During the holiday season, many begin looking to earn some extra cash by picking up some seasonal work. But all may not be merry and bright with scammers ramping up during the holidays.

Along with legitimate “Now Hiring” signs dotting retail stores and restaurants across the United States, job ads are popping up in social media feeds, the internet and inboxes promising some extraordinarily well-paying jobs — if applicants provide their Social Security numbers and other details upfront. Beware scammers may be looking to access your personal credentials.

Job scams have been a problem for years. Last year, the Better Business Bureau estimated 14 million victims with $2 billion in direct losses related to job scams. The 2020 BBB Employment Scams Report found job scams to be the riskiest of all the scams they tracked in 2018 and 2019. However, the BBB study finds that the problem worsened in 2020. Losses reported to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center about employment scams were up 27% between 2018 and 2020.

Identity theft is a common outcome of job scams, as fraudsters often steal job seekers’ personal information to open bank accounts to further their crime. BBB found 34% of victims provided their driver’s license number and 25% provided their Social Security or Social Insurance number.

Now a ProPublica report has uncovered that scammers are dangling six-figure salaries for jobs in a bid to steal people’s identities and use them to commit fraud. In one case a very realistic employment website for Spirit airlines was created using the airline’s photos, text, font and color code. The phony site asks applicants to upload a copy of both sides of their driver’s license at the outset of the process and sends them an email seeking more information from a web address that resembles Spirit’s website with an extra “i” (spiiritairline.com).

Fake job ads aren’t just popping up through social media feeds. In some cases, they can creep up in your inbox. ProPublica details instances where unsolicited job offers land in applicants’ inboxes after they’ve uploaded their résumés to real job search sites, which scammers can access if they pose as potential employers.

The BBB said in an alert last month that Indeed, LinkedIn and Facebook topped the list of online platforms where users reported spotting fraudulent job advertisements that duped them.

Here are some basic guidelines to help avoid being scammed during your holiday job search:

  • Research potential employers. Search online for a company’s name, email address, and phone number. If you’ve heard of the company, look on its website, call or email to find out if the job is real.
  • Avoid work-at-home ads guaranteeing you’ll make big money. No one can predict how much money you’ll actually make working for yourself.
  • Never give out your Social Security number, bank account number, or other personal information over email or phone.
  • Be wary when applying for jobs listed by someone far away or in another country.
  • Never agree to a background check unless you have met the employer in person.
  • Never apply for a job that is emailed to you out of the blue.

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