Employment Scams
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Basic Information

Employment scams are a common kind of fraud, especially in poor job markets where marks are desperate. The grifter reaches out to someone looking for work, and offers a job. Often, the scam comes in one of a few basic forms:

  • The job seeker is asked to buy something (such as equipment) from a specific "supplier" at their own expense, often promised reimbursement or given it upfront in the form of a check that will never clear.
  • As part of the application process, the job seeker is asked to give identity information (used for identity theft) or banking details (used to drain the account).
  • The job itself is real, but involves the employee unwittingly taking part in a crime. A common example is redistributing packages containing smuggled, stolen, or otherwise "hot" items.
  • The job is real, but promised wages are never paid - or only partially paid. Alternatively, the victim is provided as "contract labour" to a third party that believes that the scammer is paying them. Extreme versions of this can include various forms of unfree labour - historically being tricked into working on a ship or at a remote mine, logging camp or farm was quite common.

The company store/company scrip scam - albeit usually so blatantly performed as to struggle to qualify as a scam - is often allied to employment scams: where the employee is paid in a form that can only be spent in places controlled by the employer, thus allowing a further profit, and potentially forcing them deeper into debt and dependency. Other scummy behavior has also been known, ranging from outright wage theft in the form of unpaid overtime to technically non-fraudulent acts like requiring work as part of the application or interview process which is then used without compensation - but such may be beyond the scope of this article.


The folk/Western song known various as "the Range of the buffalo", "the buffalo skinners" or "the hills of Mexico" portrays an employment scam … albeit one that ends badly for the scammer.


See Also

Game and Story Use

  • As freelancers, adventurers might well end up being targeted by any or all of these.
  • Like with other scams, an employment scam might involve higher-level manipulation rather than simply taking money or labor. This is especially true of the variations that involve doing some kind of work; people are willing to do very weird things if a paycheck is involved.
    • An example of this appears in the Sherlock Holmes story The Red-Headed League.
  • Being "shanghaied" (tricked or coerced into joining a ships crew) was the start to a lot of "adventures" for people in the C19.
  • In the modern era, employment scams are often gateway to being trafficked - especially for young women promised respectable jobs and then forced into prostitution. Young men also still find themselves shipped overseas and coerced into working on agricultural, construction or mining projects in dreadful conditions.
    • If you don't fancy that as a character background, it at least provides something to investigate … or a source for the enemy's mooks.
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