The lockdown has created ideal conditions for scams that target jobseekers.
Charlatans are exploiting the fact that recruitment is now largely conducted online or by phone, and job losses mean a flood of people are looking for work.
One tactic used to trick the unwary is to ask for payment for a Disclosure and Barring Service, or DBS search, which used to be known as a CRB check.
One job seeker in Bristol thought she had struck lucky after a phone interview for a position as a healthcare assistant.
“It began very professionally,” said the woman, who’s asked me to just use her first name, Shan.
“The telephone interview seemed proper, they asked for references and said they had to do a DBS check.”
Once she had paid £45 by bank transfer for the check it suddenly became difficult to make contact with the strangely named recruitment company Mental Rabbit Limited, or its director Blair Little.
“About three weeks later I had not heard anything,” Shan said.
“I asked for the DBS reference number but he did not give one.
“He told me it was going through a third party and eventually admitted he did not send it off.
“I asked for my money back but was refused. It’s so shocking and I’m worried other people could fall for it.”
Keith Rosser is the chairman of SAFERjobs, a partnership including the Metropolitan Police, Home Office and Trading Standards that fights scams in the jobs market.
“The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year has fuelled a steep rise in fake job scams online,” he said.
“With hiring done remotely online, and with so many job seekers desperate for work, this has created a perfect storm for fraudsters.
“We have witnessed a 70% rise in scam reports since March and indications suggest there are now thousands of victims a month.
“DBS scams are, sadly, rife and whilst amounts taken from people can appear low, for job seekers out of work for so long, trying to support their families, any amount of money is material for them.
“Fraudsters are also dashing the hopes of individuals who believe they have finally found work.”
One of the tactics used by the crooks is to advertise jobs with very general descriptions, such as warehouse or customer service work, to try to snare as many victims as possible.
They also post on the major jobs sites – Shan had come across Mental Rabbit on Indeed.co.uk.
Indeed told me that this account was “reviewed and rejected for a quality violation on December 8”.
“We take rule violations very seriously and have a team dedicated to search quality that uses automatic and manual means of identifying and removing fraudulent accounts from our site as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson.
“Users can also identify and report potentially fraudulent accounts, which our moderators swiftly review and remove if they are found to be in violation of our policies.
“We encourage people to report any suspect job advertisements to us, or if they feel it necessary, to make a report to the police.
“It shouldn’t cost jobseekers money to apply for a job and background checks are usually paid for by employers.
“Charging fees is a violation of Indeed’s rules for companies posting on our site and we encourage people to review our Guidelines for Safe Job Search.”
Blair Little of Mental Rabbit said that despite initially refusing to refund Shan he will now be doing so: “We changed our mind, we stated in a phone call that we would provide a refund because we didn’t get her into secure employment.”
He admitted that his company was not authorised to carry out DBS checks but insisted that it pays a third party, who he would not name, on its behalf.
He is now putting the company into liquidation, blaming the lockdown for the business failure.
And did he want to discuss why it was removed from Indeed.co.uk?
Meanwhile, if you are asked to pay the website ukdbs.org for a DBS check – don’t.
Fake employers have been posting job opportunities on recruitment websites and sending victims to this site to pay for the supposed checks.
It claims to have completed 10,349 DBS checks which sounds impressive until you realise that this figure on its homepage never changes. I first saw it about a fortnight ago and still today it remains at 10,349.
Prices start at £19 plus an £11 fee for a basic check, but it is not authorised to carry out this service.
The website gives no business details and has not replied to my emails.
Ian Johnston, Executive Director of Operations (Disclosure) at the DBS, said: “The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) take fraud very seriously and we can confirm that ukdbs.org are not a Registered Body, Responsible Organisation or indeed have any link to an Umbrella Body.
“We are currently working with partners to have this website removed. DBS customers are able to find out our approved partners on our website.”
You can check if a company is registered to carry out DBS checks on behalf of others here.
In another work scam, key workers hoping to improve their medical skills say they’ve been ripped-off by an online training site.
healthdirectpersonnel.co.uk charges for courses including resuscitation, first aid and manual handling of patients.
The cost is a £50 administration fee plus £199 for the course, which some participants have described as very poor with no hands-on training.
According to reports to SAFERjobs, victims did not receive training certificates, although it promised accredited training, or any work.
healthdirectpersonnel.co.uk gives no company details, its phone number is unavailable and it has not responded to my emails.