Tens of thousands of veterans looking for work have been vulnerable to hiring scams in recent months, and complaints about job opportunity-related fraud have been on the rise among service members, the News4 I-Team discovered.
The Federal Trade Commission logged a 4 percent jump in business and job opportunity complaints from military members between 2012 and 2013, and the number of impostor scams -- where scammers falsely represent a company or other entity in order to get money from their victim -- jumped a whopping 180 percent in the same time period, according to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel reports.
Local Navy veteran David Hankins said he could be counted among those numbers, after someone claiming to be from a big health insurance company recently contacted him with a job opportunity.
"The biggest struggle is just finding a job that can match up to my skillset," Hankins told the I-Team while sitting in one of the radio broadcasting booths at Montgomery College, where he's finishing up his bachelor's degree in radio and television.
Despite having the positions of volunteer firefighter and college radio DJ on his resume as well, Hankins has still had trouble finding full-time work since finishing his service.
"There are not too many things in the civilian world that will match up with launching jets," Hankins said. "I promised my father before he died that getting my degree was something I was going to do ... So going back to college has helped me out, but it's been very hard finding a job."
Hankins' job search efforts prompted him to post his resume on a site run by Hiring Our Heroes -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce program that works to connect veterans and military spouses with jobs through career fairs. That includes events held in partnership with NBC4.
In mid-April, Hankins got an email from someone claiming to be a United Healthcare recruiter who found his resume on HiringOurHeroes.org. He responded right away, but he soon started feeling something about the request was off. The recruiter requested an online interview on Yahoo! Messenger.
"Kind of sounds weird, but I've heard of weirder things happening," Hankins said.
Once he logged on for the interview, his chat history revealed, it only took a matter of three minutes for the person on the other end to offer Hankins $30-an-hour position, with benefits, to start working from home. That person also sent links to United Healthcare's website, which Hankins said seemed legitimate.
"What didn't seem right," Hankins said, "was when they wanted me to send $450 to a Western Union account for a pre-programmed computer so I could start my 'training.'"
The News4 I-Team found that the email address used to contact Hankins is linked to a number of similar complaints online from people who used other career sites. Those complaints often said someone posing as a United Healthcare recruiter also tried to get money from them.
A United Healthcare spokesperson told the I-Team via email, "Experts advise never responding to such emails; if individuals wish to verify the legitimacy of any email supposedly from a corporate recruiter, they should contact the company directly and notify local/federal authorities."
Over the phone, a United Healthcare employee confirmed the email address used to contact him is not linked to the company, Hankins said.
Hiring Our Heroes also told the I-Team Hankins was not the only veteran to reportedly encounter a fraudulent job opportunity after using the resume engine.
"We did hear a very similar story from a veteran in mid-March," Hiring Our Heroes Senior Director Ross Cohen said. "There were about half a dozen [cases] that happened in that period and they all kind of came at once."
Cohen explained that there may have been one or two fake recruiters who had taken advantage of the site, which has registered 30,000 veterans. The response to the alleged scammers was swift, he said.
"We froze out the site for new employers to register,” he said. “We basically then increased the rigor of our vetting process to ensure that this kind of thing can't happen again."
Cohen also said Hiring Our Heroes encourages anyone looking for work on any career site to look out for red flags in the job search process.
"Don't give away your Social Security number, don't give away credit card information and don't give away any money to someone who says that's part of the process," he said.
United Healthcare also added the following tips on its career blog in 2013:
- If a prospective recruiter or employer requests a background check, agree to do so only after you have met with them at their company location during regular work hours.
- Evaluate contact information in job ads or related emails, watching out for spelling errors, an email address that does not feature the company's name and area or zip code inconsistencies.
Ultimately, Hankins did not give away any money. He hopes his experience can help other job seekers avoid similar fraud.
"People like me, we're desperately looking for work, so we don't really have time for anything like this," he said.