Highmark Health is warning area job seekers about an unusual twist on the old-fashioned employment scam, in which a person posing as a recruiter for the Pittsburgh company contacts would-be job applicants by phone or email and attempts to collect their private information.
Throughout the summer, 14 people reported having been contacted by a fictitious Highmark recruiter, who then “makes employment offers on behalf of the company. In most instances, those contacted have never applied for a position with Highmark,” a company spokesman said.
“At this point,” Aaron Billger said, “law enforcement has not been engaged.” No one is known to have fallen for the scam and given away personal data.
As with most employment scams, the solicitors are after things like Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and other valuable information.
Generally, such scams are passive — a bogus employment ad will be placed on websites and social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Craigslist, Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com, and the scammer will wait for someone to take the bait and inquire about the job.
Some scammers try to immediately relieve job seekers of money, charging for fake “processing fees,” “career services” or other costs associated with the nonexistent job. Others are after personal data, which they can then use to re-create identities, or which they can sell online to those looking to do the same.
But as people become wary of fake job ads, scammers have adjusted their methods, casting a smaller net and more actively targeting certain individuals. For example, fake recruiters might scan online resume sites to search for actual job seekers and their contact information, then contact them via text message or Facebook, claiming to be with a recruiting agency or a well-known company.
“If you get somebody on the phone, it obviously takes a lot more time, but it’s obviously a lot more productive,” said Nick Corcodilos, a professional recruiter and headhunting expert in New Jersey. “You’re much more likely to give them [sensitive] information” if you’ve already spent several minutes on the phone with the bogus recruiter, fielding fake interview questions.
Mr. Corcodilos said the execution of this scam attempt was unusually bold, but that the boldness is likely to pay off once the scammer makes enough phone calls. That’s because all of the employment scams, regardless of their variations, have something in common: They are targeting people who need the money.
In other words, “If you’re desperate for a job, you’re going to turn over the private information,” even if it smells fishy, he said.
But less and less smells fishy these days, Mr. Corcodilos said.
Consumers are so used to spam emails and phishing attempts that it becomes “background noise. … You walk into the store to buy something, and they ask you for your phone number” or ZIP code, he said. Asking for personal identifiers during routine phone, online or in-person transactions has become much more prevalent, which is why people sometimes let down their guard.
Rule of thumb: Never give out your Social Security number over the phone unless you absolutely have to. And there’s almost no scenario, when it comes to job searches or employer recruitment, that you’d absolutely have to, Mr. Corcodilos said, particularly if a call is unsolicited.
But Highmark — and many other employers — do, in fact, make unsolicited “cold” calls seeking to recruit potential candidates “about employment opportunities, even if they have not previously expressed interest in working for the company,” Highmark said.
Employment offers “are not extended until a formal, multi-phase interview and screening process has been completed … [recruiters] do not make employment offers during initial communications.”
Highmark suggests that if any one suspects they have been contacted by a fake recruiter, they should contact the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and local law enforcement.
Bill Toland: email@example.com or 412-263-2625.