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I saw an ad in the newspaper for a construction job. The ad said to dial an "800" toll-free number for an application. When I called, I was told to dial a "900" number to find out about job openings in my area. When I called that number, a recording told me to send a stamped self-addressed envelope to have a job application mailed to me. All I got was a one page generic job application and a "900" number charge for $39.00 on my phone bill.

paraphrased from a sample complaint letter to the FTC.

Beware of employment ads directing applicants to call "900" telephone numbers. You will be charged either a flat fee or a per-minute charge for each "900" call, and the charge usually is much greater than the toll for an ordinary long-distance call.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sued two companies advertising jobs in the U.S. using "900" numbers. These companies not only failed to disclose the cost of each call, which ranged between $10 and $18 per call, they also provided little, if any, information that would lead to a job. Some consumers had to call back several times to write down the recorded information and were billed for each call.

The FTC also sued two other firms that advertised they would find overseas jobs for upfront fees of as much as $600. One of the companies claimed it had information on more than 10,000 currently available overseas jobs and that its customers would be matched with at least three prospective employers. The FTC charged that few, if any, of the company's job seekers received even an interview, much less a job.

How to Protect Yourself

The FTC suggests the following precautions before you spend money to respond to job ads or sign job placement contracts.

* Know what a "900" number call will cost before you make the call. Reputable employment-service companies will state these costs upfront. If you have problems with charges on your phone bill for "900" numbers because of calls made to a fraudulent business, contact your telephone company immediately. You can ask your phone company to delete the charges, although it is not legally obligated to do so. AT&T cannot disconnect your phone for failure to pay. For policy information related to other carriers, call the carrier or the Federal Communications Commission.

* Realize that employment-service firms can only promise to help you find a job; they cannot guarantee that they will find you a suitable one.

* Check with your local consumer protection agency and the state Attorney General's Office to see if they have received any complaints about an employment company with whom you intend to sign a contract. Ask for a company's references and call them.

* Most important, read your contract carefully before you sign it. If the employment-service representative makes claims that are not in the contract, remember the contract is what counts.

If you are looking for a job and want assistance in doing so without spending much money, consider the job information resources listed below.

Free Resources

In addition to the classified ad section of your newspaper, a number of free information sources are available. Check your telephone directory for local listings.

State job-service offices post job vacancies. They also provide some counseling and referrals to other job sources.

Local and county human-resource offices and information referral services offer some placement assistance. They can give you the names of other groups that can help, such as labor unions or federally- funded vocational programs.

University and college career-service offices usually limit their assistance to students and alumni, but some may let you look at their job listings. They may be a good reference for other job sources.

Local libraries also can be a helpful source. Ask the librarian for material that can help you write a resume, conduct an interview, or compile a list of companies whom you might contact about job openings.

For More Information

To learn more about employment-service firms, write to your local Better Business Bureau. If you have a problem with a firm, contact your local consumer protection office, Better Business Bureau, the appropriate state licensing board, or your state Attorney General. Although the FTC cannot intervene in individual cases, the staff monitors job placement practices and would appreciate copies of your correspondence. Write to "Job Scams", Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.

Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission

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