College students beware.

With the scholarship scam, you're promised a "guaranteed" award but the con artist comes up with some pretense to charge an up-front fee. (Think "processing" or "registration.") You pay the fee. The scholarship never materializes.

Desperate times can make consumers distracted and vulnerable to cons that they'd never buy in better times. Arm yourself with information and resist the urge to bite at something that defies your better judgement.