Nearly 1,400 Wisconsin jobseekers are being warned by the state about a scam solicitation that came through the state's Job Center website.
"Earlier this month, a scammer using the name 'Delaney Woods' improperly used our candidate search feature to target a number of individual job seekers during a 2-3 hour time period," reads the email from the Department of Workforce Development, which runs the site. It encouraged those who received the original solicitation to delete it and if they had replied, to contact the Job Center site immediately.
Among those who received the note from the state as well as the original job solicitation was Lone Rock resident Lisa Gehle. She worked for the fake company for 30 hours, never giving out her personal bank account information as she was asked to do on Day 3 of her "employment," but also never receiving any compensation for her work.
"I thought it was a legit thing," said Gehle, who did computer and telephone-based research projects for the "employer" before becoming leery. "I was going through the Job Center. That pretty much told me it was legit. It's coming through the Job Center."
The incident took place on April 2 when someone purporting to represent a company called Applied Business Solutions UK registered with the Job Center website. Within 2 1/2 hours, it had contacted the 1,400 Wisconsin residents in question, offering a $13 per hour position doing computer work at home. Numerous job seekers contacted the Job Center website with questions as to its legitimacy, and while the state's prime vehicle to help Wisconsinites get jobs pulled access to the fake employer that same afternoon, it did not act to protect those who were contacted until weeks later when contacted by News 3.
"It is certainly an isolated incident, this doesn't occur very often at all. It is rare," said John Dipko, the communications director for the Department of Workforce Development. "Scam artists are always looking for that next opportunity.They're becoming more sophisticated over time and so it's really our challenge to remain ahead of the curve."
Dipko said while an investigation into what exactly happened at the department in this specific case is ongoing, it appears that Job Center procedures, including independently verifying employer contacts, especially if they provide personal email addresses (i.e. a Yahoo.com account as was the situation in this case), were not followed. He said that protecting job seekers and employers remains a top priority.
"We're still following up to figure out what exactly occurred, but clearly the instance that this happened at all is very much troubling," he said.
News 3 did one Internet search for Allied Business Solutions and found a UK-based computer company with the same name. One email and 20 minutes later, News 3 heard from Chris Parkinson, the managing director of the company, who denied any link to the scam.
"Why they decided to steal the identity of my company is a mystery," Parkinson said, noting the scam had operated in other states as well. "We have not and are not offering any jobs in the U.S. All anyone has to do is to visit our website and it would be obvious that there is no U.S. connection.
"It is without doubt a scam of some sort with criminal connotations."
Gehle, who contacted News 3's Call For Action team after getting no response from state authorities on the matter, said she was disappointed about what happened. She said she knows things that appear too good to be true usually are, but as someone who's been out of work for six months, she was desperate to get a job to pay some bills.
"Monday-Friday, $13 an hour to sit home on the computer, you know you've just got to jump on it," she said. "I just want people in Wisconsin, (those who use) the Job Center, if they find this on the Internet, don't go for it because it's too good to be true. That's what happened with me."
Gehle said she will still use the Job Center website as she's desperate to find work and more than 45,000 jobs are posted for Wisconsin residents on the site. Still, she wonders about whether they'll be more legitimate than the one the state is having to apologize for right now.
"We can be confident that by and large, in the vast majority of cases, the activity that is on the site is legitimate," said Dipko.
He recommended job seekers read the consumer protection warnings posted on the Job Center website to ensure they can help the state root out potential scam artists and protect themselves in the future.