Golden opportunity or scam in disguise?

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Desperate times shouldn't have to call for desperate measures, but that's exactly what scammers are hoping job hunters will turn to in these tough times.

With the unemployment rate for people in London between the ages of 15 and 24 hitting 20.5 per cent, according to Statistics Canada, young job seekers are hitting the Internet hard, some even casting the idea of their “dream job” aside for any job that will pay the bills.

I found myself in the same situation in March 2010 when I finished school and was seeking a job in the Communications field. When I couldn't find full-time work, I started to get desperate, applying to jobs that would pay the bills before I found a job in my field.

I eagerly applied to a job posting for a marketing opportunity in May, and when I got the call for an interview, I was ecstatic. I dressed up, packed up my portfolio, and off I went. At the end of the interview, the interviewer asked me to come back for a second interview — warning sign number one — and told me to wear comfortable shoes — warning sign number two. I, being the eager job seeker, didn't want to appear too difficult or nosy, so I came back for the second interview,no questions asked.

As I sat in the office's waiting room before my interview, I could hear loud cheers from a nearby boardroom. “What a fun place to work,” I remember thinking to myself. When the interview began, I was introduced by my interviewer to a few of the employees, and then told I had to go with them. Besides the other two warning signs, this should have been a major red flag. I was told to get into a car with two employees — stranger danger warnings be damned, I was desperate — and driven to a faraway area in London. I was dropped off with one person and the second interview really started: going door-to-door selling cable products entirely on commission with no base hourly wage, and shifts that could last eight hours or longer, regardless of the weather. Some “marketing” gig, huh?

According to Jan Delaney, President of the Better Business Bureau of Western Ontario, I'm not the first person to get sucked in to this kind of marketing job. Some companies even drive their “interviewees” to other cities, leaving them without much choice but to complete a full day's work for free without pay (I left my second interview at lunchtime because it was so far from what I expected).

Delaney said that though these kinds of commissionbased jobs may be legitimate, some rely on false advertising to draw job seekers in. “Some of (the ads for these jobs) are saying ‘Guaranteed $800 a week.' There's no way really that they can guarantee what you're going to earn, because it's all on commission.”

She said she has seen these kinds of ‘guarantees' with gas and electricity reseller companies, which often hire students and new grads. “In (these cases), it isn't so much how hard you work. They just ... take you to a neighbourhood and say, ‘Go door to door here.' There's no way anybody could guarantee that that's going to produce a certain amount of money. I think those kinds of jobs I would be very leery of.”

In some cases, these types of jobs may end up costing the employee money. Delaney gave the example of some painting or landscaping companies. “The approach is that you can be your own boss, own your own business. You're expected to pay up-front fees for the supplies and the marketing and various other costs. There are costs to doing this — since there (are), I guess, to own your own business — but sometimes, by the time the summer's over, the student hasn't made any money or actually owes the company money. That's another one that they want to be sure they investigate pretty thoroughly or maybe avoid.”

A few months ago, the London Police Service released a warning about work-at-home and mystery shopper jobs that were scams designed to steal money from job hunters. “When you come right down to it, with all these work-at-home scams — there's all kinds of them: assembling products at home, processing emails, data entry, all that kind of stuff — you have to pay to get that job,” said Delaney. “You don't have to pay much, but still, you shouldn't have to pay anything to get a job. They're supposed to be paying you.”

In mystery shopper scams, the company sends you a cheque and asks you to wire it back to them, saying that they are evaluating the money-transfer company. The cheque turns out to be fake and the employee is left having to pay that money out of his or her own pocket. “Anywhere where they send you a cheque, ask you to cash it and send them the money back is absolutely not going to have a good result. You're going to lose the money,” warned Delaney.

“Anything in general that asks you to pay, whether it's pay to apply, pay to have your resume created, anything like that, you shouldn't have to do that,” advised Liska Martindale-Dubrule, Student Services Specialist at Fanshawe's Career Services. “That would be a red flag for me.”

One of the best ways to prepare for an interview with any company is to do your research. Dee Bailey, Manager of Office Services at Express Employment Professionals in London, recommended using to read what others are saying about the company you're going to interview with. “It will tell you everything about anyone who's ever applied there or worked there or interviewed there. That probably is the best bet,” she said. “For the most part, it's very, very accurate. It's a pretty incredible tool.” She said she uses it herself when a new company turns to Express to help them find employees.

“When in doubt, google the company,” added Martindale-Dubrule. “Try to find some stuff about the company. If you can't find any information on them, including their website or maybe any newspaper articles or anything, that is probably a huge red flag.” Another tip is to google the company's name and the word ‘scam' — when you get a lot of results from a lot of different sites, it may be time to move on to the next posting or cancel that interview.

Even if a company checks out on Rate My Employer and in an Internet search, Bailey offered a few warning signs to look for in the interview. “If (you're) hired on the spot, that's absolutely a bad sign. People do that when they're desperate,” she said. Another warning sign is if the company forces you to make a decision on the spot or that same day. “You are legally allowed to have 24 to 48 hours to think about this decision.”

Another red flag is if the company won't allow you to give two weeks' notice to your current employer. “Typically, if they're a respectable business, they would want that from their own employees. They should provide that opportunity to you,” Bailey said. “If someone really wants you, they're going to wait for you.”

If you're in an interview situation and things don't seem quite right, don't be afraid to ask questions. (I would have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had just asked what that second interview would involve.) Know your rights as an employee (or even as a potential employee) and don't be afraid to say no if something is out of your comfort zone. You may be desperate, worried, broke and have bills, but no job is worth putting yourself in a bad situation.

If you're looking for help with your job hunt, there are resources available on campus. “I could walk them through our (job search) website as well as other websites,” said Martindale-Dubrule. “Depending on what they're looking for, I would show them ones that would be more pertinent to what they're looking for.” If you're getting closer to graduation, your program-specific Career Consultant can help you find a job in your field. For more information, check out Career Services in D1063 or call 519- 452-4294.

You can also join the Career Services Facebook group at and follow them on Twitter @FanshaweCS.

You should also know your rights as an employee. Go to the Ministry of Labour's website at to learn more. If you get hired by a company and you're not being treated properly, the Ministry of Labour has tips on what to do to take action.