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CONSUMER WATCH

Online job scams push the envelope

Beware of websites claiming they can help you get hired by the U.S. Postal Service.

November 16, 2008|David Colker | Colker is a Times staff writer.

Put the phrase "U.S. Postal Service now hiring" into a Google search online and you come up with what seems like good news if you're looking for a job in this tough economic climate.

A sponsored link on the results page proclaims: "USPS Jobs, Now Hiring." Click on that and a new page, featuring a smiling woman with a bundle of mail in her hands, describes the jobs as having "full federal benefits" and "paid training."

"No experience necessary!" it goes on to say for jobs as window clerks, mail carriers and other positions. "Operators standing by."

But the operators are not with the postal service. And open job positions, according to the U.S. Postal Service, currently are a rarity.

"We're offering voluntary, early retirement to about 160,000 employees," said Gerald McKiernan, a spokesman for the postal service.

Although some jobs might become available, McKiernan hadn't heard of any lately.

"It would be clearly inconsistent for us to be offering voluntary retirement on one hand and hiring on the other," he said.

The Federal Trade Commission announced this month that it had brought civil charges against Tyler Long, registered owner of the site.

Long's company, Access Business Services in Norcross, Ga., offers a training course for about $130 that is supposed to prepare people for a USPS employment exam.

The FTC charged in U.S. District Court in Atlanta that Long's operation has "advertised falsely that postal jobs paying an average of $20 per hour or $57,000 per year are available," according to an agency statement.

The FTC also charged that advertisements for Long's companies were "deceiving consumers into buying materials they thought would help them get federal postal jobs."

In July, a restraining order was issued by the federal court prohibiting Long from advertising that postal jobs were available, or that he and his companies are "connected with, affiliated with or endorsed by the United States Postal Service."

In a written statement, Robert Gerardo, chief financial officer of Access Business Services, said: "The company is continuing to negotiate with the FTC in an attempt to resolve all of the FTC's complaints and remains optimistic that it will be able to do so."

The company declined to comment further while the court action is ongoing.

The home page of Long's website does offer "disclaimer" links tucked into the upper and lower right corners. Clicking on them leads to a statement that the site is not affiliated with the postal service. It also discloses that study materials for the exam are available from the postal service for free.

FTC staff attorney Harold Kirtz in the agency's Southeast Region office in Atlanta declined to comment on whether the website was in compliance with the court order.

The FTC has issued warnings about postal scams in general on its site. "If someone tells you that postal jobs are available," says the consumer alert at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt013.shtm, "check with the Postal Service to determine if hiring is taking place and if an exam is required for eligibility."

Even if jobs are available, it might take a while to qualify if passing the exam is a prerequisite. The tests, according to the alert, are usually offered only every few years.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Postal job scams

The Federal Trade Commission warns that some private companies victimize job seekers by claiming to have an association with the U.S. Postal Service or by offering training that is little help in taking the postal service employment exam. Be very cautious, the FTC says, of:

* Sales pitches that imply an affiliation with the federal government, state that "no experience is necessary" or guarantee high test scores or jobs.

* Ads that offer information about "hidden" or unadvertised federal jobs.

* Ads that refer to a toll-free phone number. Often in these cases an operator encourages you to buy a "valuable" booklet containing job listings, practice test questions and tips for entrance exams.

* Toll-free numbers that direct you to other pay-per-call numbers for more information. Under federal law, any solicitations for pay-per-call numbers must contain full disclosures about cost.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

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