Fraudsters have used the Jobcentre Plus employment agency to con innocent jobseekers into selling non-existent goods on eBay, Channel 4 News has learnt.
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Channel 4 News has discovered that Jobcentres have for months been offering fraudulent vacancies where applicants are unwittingly helping to scam innocent eBay users out of thousands of pounds, and ultimately ending up with debt collectors knocking at their door.
In November 2010 Jobcentre Plus advertised an "eBay auction lister" vacancy. The successful applicant would act as an intermediary, using his or her eBay profile to sell goods on behalf of an employer, named in the advert as Giftland Limited and contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under the arrangement, payment for any item purchased on the auction website would be passed on to the employer, minus 10 per cent commission retained by the employee. Once the employer had received payment, the goods would be dispatched.
No goods, no commission
But the goods were never dispatched. One woman, who did not wish to be named, told Channel 4 News she had responded to the Jobcentre Plus vacancy last December and gone on to sell goods on behalf of the www.giftlandltd.com and www.swift-techltd.com websites.
However, her customers received none of the goods she had sold to them – nor has she herself been paid any commission on the sales.
Her customers received none of the goods she sold them - nor has she been paid any commission.
Another woman told Channel 4 News she had also applied to become an auction lister in December 2010. Despite the fact that she had applied to Giftland, the company details she received referred her to another company website, www.technoquick.com - now no longer operational.
Although she ended up selling around £5,000 worth of merchandise on behalf of Technoquick, she took the precaution of forwarding only £1,000 of that money to her "employer" pending the receipt of feedback from buyers. Shortly after her customers had begun to complain that they had not received their purchases, the Technoquick website disappeared.
Thsi programme has learned of several other instances of the same scam. In all cases, eBay and PayPal (the online payment system pioneered by eBay) have subsequently refunded the money to affected customers - but then in some cases pursued the auction listers for any outstanding monies.
An eBay spokesperson told Channel 4 News: "We are aware of a handful of recent cases where people have been duped into selling non-existent goods. After we were first made aware of this, we contacted Jobcentre Plus to ask them to vet and if necessary prevent any auction listing roles from being advertised."
People should not list items for sale from someone they've never met or had previous dealings with. eBay spokesperson
The statement continued: "We would like to make it very clear: people should not list items for sale - either on eBay or elsewhere on the internet - from someone they've never met or had previous dealings with."
And eBay now says it will not be pursuing any debts while the company’s investigation is ongoing.
But questions remain over the job listings policy of the Department of Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for Jobcentre Plus.
Obligations under the law
Anne Begg MP, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, told Channel 4 News: "I hope that Jobcentre Plus have a look again at the checks that they have with regard to the jobs they advertise.
"They have obligations under the law to make sure that the jobs are bona fide jobs with proper employers."
I hope Jobcentre Plus have a look again at the checks that they have with regard to the jobs they advertise. Anne Begg MP
Since being contacted by Channel 4 News and eBay in connection with the scam, the DWP has revised its job listings policies and now insists that Jobcentre Plus must check centrally all jobs relating to eBay before they go live.
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions told us: "As soon as Jobcentre Plus becomes aware of a bogus advert it is removed and we will conduct a thorough investigation.
"Jobcentre Plus takes about 10,000 vacancies from employers every day and each advert is checked for legal compliance.
"We continued to work hard to stop bogus employers advertising their vacancies through our system and we take action against any abuse."
07 November 2010