A client of mine told me an interesting story the other day.  He said that he’d had a good meeting with an executive recruiter here in town, about a senior engineering position that was available, but ultimately the position turned out not to be the right fit for a variety of reasons.

On the way out the door, though, the recruiter called my client back into his office and shared one final remark:

Oh yes, John, one more thing before you go.  Unfortunately, some unscrupulous person — I’m assuming one of my competitors — hacked into my database the other day and apparently made off with a bunch of my job orders and candidate resumes.  So if you end up getting any calls from other recruiters about jobs in the near future, and you have no idea how they got your name, would you please let me know and tell me which companies and opportunities they’re calling you about?

Sounds like a reasonable request, doesn’t it?  And just out of curiosity, how do you think you would have responded in a case like this, if you’d just spent an hour having a pleasant chat with a recruiter who seemed to be genuinely interested in finding an assignment for you?

In my client’s case, he said he took the statement at face value and told the recruiter “Sure, happy to help.  I’ll let you know if anybody calls…

He got played.

Unfortunately, while the vast majority of employers, recruiters, and career service practitioners are upstanding citizens — and work with people in honest and ethical ways — there are definitely some bad apples out there to watch out for.  The ingredients are all there for an easy con job, after all, when you combine an industry most people know barely anything about (the career service world) with the emotional stress and desperation often associated with searching for work.

In this case, for example, it’s pretty much a certainty (at least in my mind) that the recruiter in question hadn’t actually had his system hacked, but instead was using a devious method to troll for new business.  He was trying to trick my client into tipping him off to any other relevant hiring needs companies may be facing out there, that other recruiters were working on, so that he could then swoop in to present some candidates and snag the commission, himself.  The whole “computer theft” story was a ruse.  In fairness, I wouldn’t be able to testify to this under oath, but having seen other staffing firms engage in similar practices, experience tells me this is a FAR more likely scenario than somebody having their system hacked by a competitor — given the criminal liability that would ensue.

On another related front, I had yet another job hunter of my acquaintance report recently that he had responded to an advertisement on Craigslist and received the message below, in return:

I would like to congratulate you in making it to the next step of our hiring process. As part of our company’s policy, and to insure our company against liabilities and potential issues, the next step of the hiring process includes getting your credit report checked. Please be aware, that a poor credit history in no way disqualifies you from the position, but will allow us to gain a better feel for you.  In lieu of this, we have arranged a FREE service to make the process easier.  Click here to receive your report. Once you have completed this process, please email me confirmation ASAP, so we can move forward. Please, DO NOT include any sensitive information in any emails. Please perform this step quickly, as we would like to fill the position very soon. Upon receipt of your report #, myself or Mr. Dawson, our HR manager, will get back to you to set up a meeting.

Essentially, it appears as if this company is trying to get people to send them their whole credit history, unsuspectingly, by cloaking it in the guise of a legitimate job application.  To my knowledge, though, no legitimate company asks the CANDIDATE to go access their own credit history and send it along.  It’s the company’s responsibility to facilitate the credit check and there are several legal steps that have to be followed, along the way.  Other tip-offs are the weird language about needing a credit history not because it relates to the job in any way, but simply to get a “better feel” for the applicant.  Come again?  Say what?  What is the world does that mean?  Then from there, they throw in some helpful-sounding language like “we have arranged a free service”  and “please do not include any sensitive information” (other than the credit report, of course) designed to throw wary applicants oft the scent.

If I wasn’t morally disgusted by this scam, I might actually admire its cleverness or the slick copywriting involved.

Ultimately, though, even if you’re a generally cautious person, it’s easy to get duped by these kinds of rackets when you’re dealing with an area of the business world — the employment landscape — that is subject to very little government regulation and where you have precious little first-hand experience, if you’re lucky.

So as we head into 2012, I just wanted to share a word of caution on this issue, yet again, as I have occasionally over the years in articles such as the ones you’ll find here, here, here, and here, if interested.

The bottom line?  ALWAYS trust your instincts.  If a job lead or career service acts in suspicious ways, or your gut tells you something fishy might be going on, make sure to do further due diligence before providing any further information to the parties in question.  Secondly, keep in mind that you’re probably not the first person to get targeted by these kinds of scams, at least the more common ones.  So consider conducting a quick search on Google, using the company’s name and the keywords “scam” or “review” afterwards, to see if this turns up any helpful insights or warnings from other job hunters!

Any other scams, rackets, or questionable services you’ve run into out there that we can warn people against?