By Richard Kitterman
Special to the Daily Herald
The down economy has been a playground for scammers looking to take advantage of vulnerable people who are already down on their luck.
Better Business Bureau has seen untold numbers of "last dollar scams," those that focus on getting a victim's last dollar - like fake debt relief services, foreclosure assistance and fake job opportunities.
I find these types of scams particularly upsetting. The victims aren't big companies or wealthy individuals. They are people who desperately need every dollar they have just to get by.
Sherry Forbes told me she feels like she's a magnet for scams. She and her daughter moved to Fort Worth, found a house, settled in and actually started working for Caribbean Pools and Spa before Forbes discovered that rather than helping a legitimate company build pools, she was laundering money for criminals.
"I thought I had done my homework and that this was a good group of people," she said. "I thought I was all on the up and up."
After spending some time talking to the FBI, the state of Texas, two banks and every other agency she could name, Forbes said she was just happy that no one decided to press charges against her and that she had only lost a little more than $200 in the whole debacle.
After that, she said she started sending applications to every job she thought she remotely qualified for. One application that she'd sent to a listing on Craigslist got a bite. The company was called Invest Atkinson, and it listed a Copperas Cove address only two hours from her new home.
"I was thinking to myself 'before I do this, I am going to check this out,'" she said.
When she got to the address, the office looked abandoned. She talked to a neighbor, who informed her that Invest Atkinson was yet another scam. This time, she called BBB.
I already knew about the company before she called. Another woman brought the company to my attention several weeks ago. That woman was suspicious that Invest Atkinson offered her a job without even asking for her resume.
I then spoke with Wes Atkinson, who owns the property listed for the company, and he had never heard of it. He was upset that scammers were using his good name to defraud people.
Forbes summed up the moral of the story beautifully. "They are good at what they do; they are good at scamming people; they are good at making people think they're legitimate," she said. "People just need to just step back and make sure that what they're dealing with is real."
To help you avoid falling victim, BBB offers the following advice for online job searches:
Exercise caution. When using social networking sites and online employment sites, be sure to check the company's website. Many scams use names that are similar to reputable companies to trick job seekers.
Start with trust. Check the BBB Business Review of a company at www.bbb.org to see if it has been associated with a prior employment scam.
Never pay upfront fees. No legitimate job offer will require out-of-pocket expenses from a potential employee for background checks, credit reports or administrative fees before an interview. Additionally, job seekers should never provide bank account information for direct deposit setup until they have officially been hired.
Be careful of the "perfect offer." Job seekers should be cautious of any posting advertising extremely high pay for short hours or minimal required experience. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
For consumer information, reports on businesses or charities, to schedule a guest speaker or to file a complaint on a company, go to www.centraltx.bbb.org or call (254) 699-0694.
Richard Kitterman is executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving Central and South Central Texas.