Probe after firm vanishes with job-hunters’ money

AN investigation has been launched after job hunters paid for training in the belief they had a job — only to find their supposed employers had vanished into thin air.

After being told they had been given the job, which was advertised in Bolton’s JobCentre Plus, applicants were then told to complete an online induction test, costing £100, to secure a qualification for communication skills needed for the post.

But months later there is still no job and still no answer when enquiries are made. Two women who paid for the “qualification” have now spoken out in the hope no one else will lose their money.

Police say the allegations of an elaborate scam have been passed on to Action Fraud, which is the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre and which has launched an investigation.

JobCentre Plus, in Blackhorse Street, removed the job advert as soon as it received the complaints.

The advert, which had been posted in the JobCentre in Blackhorse Street, Bolton and on online job sites, was for a customer service post at a company called Cowl Finance, allegedly Bolton based, with an annual salary of £21,000.

Some of the adverts were posted by an organisation called O-la Recruitment.

Hopeful applicants were interviewed in a rented room in a building in Bark Street in November and were asked to bring along their National Insurance Number, passport and certificates of qualifications.

Natasha Allred, aged 20, from Hall i’th’ Wood, said: “I completely fell for it. I have been out of work for three months, I have been desperate to work and the company seemed so professional. I was absolutely over the moon to get the job. I signed up for the course because I believed it and they said they would hold the job for me for 28 days.

“I read up on the material they gave me and when I started the examination it seemed fine but then there were about three questions that weren’t right. I got to the end of the course and it said I had failed and I could do it again if I paid £25.”

She reported the matter to the police but does not expect to get her £100 back.

She said: “I am really upset as I thought I had a really good job and I spent my last bit of money on something that wasn’t worth it.”

A 26-year-old, from Breightmet, who has asked not to be named, was delighted when she got her first job since her two-year-old daughter was born. But she became suspicious with the repeated requests from the recruitment agency for her to complete the online test.

She asked a man who claimed to work for the agency about why information about the company could not be found and why she needed to complete a test when she had already obtained the relevant qualifications.

The married mother-oftwo said: “I am shocked and annoyed because it seemed like such a good job and I told all my family and friends I had got it.

“The man made me feel really good by saying there were 80 applicants, some with degrees but I had the relevant experience.

“I am so glad I didn’t pay for the course.”

Attempts were made to contact O-la Recruitment but The Bolton News received no response. No trace could be found at all of Cowl Finance.

O-la Recruitment has an impressive website which boasts of connections with some of the UK’s biggest companies. It is not registered as a company, but says it was founded in 2004 and is a “link between employees and employers to over 65,000 people”.

It claims to be a “commercial recruitment agency; handling permanent and contract placements across a number of office related disciplines” and says “one of the satisfactions of our business is watching and helping to develop the careers of our applicants, whilst at the same time strengthening the businesses of our clients”.

A Department of Work and Pensions Spokesperson, commenting on behalf of Jobcentre Plus, said: “Jobcentre Plus has checks in place to ensure employers, and the vacancies they advertise, are valid. The employer is obliged to comply with all the legal responsibilities of placing a job, and following two complaints this particular job was quickly removed.

“We always advise jobseekers not to pay any money to prospective employers before checking with their Jobcentre. If people have concerns about a company they should report this immediately, and the company will be investigated.”

The DWP was unable say what checks had been carried on O-La Recruitment or Cowl Finance.

An Action Fraud spokesperson added: “Fraudsters often chose to take advantage of job seekers or the long-term unemployed, many of whom often struggle to make ends meet. We see these sort of employment scams mostly online and warn job seekers to be aware that reputable companies won’t charge a fee to recruit staff.

“Genuine prospective employers will not ask interview candidates for bank account details.“ Anyone who is worried they may have been a victim of fraud should report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk.

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