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Scammers Impersonating Genuine Recruitment Agencies on WhatsApp are Defrauding Jobseekers Out of Tens of Thousands of Pounds

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Reports of employment scams have risen by over 250% since 2022, according to research from JobsAware.

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Con artists are preying on people looking for legitimate job opportunities by posing as real agencies to steal their personal information and, in many cases, their money. Data from multiple sources shows that these types of scams, which usually start on messaging apps like WhatsApp, are becoming more common in the UK and victims are losing thousands of pounds.

JobsAware, a not-for-profit organisation in the UK that aims to make the labour market safer, has released data showing that reports of employment scams rose by 259% in 2023 compared to 2022. In the same period, the City of London Police, the force that runs Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, also reported an increase of 800% in employment scams.

A new government-backed certification scheme for job boards and recruitment platforms has been announced in the UK to tackle the issue and “help protect job seekers, employer brands and recruitment platforms from advertisement scams and fraud”.

Employment scams, or job scams, are a type of fraud where individuals – in this case, jobseekers – are approached by ‘recruiters’ with a seemingly attractive job opportunity, but which is, in fact, a ploy for the scammer to get access to their personal details such as:

  • bank details
  • passwords and login details

Employment scams usually see the scammer impersonating a legitimate recruitment company – and even, sometimes, real people – in order to back up their story. A report by the BBC detailed several real recruitment agencies in the UK who had had their brand used in these scams, causing them substantial reputational damage. Unfortunately, by the time the victim has contacted the real company to check the job opportunity, the damage has been done, and the scammer has made off with their personal details and money, an average of £3,000 per victim.

Many of these scams involve Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud where victims are tricked into sending money instantaneously to scammers, sometimes using social engineering schemes including impersonation. Types of APP fraud include romance scams, cryptocurrency scams, investment scams, and conveyancing scams, but employment scams are increasingly prevalent now too.

Banks in the UK have a responsibility to keep their customers safe from APP fraud by putting in place procedures and sanctions such as:

  • Monitoring accounts and transactions for signs of fraud, scams, and money laundering.
  • Implementing systems to identify, delay or block suspicious transactions that could point to fraud.
  • Following the City watchdog Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) guidance on how to protect consumers from fraud.

However, in some cases of APP fraud where banks refused to refund victims, the case has been taken to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for an independent review. FOS is a government-backed body that deals with complaints between financial institutions and their customers. If it finds fault with the banks, it also has the power to award compensation.

In many cases, employment scam victims are contacted out of the blue via messaging apps such as WhatsApp with details of exciting, well-paid job opportunities. While legitimate recruiters may contact jobseekers out of the blue, it is essential to be able to recognise the red flags of an employment or job scam, which can include:

  • Phishing scams: The scammer contacts the victim (usually via WhatsApp) with an exciting job opportunity and a link to apply or learn more. This link will harvest the victim’s personal details or download malware, which the scammer can use to access bank accounts and other sensitive information.
  • Task scams: The scammer tells you that completing basic tasks will help you earn money or credits. Unfortunately, the portals are often faked, and you end up putting in more money than you could ever make.
  • Advance-fee scams: the scammer will ask you for an upfront payment or deposit to cover the cost of certain necessities for the job, such as training, equipment, or pre-employment checks, with the promise that you will be reimbursed once the job starts. Neither the job nor the goods exist, and the scammer leaves you out of pocket.
  • Fake cheque scams: these are similar to advance-fee scams, but the scammer will promise to reimburse you with a cheque. The cheque bounces, and the scammer disappears.

There are also some steps that can be taken to check whether the company you are dealing with is legitimate before engaging with them in any way:

  • Checking the company’s details on Companies House to ensure that 1) the company is genuine and 2) the details match up to what you already have.
  • Contacting the company directly (using the details on their website, not those given by the ‘recruiter’) to confirm the legitimacy of the job advert.
  • Checking the recruitment pages of the company’s website to see if the vacancies are genuine and live on there.
  • Researching, through LinkedIn and the company’s website, the details of any individuals mentioned to check they exist and are genuine.

Money is understandably tight now due to the cost-of-living crisis and rising bills. People are looking for ways to make extra cash, including through alluring home based ‘side-hustles’, which scammers are exploiting. The most important thing to remember is that if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sarah Spruce, Legal Director and Head of the APP Fraud team at TLW Solicitors commented:

“It is sad but not surprising that employment campaigners and fraud organisations are seeing an increase in employment scams due to the cost-of-living crisis and rising bills in the UK and further afield; scammers take advantage of people when they are vulnerable, and use this to access their money. It is important to remember that if an opportunity seems too good to be true – especially if it comes out of the blue – it probably is. Always do further research and, if in doubt, contact the recruitment company directly using the details on their website or LinkedIn pages.

If you or a loved one fall victim to a scam, what the latest data reveals is that you are not alone. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed about what has happened, help is out there. Get in touch with a member of my specialist team and we can see if we can help with a no win, no fee, refund claim.”

TLW Solicitors has an experienced team of scam compensation specialists who regularly deal with clients who have lost money due to employment, recruitment or task-related APP scams.

We offer a free, no-obligation assessment of your case. If we take on your case, we operate on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, meaning you only pay us if your claim is successful.

Please call us on 0800 169 5925, email info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or complete one of the forms below.

It is important to get advice as soon as possible, as strict time limits can apply.

Minimum case values apply.

Meet Our Team

Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Authorised Push Payment Fraud Claims team.

Sarah and her colleagues are on hand to help with your claim.

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