Privacy watchdog warns job seekers to beware
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Would-be workers need to be more cautious with resume services and posting their personal information online. Online fraudsters and scammers are waiting.
Online fraudsters are increasingly taking advantage of vulnerable job seekers by using online résumés to steal their identity, a privacy expert warned this week.
The threats range from job fraud, where a criminal group poses as a legitimate employer to launder money, to the sale of résumé details to database companies for use in background checks. The seemingly small act of posting a résumé publicly can have significant impact: over the past year, more than a dozen Americans have been accused of a felony because their identity has been used for online crime, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.
"If you post your résumé publicly you are asking for identity fraud," she said during an interview with SecurityFocus. "If you have a fantastic résumé, that puts you at a high risk, because your identity will get nabbed, and they will use your information to set up a new account in your name and do criminal acts and it will look like you participated in this scheme."
Ironically, the major résumé services offer tools to help job seekers keep their identity private from the public, but workers fail to take advantage of the features because they do not understand the dangers, Dixon said. However, a majority of résumé services still don't take the issues seriously, she added.
Dixon presented the findings of several studies authored by the World Privacy Forum at the Computer, Freedom and Privacy Forum last week in Seattle. In addition to identity-theft dangers, other privacy problems exist as well. She warned that inaccuracies in employment databases have hurt people's chances of getting the job.
The campaign to raise awareness of job fraud and inaccuracies in employment databases comes as major data leaks by companies such as ChoicePoint and Bank of America have raised public awareness of identity theft. In the latest incident, online trading firm Ameritrade reportedly acknowledged this week that as many as 200,000 customers could be at risk because the firm's backup tape service had lost a key tape. As the number of publicly outed data leaks increases, scrutiny has turned to the openness of sensitive employment information as an increasingly threatening vector of identity theft.
In a typical case of job fraud, for example, a criminal group will contact a job seeker offering employment handling money transfers. For each transfer - usually of a sum just below the federally mandated $10,000 reporting requirement - the "employee" gets to keep 5 percent. The scheme, which is aimed at laundering criminal funds, typically transfers the money to the "employee's" bank account with instructions to wire the money via Western Union to other accounts.
Other criminal groups pose as employers and attempt to convince job seekers to give up sensitive information, such as social-security numbers and bank account information.
"From a job-seeker perspective, use common sense and proceed with caution," said Michele Pearl, vice president of compliance and anti-fraud for Monster.com. "People are so excited that there is interest in them from an employer that they are not always as careful as they should be."
Pearl confirmed that the company has caught a number of fraudulent companies trying to convince people to be "hired" unknowingly as part of a money laundering scheme. Monster.com gives job seekers a variety of privacy options for resumes, including hiding the details from all searches. The company does not sell or rent its resume database and screens every potential employer, Pearl said.
"It is something we take very seriously," she said.
Monster.com outlines many of the dangers of which job seekers should be aware in its Be Safe page.
While sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder may have increased their scrutiny of postings, the majority of sites still do not adequately vet prospective employers, the World Privacy Forum's Dixon said.
Other sites harvest résumés that people have posted to their Web sites, with online service TalentBlast bragging that it has access to over 250,000 résumés posted to personal home pages.
Some of the scrutiny focused on consumer information services, such as ChoicePoint, should also be reserved for the employee services, Dixon said.
"I think we have about a year and a half," she said. "Then people will start looking at this whole online job search as a really risky affair."
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