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Phony Employment Services

A Baltimore man responded to an advertisement on the Internet by a California company promising guaranteed overseas employment for a fee of $1,595. After signing the contract and sending a down payment of $795, he was offered no job leads. When he tried to reach the company, he discovered they'd moved, leaving no forwarding address and the website was no longer valid.

A Montgomery County man called a Florida job placement agency that advertised in a Baltimore newspaper. After the company representative guaranteed him a job within 60 days, the man charged the $300 fee to his credit card over the phone. When the company prepared an amateurish resume and failed to provide any interviews or referrals, the consumer decided to seek a refund. But by then, the company had gone out of business.

Many job seekers turn to employment agencies, career counselors and resume services when searching for employment. Many of these agencies are legitimate businesses that provide meaningful assistance.

However, job search scams often flourish during periods of high unemployment when people are most vulnerable. Bogus career marketers take advantage of consumers who, frustrated by a long job hunt, are anxious to speed up the process. Beware if you're considering such a company. You may find yourself paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in advance fees for services the company misrepresents - or never provides at all.

Here's what frequently happens: You see an advertisement or receive an e-mail promising access to the "hidden job market." The ad or e-mail may tell you to contact an out-of-state job search firm for this access. You receive a pitch about:

  • jobs with great pay and benefits;
  • jobs offering tax-free salaries with paid food, housing and medical care in exotic locales overseas;
  • fast results;
  • a specific number of interviews;
  • the firm's high rate of success with past clients;
  • special databases of information on corporations; or
  • reserving a job by sending in money right away.

What You May Get for Your Money

Many consumers complain that after sending their advance payments, career marketing firms provide them with sloppy resumes and outdated lists of business contacts to call. The "special database" of information they tout is often the same information readily available to anyone from newspaper ads or internet employment websites.

You may be charged for secretarial services by career marketers who send your unsolicited resume to prospective employers. Meanwhile, it's unlikely the job search firm has any special contacts at those companies, so you'd be better off sending your resume yourself.

And worse, many unscrupulous career marketers close down after a few months, eluding law enforcement authorities and job-seekers demanding refunds.

How to Avoid Rip-Offs

Follow these guidelines when seeking employment services:

  1. Be suspicious of any employment services that guarantee they'll find you a job.
  2. Don't pay a fee in advance. Some unscrupulous agencies may promise you that you can reserve a job by sending in money right away. Don't do it. State law prohibits an employment agency from collecting a fee in advance of services. This is true even if the agency doesn't call itself an employment agency, but still provides information to enable you to obtain employment.
  3. Don't give your credit card number out, even if the firm promises not to charge your account until you sign the contract.

Before you spend money responding to job ads or signing a contract with a job search company:

  1. Check out the agency, including the owner's credentials and those of the career counselor assigned to you. Call the Commissioner of Labor and Industry at 410-767-2241 to find out about any complaints made against the agency or if the company has a bond on file. If a business charges a prospective employee a fee, it must be bonded with the Commission of Labor and Industry. If the business is not bonded, do not do work with them, as the bond is there to protect consumers from shady actions such as deceit, fraud or misrepresentation. Call former and current clients as references. Ask to see other resumes the agency prepared. Ask friends and business associates what they know about the agency. Call the Better Business Bureau to inquire about consumer complaints.
  2. Read the contract carefully, making sure you understand every term before you sign. Get all promises in writing. If you have a complaint about an employment agency that charges an advance fee, call the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's Division of Labor and Industry, or visit their website at www.dllr.state.md.us/labor.
  3. Find out who pays the fee and how much it is. Try to find an agency whose entire fee is paid by the employer.

Free Job Resource Information
Free sources of employment information are available at:

  • Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation website at www.dllr.state.md.us.
  • Local and county human resources offices and information referral services.
  • University and college career services offices.
  • Employment websites.
  • Newspaper ads.


Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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