22 February 2010

Unemployed Doesn't Have to Mean Jobless

I don't know about you, but I hate being unemployed. I like the security of a regular paycheck, being able to cover expenses (and maybe a few fun extras). I like contributing towards a goal, knowing that my skills and labor are useful to someone.

When you're unemployed, there may not be much you can do about the paycheck, but you don't have to feel useless. While you're job-hunting, you can also hunt for volunteer opportunities. Maybe there's a charity to which you used to donate money, before you lost your income—perhaps you can now donate your time. Or you might see fundraising events around town, and strike up a conversation with its members about their organization.

Think of your own areas of interest. Is there a cause that you feel passionate about? Do you know someone with heart disease? You could ask the American Heart Association if they can use you. Do you love animals? See if your local animal shelter needs help mucking out the kennels. Willing to pitch in anywhere? Try Volunteer Match to see if someone nearby can use your specialized skills.

I've become increasingly aware of the country's homeless population in recent years, particularly after the massive foreclosures and job losses in 2009. As a result, I offered to help out at one of our local homeless shelters. They can often use another pair of hands to help out with basic work like food preparation and cleaning up. The people I work with are great, and I'm much happier being useful.

You don't have to stop your job search; one or two afternoons a week leaves you plenty of time for job searching and interviews. And when you're done sending résumés into an unresponsive void, nothing helps to soothe the sting of rejection like showing up and helping out for a good cause.

13 November 2009

CraigsList Warns of Job Scammers

I've posted before about some of the warning signs of scams on job boards like CraigsList.

Evidently the scammage has become so bad that CraigsList itself is inserting a warning when you click on links to the job categories:

CraigsList Scam Alert

I'm glad to see them posting this. I'm sure there are many people searching job boards these days who have never looked at job boards, or even web boards, until the last year or so. The warning page should help alert some of the new fish who might otherwise get lured in.

11 November 2009

Tax Preparation Errors

Recently I ran across a news blurb about the free IRS tax preparation services, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs. A recent audit determined that 41% of the tax returns prepared by these free programs were incorrect.

My first reaction to this news was to wonder about the error rate for paid tax preparers. How do they compare to the IRS volunteers?

Turns out, their error rate is even worse—61% of professionally prepared tax returns contained significant errors, and only 39% were prepared correctly.

Part of the problem is a lack of national standards. Anyone can call themselves a tax preparer. Testing is required to get a license, but a license is not required to do the job. (But if you get audited later, only a licensed tax preparer can represent you during the audit.) IRS audits can find the preparers who are doing a bad job, but less than 1.5% of tax returns get audited. That may make you feel relieved that the IRS won't catch your mistakes, but it also means the IRS won't catch your tax preparer if he's ripping you off.

Another problem is the overwhelming complexity of the U.S. tax code. Even our senators and congressmen get in trouble for not paying all the taxes they owe. Former senator Daschle received a 1099 which was incorrect, leading to an incorrect tax liability in his form. Is it reasonable to expect everyone to double-check the 1099s sent to them by their banks?

The complicated tax code seems to be the real root of the problem. If 45 different tax preparers get 45 different results for the same information, the problem is not entirely with the tax preparers. Simplifying the tax code would go a long way toward reducing the number of incorrectly prepared returns.

14 September 2009

Mystery Shopper

Like many others, I'm still looking for a job. As a result, I'm still enjoying the generous sampling of job scams hitting my inbox every time I make my visits to the job boards.

This week's offering was the "Mystery Shopper" job. Like my previous e-mail containing the credit check scam, this one was submitted to CraigsList as an accounting job (and I have no doubt as every other type of job CraigsList has a category for). In response to my resumé, I received:

Subject: Re: Accounting Assistant (Raleigh)

You are PROBABLY a bit over-qualified for this position, however, if you are just looking for some extra, easy cash, then this may be perfect for you.

The position is for an Online Mystery Shopper. You will be doing online shopping, filling out offers for merchants, and receiving products in the mail. You will then be asked to rate that merchant, based on your experience.

