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June 11, 2012

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Fake job agencies bilk the young

IT never occurred to Fang that finding a job could be so complicated - and costly.

Fang, who declined to give his full name, went to employment agencies for help. He paid three sets of fees before he began to suspect he was being bilked.

Unfortunately, he was right.

"They just kept asking for money for various reasons," said Fang, who alerted police in Shanghai's Putuo District after he paid nearly 2,000 yuan (US$317) but never got a job.

Fang is not alone in being scammed by bogus employment agencies that prey on forlorn job-seekers with grandiose promises of work. Police told Shanghai Daily the investigation is ongoing. City police said they are aware of at least 30 victims a month, and those are only the reported cases.

Many employment agencies operate illegally, and a favorite target are young and inexperienced migrant workers. According to a recent survey of 11,000 people by, a Shanghai-based human resources website, about half of those conned by such agencies fall into those categories.

The problem tops the work agenda of authorities now, as a fresh crop of college graduates hits the job market at the end of this month amid a slowing economy. The market is tight this time of year.

The agencies charge anywhere from 100 yuan to more than 10,000 yuan to find jobs for clients. In one case, a job-seeker was bilked out of 18,000 yuan, police said.

Fang was luckier than most. He got the money back after district police raided the illegal employment agency operating out of a residential building in Putuo and arrested 10 suspects in May. But the ringleader is still at large - believed to be back in his hometown in northeastern China.

Police have even uncovered evidence that some victims are conned into joining the ranks of the swindlers to recruit more customers.

Wei Jian, a Shanghai police officer who has been on the trail of scam employment agencies for some time, said there was one illegal operation in downtown's Hongkou District that had hooked more than 200 victims.

Sometimes the swindlers get off pretty lightly once arrested because the witnesses who come forth don't lose enough money to bump the case into the fraud category, Wei said.

Unlike Fang, most victims never get their money back.

"My pockets were emptied," said Chen Qizhen, a worker from southern China's Guangdong Province, of her experience at the hands of swindlers four years ago.

Xu Jianjun, another migrant worker, said he was cheated six times during his efforts to find a job six years ago. "I was led by the nose into those traps," said Xu. "I was overwhelmed by promises that I could get a job quickly in a big city."

The scam often starts at Shanghai Railway Station during the annual spring rush that brings thousands of migrants to the city in search of a better life. Leaflets are posted around the station and distributed by hawkers posing as job agents.

"Come and have a look! No academic background required, no age limit. Base salary is 2,000 yuan per month and you can live cheaply in a worker dormitory," barked one hawker. "We don't lie. The company is legal and a big one."

Standing and watching the scene, one could see about one in 10 migrant workers sucked into the trap and being led from the station by the swindlers.

While police continue to warn the public about illegal employment agencies, government-run migrant service centers in the city are trying to help by providing information on legitimate channels for those seeking work.


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