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Employment scams using fake job opportunities to swindle applicants are on the rise and have found a new, prime target in laid-off tech workers.

These schemes—which often involve fictitious job listings, interviews with fake recruiters and sham onboarding processes to steal job seekers’ money or identities—proliferated during the pandemic alongside virtual hiring and remote work, according to Federal Trade Commission data. Scammers now appear to be zeroing in on workers who have recently lost jobs, particularly in the tech industry, workforce experts and recent job-scam victims say.

The number of reported job scams nearly tripled to 104,000 between 2019 and 2021 and remained elevated in 2022, according to the FTC. U.S. workers lost more than $200 million from employment-related scams in 2021, up from $133 million in 2019, agency data show.

Gustavo Miller, a digital marketing specialist, wrote a viral LinkedIn post chronicling his experience of recently being “hired" to a phantom job.

It began with an email from someone claiming to be a recruiter for cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, who reached him via his profile on a recruiting site for startup workers. The next day, Mr. Miller wrote, he did an online interview and got an offer for a remote contractor role, which he accepted after looking over the recruiter’s LinkedIn credentials. Soon after, he got a link to an onboarding portal.

There, he met virtually with a man who identified himself as a human-resources official, who told him how to order a laptop, headphones and other remote-work equipment. He realized he was being duped, he wrote, when he received an invoice for $3,200 and spotted what he called subtle changes to the third-party website and email address that sent it. He refused and got little response when he complained, he said. Coinbase warns that only job listings from its website should be trusted and that legitimate recruiters for the company will use a Coinbase email address.

Mr. Miller’s post garnered thousands of comments, many recounting similar experiences.

“I felt really stupid and naive when I discovered it, but I know this is not a silly scam," he wrote. “These guys are pro, they know the standard remote-first jobs conditions and the tech industry’s hiring culture."

Job seekers say some fraudsters create fake job postings to draw them in, sometimes building websites to make dummy companies appear legitimate, while others impersonate established brands, authorities say. Some companies misrepresented by fake recruiters, like Coinbase, have added scam warnings to their websites. Once the applicant accepts the offer, the phony company will ask for sensitive information like Social Security and bank account numbers or request the job seeker pay upfront for work-related equipment.

“People have been struggling in a number of different ways, including needing a good source of income, and scammers are unfortunately capitalizing on that," said Kati Daffan, assistant director in the FTC’s marketing-practices division, which monitors the schemes.

Though the overall job market remains strong, a number of big-tech companies have cut jobs after pandemic hiring sprees, including Meta Platforms Inc., Salesforce Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. Fraudsters often seize on layoff announcements and employment trends to fine-tune their scams, the FTC said.

Tracy Alcaide, a graphic designer in California, has applied for more than 200 jobs on sites such as LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter since graduating from a tech boot camp in December 2021. She was excited when a recruiter responded by email in September offering an interview for auser-experience design role the next day.

The interview took place on an instant-messenger platform, which Ms. Alcaide says she thought was strange. The recruiter explained that interviews were conducted via chat to ensure her answers would be fairly appraised, according to screenshots of the exchange that were viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Alcaide says the recruiter did ask detailed questions about her work experience.

“There were little red flags that came up," she said, “but when you’re in an interview, you get hyped up and you’re in your head."

She suspected a scam when the interviewer asked for her bank account information to “see if it tallies with the company’s official salary payment account." She declined, and the recruiter abruptly ended the conversation. She said she has since removed her profile from online job boards.

“I just feel violated," she said.

Job sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed and ZipRecruiter said they try to counter employment scams on their platforms. LinkedIn said it stopped more than 20 million fake accounts in the first half of 2022—up from about 15 million accounts in the same period the year earlier—and restricted 200,000 more in response to complaints from users of the site. Indeed said it removes “tens of millions" of job listings each month that don’t meet its quality guidelines.

Jane Oates, a former Labor Department official and now president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit focused on workforce development, said she has seen more job scams in recent months. Tech-related workers are ripe targets, she said, in part because of the high salaries that fake recruiters often dangle and because it is relatively easy to pose as a representative of a small, obscure startup.

She advises job seekers to research potential employers thoroughly and scour corporate websites, social-media profiles and online reviews to make sure a company is what it claims to be. Look for misspellings and other irregularities.A salary range or job offer that appears to be too good to be true is another red flag, she said.

Job hunters should rarely share sensitive personal information on a site that isn’t encrypted. Nor should they cover any work expenses out of pocket before getting a first paycheck, she added.

“People are thrilled when they get an offer right away, and they’re so excited that they forget their common sense," she said. The FTC, which includes tips for avoiding and responding to job scams on its website, urges people who suspect or experience a scam to report it to the agency online.

Michael Reilly, a California-based graphic designer, saidhe received suspicious emails after applying to online listings at least three times after being laid off in August 2019.

A design specialist, he said he prided himself on being able to spot grammatical errors and discrepancies in logos and fonts in email from alleged recruiters. Recently, though, he has had a harder time figuring out which emails are real. The last two interview offers came from phony companies that had full websites built out with false testimonials. He said he didn’t realize they were fake until the recruiters refused to conduct interviews over phone or video.

“When I get these emails now, I’m so worried that it is a scam, that I’m probably missing out on talking to potential recruiters," he said.

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