Image: A worker uses a suction hose to remove oil washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Belle Terre, La..
Eric Gay  /  AP
If a potential employer tells you you'll need to pay up front for booms and a suction hose, the job they are offering probably isn't legit.
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/20/2010 4:13:31 PM ET 2010-07-20T20:13:31

It’s hard to resist a job offer like this: Help the environment by joining the cleanup efforts of the BP oil spill and make $40 an hour, plus transportation, room and board.

That’s exactly what was promised by a couple of businessmen in mid-June to nearly 500 members of a the Yakama Nation tribe in Toppenish, Wash., some of whom quit their jobs in anticipation of a four-day bus ride to the Gulf.

Unfortunately, the bus never came, and now tribe officials and consumer advocates in the state suspect the whole venture may have been a scam.

“These are vulnerability pitches,” said Zan Deery, lead investigator with the Better Business Bureau’s Eastern Washington, North Idaho & Montana division. The BP oil spill, she said, has created a perfect scenario for schemers to tempt workers. “They say you can make money and look at the good you’ll be doing for the earth.”

Job scams are nothing new, but the BBB is warning job seekers, especially those desperate for this work in this economy, from falling for job offers increasingly popping up in connection with the Gulf oil spill tragedy that seem to good to be true.

Two of the main BP oil spill job schemes the BBB and BP have noticed include unsolicited job offers that ask job seekers to pay for training in order to qualify for certain positions; and recruitment efforts by businesses that are not connected to BP or the firm’s contractors that ask for personal information for job applicants, including Social Security numbers.

Readers, has the recession left you feeling overworked and underpaid?

The latter scenario is what happened in the case of the Yakama tribe.

A businessman named Christino Rosado recruited hundreds of tribe members, many of which were making $10 to $12 an hour as casino workers, and got their Social Security numbers and tribal identification numbers, said the BBB’s Deery.

“Rosado came onto the reservation because he had some sort of friendship connection with some people in the tribe,” she said.

When tribal members began to become suspicious of the offer to work in the Gulf and contacted the BBB, Deery then called Rosado directly. She said he was unable to produce proof he was indeed a BP contractor for the cleanup effort.

Rosado did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but BP spokesman Ray Viator said there was no record of Rosado being one of the oil company’s dozens of contractors that are involved in the cleanup work.

Tribe officials would not comment beyond a press release they distributed to their members last month confirming the events and saying the recruitment effort appeared “to be a scam targeting the vulnerable and impoverished Yakama community.”

Last week, a source familiar with the situation, who did not want his named used, said the case has been handed over to the FBI and the FTC.

So how do you know if a job offer to help cleanup the spill in the Gulf is real?

First off, if you’re not living in one of the states directly impacted by the spill there’s a strong likelihood that no contractors will be recruiting in your state because the vast majority of workers involved in the spill are from the Gulf region, Viator said.

In many cases, the best resources for oil-spill job opportunities are state employment offices: Louisiana (225.342.3111), Alabama (Montgomery regional office: 334.286.1746), Mississippi (800.224.1388), and Florida (866.352.2345).

If you find out about possible work in the Gulf from other sources, or directly from an employer, one major warning sign that the job may not be real —and this applies to most any job you’re trying to land —is if you’re asked to pay anything upfront.

“I think it’s important to point out that job hunters should be wary of companies that require applicants to pay an upfront fee or to pay for costs associated with training or equipment,” Viator said. Legitimate BP contractors cover those costs for workers.

If you still don’t know whether a recruiter is on the up and up, it’s not easy to find out if the company is really connected with the Gulf efforts because BP does not publish its data base of contractors. And forget about calling the company to find out if someone is legit.

“Because of the sheer size and scale of the work going on, it’s not possible for us to respond to every query,” Viator said.

So you’ll have to get your detective’s hat on. A good first step is going to the BBB’s website, or calling your state Attorney Generals office to find out the background of companies.

The BBB also suggests these steps:

  • Make certain that the company you are about to transact with has proper insurance to cover you as well as the tasks you will be performing, especially if it is work in the Gulf. Despite pie-in-the-sky speculating about potential “big paying jobs in the Gulf,” empower yourself with concrete info regarding the legitimacy of the group that is acting on your behalf to supply you with the job.
  • Get a copy of the firm's contract and review it carefully before you make any commitments or moves from one job to another. Understand the terms and conditions of the job. Make sure you understand what services or tasks you will be providing and what you'll be responsible for. If oral promises are made that don't also appear in the contract, think twice about doing business with the firm.
  • Be cautious about dealing with a group that's reluctant to answer your questions or gives you evasive answers.

And don’t, don’t, don’t give out your personal information if you haven’t even had a legitimate interview, or are sent an unsolicited email by a company offering you a job.

Previously: Don't fall for work-at-home scams

BP, BP contractors, and most other employers, don’t send out unsolicited emails or letters with job opportunities.

The best guidance is to be cautious, and to follow this sage advice Yakama Nation officials sent out to their tribal members in a press release on June 17 after Rosado’s promised bus never came:

“If it's too good to be true, it probably is.”

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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