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Federal and state officials announced a new crackdown Wednesday on scammers who bilk desperate job seekers with bogus offers of help finding work or making money at home.
"Operation Bottom Dollar" will target con artists and educate the public about scams that use classified ads, Web sites and direct mail campaigns to lure the unemployed and others seeking jobs and work-at-home opportunities.
The Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and several states unveiled the campaign and said they will partner with Monster Worldwide Inc. (MWW), the parent of online recruitment company Monster.com, and with Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) to provide tips to online job seekers. Job hunters who use Monster.com or Microsoft's Bing.com site will get online advice on how to determine if a job offer is legitimate or not.
Job-search scams typically require consumers to fork over money to get job leads that can be obtained free of charge, or collect fees for help in obtaining jobs that don't exist.
"They're tricking job seekers into parting with their last dollars," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau. "Our goal is to stop these crooks in their tracks."
Vladeck warned scammers that if they fail to deliver on promises of guaranteed employment or business opportunities, "we will shut you down" and that prosecutors may seek to put the scammers behind bars.
Bogus offers of home employment and other business opportunities also are being targeted. Tony West, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, announced that federal prosecutors have obtained millions of dollars of restitution for victims of such scams and will continue to focus on them in coming months.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said Ohio is suing a Cincinnati company that charged $250 to job seekers in exchange for exclusive local job openings and job counseling services. The catch: most of the job offers were publicly available and many were out of date, said Cordray. The state is seeking a court order to stop the alleged scam, fine the company and force it to return money to its clients.
"We know there are hundreds if not thousands more out there," Cordray added.
Officials called such scams "insidious," and said they have cropped up across the country as scammers exploit high unemployment levels and job losses.
One victim, a Texas woman who had been unemployed for nearly a year, appeared along with officials at Wednesday's press conference to explain how she'd been stung by a job-search scam. She said she made two $89 payments to a company that guaranteed she'd be working within 14 days, only to discover the firm wouldn't even take her phone calls after taking her money.
-By Judith Burns, Dow Jones Newswires, 202-862-6692; Judith.Burns@dowjones.com