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How to avoid job-hunting scams

With unemployment rates at an all-time high, hunting for a job is harder than ever. And to make matters worse, the ever-innovative con artist has jumped aboard.

Job-seekers need to be careful of employment scams, says Steve J. Bernas, president of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. "So many people say 'I wish I called you first,'" Bernas says. "All you need to do is take five minutes to do some research and you would be better off."

Here a few tips that will not only offer much-needed peace of mind when you?re applying for a job, but might also save you some money ? courtesy of the local BBB, Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Attorney General's office:

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don't mess around with companies offering guaranteed employment in exchange for a fee, even if they assure a full refund. No legitimate company would promise you a job before it knew anything about you just because you put down a payment. (Even job-placement companies do not charge an upfront fee; they are paid by either the company or the job-hunter after a position is secured.)

Be wary of companies that charge an application fee. Some common reasons that scammers give for a fee is that they need to do a background check or pay for "processing."

Limit personal information when posting resumes online. Remember, once something is on the Internet, everyone can see it -- most likely forever -- so be careful about what you post.

Stay cyber-safe. Watch out for unsolicited e-mail from companies, and never give away your personal information unless you're sure that the company (and the site to which you?re providing information) is legitimate. Also, don't click on any link within one of these e-mails without checking it out first, as it could potentially redirect you to a site that installs spyware on your computer, making your private information extremely vulnerable.

Check it out. Finally, follow up with the hiring office of any company that advertises employment online to make sure the firm is in fact hiring.

Simply taking a little extra time is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from a fraudulent job offer, so don't be in a rush to commit to anything.

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