Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Fri Dec 05 2008, 10:04pm

It was a depressing Google search

It was a depressing Google search. I typed in "layoffs" and instantly came up with a bunch that just happened in the past couple of weeks. Citigroup: 52,000 jobs. AT&T: 12,000 jobs. State Street Money Managers: 1,700. Viacom: 850 jobs. The point of this exercise was so I could point out that a lot of people are going to be vulnerable to employment scams in the coming months. You probably didn't need me to tell you that, but if I've grabbed your attention long enough to share a few pointers, then great.

Paying Money to Make Money
The ads said "Mystery Shoppers Wanted." People who called ended up speaking to telemarketers who claimed the company had lots of part time and full time jobs available and not enough mystery shoppers to fill them. Sounds promising, right? Here's the catch. You had to do pay $99 to register for the opportunity. Consumers who went for it complained all they got was a worthless certificate and access to job postings for mystery shopping jobs controlled by other companies. Most consumers got no jobs and earned no money, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC just wrangled an $850,000 settlement out of the groups that were promoting this bogus opportunity.

It's a great reminder of an age-old ploy: companies that sell lists of jobs you can get elsewhere for free; Or sell half-baked training courses that don't really help you get a job; Or charge for silly certificates that nobody in the industry actually values. This scheme is always around and all you have to do is fill in the blank for the field being advertised. I've seen come-ons for postal jobs, bartending jobs, medical billing positions and on and on. No matter how desperate for work you become, don't pay money to make money.

Executive Counseling Services
Don't think for a second that employment scams are targeted only at low-skilled folks. No way. One of the most lucrative employment-related schemes I've seen was aimed at executives. Once again, it involves paying money to make money. These operations go by many names: Headhunters, executive counseling services, job search services, career agents.

No matter what you call them, if they want money up front, it's a bad deal. When I investigated this field, I found that every single service advertising in the newspaper wanted thousands up front. In exchange, they were supposed to get people interviews with good companies. But think about it. Because they are paid up front, they have little motivation to help their existing clients. The only way for them to make more money is to sign up the next person who's willing to pay in advance. Clients I interviewed paid $4000 to $10,000 and never got a single interview!

It's not that I'm against seeking professional help to advance your career. I have an agent myself for my television work. But I don't pay him a dime until he gets me a job. Then I pay a percentage of the salary he negotiates for me, so he's motivated to get me the best deal possible. That's how it works for actors and athletes who employ agents too.

The other problem I discovered with these executive search-type firms is that their contracts are utterly unfavorable to the clients. Often there is often no time limit on the contract. They "guarantee" that they will help you find a job, but they don't specify by what date! They could spend years claiming to look, and meanwhile you'd starve. Another sneaky clause: the contract may state that if they get you just one interview, their obligation to you is fulfilled.