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Huge increase in employment scams

There is nothing more lucrative for a Pacific islander than work abroad. It pays three or four times more than what he or she will earn at home and the returns promise to build a better and more secure future for their families.

This drive to work abroad has also allowed a platform for con artists to use this demand to make money off Pacific islanders.

These so-called recruiters bait Pacific islanders with an array of jobs from nurses, security officers, drivers, caterers, barbers, cruise ship workers, airline staff and many more.

In Samoa, a group of men who were promised work abroad confronted a woman working as their agent and were told that their visa applications had issues.

The men paid large sums of money for visa and processing fees to work in companies in Australia. This is not a story isolated to Samoa but has been happening across most Pacific nations.

Fijian aged care and hospitality workers before departing for Australia. Picture Fijian Government
Fijian aged care and hospitality workers before departing for Australia. This was a proper process, but there are scammers looking for vulnerable people. Picture: Fijian Government

In Fiji, more than 50 men paid sums of up to AU$500 each to work as security personnel and truck drivers in the Middle East.

In such cases, people respond to advertisements for work abroad and they are told that for a fee, they could be on their way to earn thousands of dollars.

Samisoni Waqa of Suva has paid close to AU$500 to be a security officer in a Papua New Guinea mine. It has been more than a year and he is still at home.

“I was first told that I would need to pay $200 for my passports and then another $200 for the visa and then there were other costs because apparently my visa was rejected in the first instant,” Mr Waqa said.

He is not alone in this. He said he knew of 20 other people who just like him paid money to this individual.

Timateu Vukailagi is a retired soldier. He was introduced to a recruiter who was looking to hire former military personnel for work in PNG.

He has spent two years and counting hoping to see a confirmation letter.

“Each time there is a new excuse like passports were lost, there was a fire in the mines or we need to get fitter,” he said.

“How long does it take for a job. I now realise that I have been conned. I am not the only one, there almost 100 other comrades of mine who have given money for work abroad,” he said.

With technology, the employment scams are getting sophisticated. In recent employment scams, individuals are sending money abroad for training so they can learn new skills to work online from home.

The Fiji Intelligence Unit has revealed an increase in Fijians falling for online scam activity within the last 24 months.

An advisory on online scams. Picture Consumer Affairs Victoria
An advisory on online scams. Picture: Consumer Affairs Victoria

While speaking at a panel discussion for World Consumer Rights Day 2022, FIU director Razim Buksh revealed that 132 cases of online scam activity were reported within the lockdown period in the last 24 months.

Mr Buksh said the scams reported included investments, loans, lottery, inheritance, pyramid scams, shopping, business, romance, scholarships, immigration, employment, blessings or prayer, and crypto currency.

“All of these individuals had lost some amount of money to cybercriminals,” he said.

“Last year the Consumer Council of Fiji issued an advisory telling people to be aware of online recruitment.

“As the Coronavirus continues to spread you may be looking for ways to make money while at home. Some may have seen an ad online for a business coaching program you can do from the comforts of your home or to learn how to trade and recruit others for a fee,” the advisory said.

“While these might look like easy ways to earn quick money and stay safe at home – most of these jobs are scams. Please note employers do not ask for upfront payments for you to work.”

There are online advertisements and posts on a daily basis offering work to Pacific islanders in different countries. Nauru’s Financial Intelligence Unit also discovered similar scams and issued advisories in the local media to warn people.

Consumer Affairs Victoria issued a similar advisory for a scam. They had received a report of an employment scam in social media group chats.

“Someone posted that they need people for jobs in Melbourne. Via DMs, they then offered the applicant IT training to boost their prospects. The applicant paid $225, but the training was ‘delayed’,” said the body.

“Meanwhile an admin person for the supposed employer contacted the applicant requiring a $335 ‘registration’ fee, followed by another $335 to ‘start today’. The training and job never materialised. Beware.”

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