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Web scams target job seekers

Officials warn to check out prospective employers

Posted: October 29, 2009 9:49 p.m.
Updated: October 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A 38-year-old Newhall woman walked into a local bank earlier this month to cash a check for $10,000.

Bankers quickly discovered it was phony and called police. Moments later, sheriff’s deputies hauled her off in handcuffs and put her behind bars.

But she wasn’t the criminal mastermind, they soon realized. In fact, she was the victim.

She was handling the check for a job she found online that turned out to be a scam — and she’s not the only Santa Clarita Valley resident who has fallen victim to fake Internet advertisements, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. James Anderson.

While crimes of fraud and identity theft are dropping in the Santa Clarita Valley, detectives are noticing an uptick in computer-related cases and are advising residents to beware of offers that sound too good to be true.

The Newhall woman had responded to an online advertisement for part-time employment processing checks for a Ukrainian company, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Darren Harris.

Deputies released her later that day after discovering the scam.

Harris said many are drawn in by employers’ promises of large cuts from quick and easy transactions.

“They tell them they are processing payroll checks for their company,” Harris said, adding that the transactions are actually taking money from legitimate accounts. “(The victim) takes 10 percent and sends it back to the Ukraine. ... Once the money is sent back through a cashier’s check, it’s gone.”

Detectives say Santa Clarita Valley fraud and identity theft crimes have declined overall in recent years.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station handled 661 incidents of identity theft from Jan. 1 through Oct. 26 this year, compared to 760 during the same period last year and 772 two years ago, Anderson said.

Fraud cases also declined this year with 166 incidents through Oct. 26, compared to 191 during the same period last year and 206 cases two years ago, he added.

Anderson said the crimes could be declining because detectives made significant arrests of identity theft criminals last year, nabbing some prolific offenders.

Meanwhile, detectives are seeing more scams conducted online.

“With the advent of the computers, computer-related crimes are on the rise,” Anderson said.

Anderson said job seekers can usually tell an offer is a scam if they do not meet employers face-to-face, if the job requires employees to transfer funds to foreign countries, or if the company does not withhold taxes or educate employees about how to do it themselves.

Hoax job advertisements can be found on Web sites like Craigslist and eBay and even in newspaper advertisements, Anderson said.

“The community needs to be aware,” he said, “that doing nothing for a paycheck is probably a scam.”

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