Out of work for six months, Mary Long spent hours each day surfing the Web. She found a job listing this fall for a logistics manager that paid $65,000 a year and fired off her resume.
But the company, Advanta Transportation Network LLC, appears to be part of an increasingly common scam that has snared Ms. Long and many others, according to cybercrime experts.
As U.S. job seekers grow more desperate, criminals are using the Internet to con participants into so-called mule operations.
These operations generally follow a formula, say security experts: Cybercriminals post an ad on a job board. Successful job applicants are "hired" or asked to complete a trial project. Scam operators wire stolen money to the applicant's credit card and applicants are asked to purchase such goods as expensive electronics. The applicant ships the goods, often to Eastern Europe, where scam operators sell them. Applicants end up with neither a job nor a paycheck.
Advanta used this approach, according to cyber experts who have reviewed the company's activities. Several attempts to reach Advanta for comment were unsuccessful.
"In the last couple of years, [the growth in mule schemes] has been tremendous," said Uri Rivner, chief of cybercrime technologies at RSA, the security division of EMC Corp., an information-technology company. "The bad economy has a lot to do with pushing this type of thing."
There are few statistics on this underground economy. But federal law enforcement has started to track such scams in the past couple of years and they now number in the hundreds, one federal law-enforcement official said.