Police: Employment scam traced to SC Works website - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Police: Employment scam traced to SC Works website


Check scams are nothing new in South Carolina, but now scammers are setting their sights on a particularly vulnerable part of the population, the unemployed. One scam recently infiltrated a state run employment agency and cost one job seeker thousands of dollars.

It's your information they want, and your money they take. Every year thousands fall victim to anonymous scammers who come up with endless ways to separate you from your money. Scammers are increasingly looking to employment websites, which are often large databases with trusting job seekers, as new targets to perpetrate their scams.

While his wife is newly stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, military veteran and father of two Marcus Lewis has had a difficult time making Sumter his home.

"I went to several different agencies trying to find work, trying to find employment," said Lewis.

Marcus eventually sought help at one of 12 South Carolina Works offices in the state. Last year, the agency helped put 23,000 people into jobs, and Marcus was optimistic a representative with the Veterans Assistance Program with SC Works could help him as well.

"She ended up emailing my resume to Godel Technologies," said Lewis. "And after a couple weeks, received an email...that I had been selected as a candidate."

Marcus began training online and corresponding with his new employers, who used the cover name 'Godel Technologies,' which is real company that is not involved in the scam, through the SC Works website.

"I followed the instructions, and the instructions were to wire the money to a vendor and to send them a confirmation," said Lewis. "This job came from a state agency, so I felt kind of comfortable with it."

Just a few days later he received a series of checks, and he was asked to wire approximately $6,000 dollars of those funds to Illinois to purchase equipment.

"Sounds kind of funny to start with, but he pursued it under the fact that he had gone to the unemployment office where he felt he was dealing with a trusted section," said Sumter Deputy Police Chief Alvin Holston.

Days later, the checks bounced and Marcus was out $6,000 dollars of his own money. It was then he sought help from the Sumter Police Department and SC Works officials, both of whom, he says, were reluctant to help.

"She said they couldn't find the information," said Lewis. "Then she also said that, that position that I applied for that I probably applied for it on my own. She went on to say there is no way, they cannot stop people who pose as employers, looking for employees and scamming them."

Reporter: "So they are placing people with these employers, but they are not checking to see if these employers are legitimate or even real?"

Lewis: "That is what I got from that conversation."

Reporter: "Lets talk about the screening process that the employers have to go through before they can dip into your pool of potential employees, tell me what do they have to be able to do to post on your website?"

"Again, not to give away, what we call the 'Secret Sauce,'" said Adrienne Fairwell, Public Information Director, Dept. of Employment & Workforce. "I don't want to let those bad people in on what they should and shouldn't be doing in order to scam individuals in order to scam job seekers."

Despite initially denying Marcus' claims, this very scam was reported by Department of Employment and Workforce staff in Savannah, Georgia, just days after Marcus went to the police. It's also been seen in other states, even as far away as Wyoming. SC Works staff members say they do screen employers.

"We are on high alert," said Fairwell. "We are taking the appropriate steps and actions to ensure that their information that they share online is safe."

Marcus sent the money to Illinois, to another woman detectives say they suspect was also a victim of the same scam. Detectives working the case there say the money was then sent to Nigeria.

Reporter: "Do you think Mr. Lewis will ever get his money back?"

Deputy Chief Holston: "Want me to be honest? I think it's going to be tough. The tough thing about that is you're working and talking to….you're almost investigating a ghost through the website, and it's tough. A lot of agencies don't have the manpower or resources to truly investigate these types of crimes."

The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating Marcus' case, but SC Works has declined to elaborate on measures they're taking to protect the sensitive information of job seekers.

"So when you look at the whole situation you're like wow, so my wife was just over seas so that you have the freedom to do the job that you have and provide the services that you serve and you are notified about something negligent with your services, and this is how you handle it?" said Lewis. "And nobody has tried to reach out and try to make it right, that's the most irritating part of it."

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs says it sees over 100 of these types of scams per month.

"The bottom line is you get a check, usually for a thousand or two thousand dollars, and they want you to wire back the difference," said Juliana Harris. "With so many people out of work we definitely get some reports on employment scams and work at home scams, too..."

"It's important to kind of research websites before you just go plastering your information on them," said Harris. "Even though you think you're getting it from a reputable source, be sure you're checking it out yourself as well."

The best way you can protect yourself is to be skeptical, Harris said.

"If they are asking you to pay up front for something, it could be a training, it could be a list of job leads, it could be a background check, those types of things, before they have actually offered you a position, then those are red flags that it's a scam," said Harris. "A lot of times you will pay that money and then you wont hear from that employment agency again."

Department of Workforce and Employment officials say they are keeping an eye out for this type of activity. "I think that a job seeker should be comfortable, 100% comfortable and confident in the SC Works online services system, because we are on high alert," said Fairwell.

The U.S. Secret Service estimates $5 billion a year in the United States alone is lost to check fraud scams. Imprisonment rates have been as low as four percent.

Marcus is planning to take legal action against SC Works to try and get some of his money back.

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