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Student Job Scams: Understanding the risks

by: (Research and Development Manager) on

Many of us don’t ever think we’d be caught up in money laundering; we know it is illegal and can potentially fund terrorism. We also don’t expect it to be something our day-to-day lives would bring us into contact with.

However, the UK government’s recent Action Plan to tackle money laundering includes plans for a campaign to educate consumers and businesses about the risks of becoming involved in money laundering. This just highlights that it is more of a problem than most of us think.

People’s popular perception of money laundering is money being acquired from the proceeds of crime and being ‘laundered’, by passing it from one account to another. As fraud detection techniques improve, so do the fraudsters; they are always thinking up new ways to avoid getting caught. And it appears they have come up with the best way to not get caught for money laundering…get someone else to do it for you.

Back in 2013, the BBC published an article based on a study by Financial Fraud Action advising of the dangers of jobs scams and highlighting that of the students who had been approached, 19% had fallen victim to a money laundering scam. Unfortunately, three years later, this is still happening.

As we come to the end of exams and the summer break, university students are heading home for the holidays and they may be thinking how they can earn their beer money for the next year. We’ve all been there – or know someone who has – myself included; desperate for a bit of cash to get through till the student loan comes in. However, this is just what the money launderers and fraudsters are (forgive the pun) banking on.

In an age where every student has their own laptop and superfast broadband, the paper is no longer the first place to look for jobs. The Internet has made it possible to job hunt from the comfort of your own sofa, but unfortunately this opens students up to many risks. Here are two examples of the most common types of scams and the way they can be exploited for money laundering purposes.

SCAM 1: THE JOB ADVERT THAT LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

typingThink the job is too good to be true…it is. The advert offering £2,000 a month and the opportunity to work from home is a complete scam, normally involving a victim receiving a large sum of money into their own bank account and transferring it into another while getting to keep around £100 of that money (or a percentage of it) as their ‘fee’.

For students desperate for money, with little free time during the busy term, these kind of ‘job offers’ are often very appealing. What students won’t realise is that they are actually helping criminals to launder money and that in addition to the very serious money laundering penalties, for example a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years, they could quite possibly end up having their bank accounts closed if their bank thinks they were complicit.

SCAM 2: ADVANCE-FEE

Another common scam is where the student is tricked into thinking they have secured a job (often without any interview) and is then asked to pay £100 or more for ‘checks’ or to attend a training course.. Once the money is sent, the ‘employer’ will then disappear and the student is left £100 worse off and without a job to replace said £100. Alarm bells should be ringing at a request for upfront payments as reputable companies rarely ask potential/future employees for something like this; I worked in a small local nursing home and even they paid for my CRB (now DBS) check.

SIX THINGS TO MITIGATE RISK FOR STUDENTS WHEN APPLYING FOR JOBS
  1. ALWAYS do research – find out about the job and the company. They need to find reviews on what it’s like to work for the company and use social media/LinkedIn/Companies House etc. to research the organisations to make sure they are legitimate and that the job exists. It is a very good idea to use the Nominet’s WHOIS tool to check any website addresses supplied (though this can only check UK website addresses). This advises who set up the website and their address. Caution should be applied to newly registered websites, if they withhold their address or claim to be ‘non-trading’. These are unlikely to be genuine and should be given a wide berth.
  2. NEVER accept money for nothing – students need to make sure they don’t get sucked into scams that promise thousands of pounds for working from home or that applicants can ‘get rich quick’; they risk  ending up a money mule. Remember, if it seems too good to be, it probably is. Be sceptical, ask questions and be on the lookout for badly worded/written job adverts or random emails from a ‘non-professional’ account e.g. Hotmail or Yahoo. These scams very often just don’t feel right and don’t look professional.
  3. NEVER part with money – employers should be the ones paying.
  4. NEVER do everything online – while most people these days do like to do as much as they can on the Internet, at some point the candidate should be invited to an interview or meeting if the job is genuine. Care should be taken with any recruitment agencies or hiring managers that only ‘speak’ via email.
  5. NEVER phone them for an interview – if a reputable company really wants to talk regarding a job, they will make the phone call. The number they give out could end up being a premium rate phone line that leaves the applicant with a £400 bill.
  6. NEVER give out personal details – students shouldn’t supply bank details before a job offer and should be careful about any requests for personal information before an interview/meeting.

Some students are so determined to prove that they can make it on their own that they aren’t going to listen to anyone when they tell them that the dream job they have just secured has turned them into a money mule. Prevention is better than cure and if there is understanding of the risks of these scams then it could stop a lot of students/graduates getting in trouble.

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