The rest of the e-mail detailed my supposed duties for this job, the requirements, and where to sign up. Doesn't seem much like the kind of thing you'd expect an accounting assistant to do, is it? Nor was it the job described in the original CraigsList ad.

Let's face it—no legitimate company will use deceptive job postings to garner candidates. An honest mystery shopper recruiter will advertise for, you guessed it, mystery shoppers. If they have to fool you to get your response, you can bet they're up to something shady.

Identity theft is always a possibility, but in this case the goal is more in line with a pyramid scheme. Once you sign up, you're instructed to go to a number of web sites and sign up for their trial offers. You're not a mystery shopper—you're a referral, and the scammer gets paid for everyone they can trick into signing up for the trial offer.

What they're doing is not technically illegal, but it is definitely deceitful. It may not be as bad as other mystery shopper scams, but do you really want to do business with someone who started out by lying to you? If I were looking for mystery shopping jobs, I'd go talk to people who have done it, and learn from their experience which companies to work for and which ones to avoid.

However, I'm not looking for mystery shopping jobs. Not only was their little job ad dishonest, it was a waste of time for all the job hunters who responded. Small wonder it got flagged for removal from CraigsList.

14 August 2009

Job Scams, Redux

Speaking of job scams...

Just last week, I posted about some of the scams hitting the job boards. And this week I received a fine example of one. I applied for a bookkeeping job posted on Craigslist, and received this in reply:

Thanks for your interest in our office position. Just to restate the job duties for clarity, you will be answering the phone, scheduling meetings, and running company errands in a company car. When running errands you will be provided with a company credit card to make supply purchases, etc.

We have had some bad experiences with prior employees taking advantage of having access to a company credit card in the past, so before we can schedule an interview, we need you to get a credit check. We prefer you use http://www.nationalcreditchecker.com to obtain this information. When you submit your information they will send you your credit score. When you email me your credit score, we can schedule an interview. Please do not email me your credit report, as this may have private information in it. Just send me your credit score. If you have a low credit score, that will not prevent you from having an interview with us, as we just need to make sure you are an honest individual.

Please send me your schedule with availability. I am looking forward to your response, thanks.

(Name deleted)
HR Manager
KB Collins Contracting LLC.

The first thing I noticed was the change in the job—I applied for a bookkeeping job, and now I'm being offered what appears to be a clerical/administrative assistant position. But I understood after reading the second paragraph: they want me to go to their recommended web site and submit information for a credit report. My scammer even tells me not to e-mail her the credit report, as it may have private information—just send her the final score. I'm supposed to be reassured by her concern for my privacy.

It is completely legal for an employer to run a credit check on job candidates. However, the Fair Credit Reporting Act sets strict rules governing how they may go about doing so:

  • The employer must notify you, in writing, that they will be using a credit or background check. This notification must be somewhat more inclusive than an offhanded sentence in an e-mail—it must explain to you the scope of the the report and how it will be used.
  • The employer must also notify you, in writing, of your rights under the FCRA with regard to this background check.
  • The employer must receive your written authorization for the credit check.
  • If the credit check results in adverse action, such as being passed over for promotion (or in your case, being rejected as a job applicant), the employer is required to tell you beforehand that adverse action will be taken because of your credit check, and provide you with a copy of the report. It is required to notify you again after the action has been taken.

Scammers are always quick to cash in on widespread suffering. Unemployment is rising and job seekers are becoming more and more desperate. Scams targeting the unemployed are the latest fad in fraud.

Remember that desperation makes you vulnerable to these con games. Sending a résumé already means giving an uncomfortable amount of your history to a total stranger. Include only the minimum information needed to contact you—your e-mail address and/or phone number—and do not provide anything further unless you're handing it to them in a face-to-face interview.

06 August 2009

Job Scams

Recently I got a response to one of my Craigslist job applications. Two Word documents were attached; one was a three-page document detailing the nature of the company, the services they provided, their history, and the requirements of the position. The other was an application form requesting my personal information.

I admit I didn't read them in their entirety. I skimmed over the company information (almost two pages' worth) to get to the job requirements. When I got to the part that said I would be depositing receipts into my own bank account, I rolled my eyes and deleted the e-mail. I want to be an accountant, not a money launderer.

