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May 13, 2020 - Claire Zhou

How COVID-19 Unemployment Scams Target PII

Just weeks after COVID-19 hit the U.S., more than 22 million Americans filed for unemployment as businesses temporarily (or permanently) closed their doors to wait out the pandemic storm. Roughly 16% of the labor force is experiencing job loss due to layoffs, furloughs, or schedule reductions. And while some states have begun reopening for business, others are biding their time with no end to the pandemic in sight. 

These are truly desperate times for many as they face financial hardship and uncertainty. And if the economic crash of 2008 taught us anything, it’s that scammers will go to great lengths to prey on others, especially during a time of crisis. 

Unemployment scams are just one example of how con artists are trying to collect personally identifiable information (PII), and they have no problem using legitimate businesses to set up their traps. With so many Americans out of work and now trying to find a new income source, wrong-doers are turning to technology to exploit the despair of others by offering false hope that potentially leaves them in financial ruin. 

Businesses should take note, as scammers could easily use someone else’s information to do business with you or even use your legitimate business to conduct illegitimate job scams. 

How Do Scammers Target Job Seekers?

There are several moving parts to a job scam: job listings, fake websites that look like a legitimate company, and even an interview are all part of the process, which makes it increasingly difficult to sort out the real jobs from the fake ones. 

Fake Job Listings

Job scams have been around for years, but as public knowledge about them grows, so does the creativity and level of detail involved in the scam. Scammers will use real online job boards or even their own fake company website to list jobs. These jobs will include many of the same details that a real job posting would. Many of them will request PII through the application, even going so far as to collect social security numbers and driver’s licenses to conduct preliminary background checks. 

Once they obtain this information, scammers can perform account takeovers (ATOs), opening new accounts, application fraud, and other illicit actions to steal money or identities.

Fake Company Websites

Scammers know that consumers are increasingly aware of online scams. Many people make it a practice to research a company online to learn more about them before applying. It’s becoming more common for scammers to create fake websites that emulate real companies to further obscure their intentions. 

For example, someone who thinks they’re applying for a job a Walmart might actually be on a site that uses Walmart’s logo and branding, but the URL maybe something like “”

Lesser-known businesses are even easier to target, as many job seekers won’t notice subtle differences between a real website versus a fake one. If a scammer were to choose your company as a target, it could severely damage your reputation even if you had no knowledge of or participation in a job scam. 

Fake Interviews

To continue building upon their legitimacy, scammers may conduct job interviews to extract more information from their applicants. They may ask questions designed to get answers to popular security questions, such as a pet’s name. 

Some scammers may use the interview as an opportunity to ask the applicant to pay upfront for a background check, job training courses, startup equipment, or other supplies. In most cases, the scammer promises to reimburse the applicant for these expenses in their first paycheck. Some may collect direct deposit information to start the payroll processes, at which point they can use the bank details to commit additional fraud. 

Con artists are trying to collect personally identifiable information (PII)

What Does a Job Scam Look Like?

The FBI has identified several key elements to look for so that job seekers and companies alike can avoid a potential scam:

  • Gigs that are promoted as work-from-home are among the most common fake job postings (though not every work from home job is fake). 
  • Scammers request money upfront for a number of expenses, including but not limited to uniforms, equipment, recruiting fees, access to materials, or other reason to pay in order to get the job. 
  • The job describes itself as a “previously undisclosed” government or federal job.

Keep in mind that job scams appear alongside real jobs, such as reputable online job boards, newspapers, or even radio ads. 

How to Protect PII from a Potential Job Scam 

As a legitimate company, it’s your job to not only protect the PII entrusted to you but also your company’s image. If scammers are trying to use your company’s good name to conduct illicit business, you could end up suffering the consequences. And if fraudsters acquire someone else’s PII, it’s important to recognize it right away to mitigate damage to your business and the victim.

To protect yourself against lookalike scam companies, you can include a page on your website that talks about your job hiring practices and what you do and do not ask for. This might include, but isn’t limited to:

  • Stating that you never ask for payments to get a job.
  • You don’t request bank information until a person has accepted a job.
  • Your website offers a secure https:// connection.
  • You only post jobs on certain websites, such as LinkedIn or Monster. 

It’s also wise to invest in an online fraud and risk management platform like DataVisor that can monitor for illegitimate activity on your behalf. When new users try to open accounts, apply for credit or loans, or make an online purchase, DataVisor’s fraud platform can use its machine learning intelligence to verify the user’s legitimacy. The platform’s decisions are made in real-time, at scale, with a high level of accuracy and without having to rely on data training, rules, and labeling that can slow down the process. 

DataVisor’s solutions are created to serve industries that are most prone to fraud, including banking and financial services, retail, e-commerce, insurance, telecom, travel, and social platforms.

See how DataVisor’s machine learning fraud detection software can help you combat job scammers and make the online world a safer place.

about Claire Zhou
Claire is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at DataVisor with over 5 years of marketing experience in security and fin-tech. She is passionate about empowering enterprise customers with AI-based solutions. Her expertise spans data analytics, cybersecurity, and fraud prevention. Claire has an MBA from UCLA.
about Claire Zhou
Claire is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at DataVisor with over 5 years of marketing experience in security and fin-tech. She is passionate about empowering enterprise customers with AI-based solutions. Her expertise spans data analytics, cybersecurity, and fraud prevention. Claire has an MBA from UCLA.