Each year, US retailers hire an estimated 570,000 short-term employees to help carry the weight of the holiday shopping season. With the need for additional manpower on the sales floor, at the customer service desk, and in the shipping department, these opportunities help companies maximize their annual profits while allowing consumers to earn a little extra income.

Unfortunately, this is the same time of year when scammers are looking to maximize their profits, too. The abundance of bogus job offers means the loss of your money, your identifying information, or both if you fall into one of their traps. One type of employment scam can even land you in legal trouble, leaving you to face criminal charges while your “boss” gets away with it.

Known as a reshipping scam, this one models itself as a work-from-home opportunity. The employee receives items at their personal address or a PO box they’re instructed to rent. Then those items may or may not be repackaged before being shipped on to the recipient whose name and address are provided by the boss. Sadly, in most cases, the items the “employee” receives are either directly stolen or indirectly stolen by being purchased with stolen gift cards.

For years, advocates have been warning the public about scams that require them to pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card, and this is why. When you pay that supposedly overdue utility bill or your alleged past due taxes with a gift card, the scammer who demanded the payment turns around and buys high-end items with that card then resells them. Obviously, the scammer who bought the item can’t put their name on the shipment, so they hire you as a middleman to receive and resend the item while shouldering all the risk.

If you accept an offer—usually sent via email, text message, social media message, or as an ad on a less than reputable website—that requires you to operate this way, be warned: you may be trafficking in stolen goods. Also, be aware that this scam can manifest with money in the form of bank deposits into your account that you are then required to turn around and wire to someone else. Since your employer is most likely far out of reach of law enforcement, you will have no way of proving your innocence once you’re caught because legally, the moment you receive an item or bank deposit, you’re no longer innocent.

There are legitimate employment opportunities at this time of year, but none of those jobs will actually pay you outrageous amounts of money to stay home. Short-term holiday jobs, at least the real ones, will require some long hours and extra effort on your part, but the end result is worth it for a lot of people. Anyone who promises you free money is probably scamming you.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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