As unemployment rises, so does the number of job scams. Scammers prey on the greedy and the desperate—the people who want to get rich without doing work, or (more and more these days) the people who are sinking fast and willing to grab anything that looks like a lifeline. If you've been unemployed for months, your meager savings have evaporated, and you're already behind on the rent, you're suddenly a lot more willing to listen to the guy who says you can make five thousand dollars a week with his foolproof system.

As you search for a real job, stay alert for the fake ones. Online job boards are prime targets for scammers, because they provide relative anonymity with a large pool of potential targets. Here are a few red flags I've found over the course of my job search.

Additional Forms to Fill Out: You've sent your résumé via e-mail, and they responded with an "application form" for you to fill out—either as an attachment or a link. Either way, there is no job. They're just mining you for data, getting your information to sell to spammers, marketers, whoever will pay for it. A web form can also double as a click-through harvester, providing them with hits while they gather your info.

Don't waste your time filling them out. You've already sent your résumé, the next step for an interested employer is to set up an interview. Any further information he needs can be provided in person, including...

The Credit Check: Even if the job has a legitimate need for a credit check, they have no need for it until they have established you as a serious candidate for the job—in other words, at the interview. Never, never fill out an agreement for a credit check over the internet. You don't know who's really asking for it, and the information is everything a criminal needs for ID theft.

Too Much Info: Sometimes your scammer will give you a lot of information about his fake company. My scammer sent me a page and a half of extraneous information, making me wonder if he was trying to hire me or sell me something.

Of course, he was trying to sell me something—his lie. A real company might give you a few sentences about itself, but what they're interested in are your qualifications. A scammer is trying to convince you of his credentials. If it looks more like a sales brochure than a job posting, be suspicious.

Fees: They're more common to work-at-home scams, but lately there have been some scammers charging you money to help you find work. It's not actually illegal, but chances are good they're not doing anything you can't do for yourself—and better. Genuine employment agencies do not charge you a fee.

Data Entry Jobs: There are some actual data entry jobs out there, but don't be too surprised if your application garners a sales pitch instead. So far I've only found one data entry job on Craigslist. All the others wanted to sell me lists of online survey sites.

There are some survey sites that will, in fact, pay you to take their surveys. But we're talking about pennies per survey, maybe a buck or two, and certainly not the thousands per week the scammer claims. If you're interested in online surveys, find them via a more trustworthy source. Someone who posted a misleading ad to get you on the hook is not someone who will give you reliable information.

The "Mystery Shopper" ads fall into the same category. The scammers will try to sell you their services finding you "mystery shopper" jobs. A legitimate secret shopper agency will never charge you a fee to apply for their jobs; they make their money from the companies that need the shoppers.

I hope these red flags will help you avoid the scams while you hunt for your next job. You can also find helpful information about job scams at ScamBusters.

Always be wary of someone coming at you with a smile and an answer to all of your problems. Ginny Sanchez

04 February 2009

Will Reconcile Accounts for Food

Dr Accounting A.A.S. degree
Cr Accounting Proficiency

I completed the course work for an Accounting A.A.S. degree in December. Yay me!

Now I'm trying to find a job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells me accounting is a fast-growing field, but it appears this only applies to experienced accountants. Greenhorns like me are scrambling. I've been scouring the job boards and firing off résumés, but so far have received only polite rejections. *sob*

Most of the jobs I see that don't require several years of experience involve bookkeeping for small businesses and startup companies. Although Quickbooks was not a course requirement, I took a class in it. Many of my classmates were people with no accounting background or knowledge, who were taking only that one class, and planning to start their own businesses as bookkeepers on the basis of what they had learned.

I suppose I could do that—I've got the class and the accounting—but I'm hesitant to fly solo when I have no practical experience. I'm terrified that my lack of experience will cause problems for my hypothetical client.

Ideally I'd like to work in an environment where there's a CPA overseeing my position, who's willing to put up with my questions and hold my hand if I get derailed.

For now, still looking. Shot off some more résumés this afternoon. Gotta be a job out there somewhere—I'm not greedy, I only want one.