If somebody guarantees you a government job, how much should you pay that person?

A growing number of outfits promise would-be civil servants that they can pull strings or that they have the inside track.

Wrong!

Many people pay for information about federal jobs (who is hiring, where, how to apply, etc.), or to have a professional brush up their resume. That's fine.

But paying somebody who promises you a government job is wasting money on a scam.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, "many Americans are victimized by scam artists selling information about federal job opportunities.

These scam artists place classified ads in newspapers, magazines and periodicals offering--for a fee--to help job seekers locate and apply for federal jobs. Some companies go so far as to use names that imply affiliation with the Federal Government, such as the 'U.S. Agency for Career Advancement' or 'Postal Employment Service.' "

OPM says many companies advertise that there are hundreds or thousands of jobs open in your area (even if you live in Kodiak, Alaska), when in fact there are few if any openings. "For example, the Postal Service has few vacancies for permanent, full-time jobs," OPM says, and what hiring it does is handled through its 85 district offices.

Information about federal job openings is available over the Internet at the Office of Personnel Management's home page: www.usajobs.opm.gov/b8.htm. The Federal Times newspaper also lists jobs on its Internet site, www.federaltimes.com.

Nobody gets more upset about federal job scams than legitimate outfits like the Federal Jobs Digest (published out of Ossining, N.Y.) or the Federal Research Service, a company based in Vienna. FRS supplies updated information on federal job openings around the world and also helps job hunters with resumes and the like. Subscribers (including many federal agencies) get a list of available jobs. The FRS Web site is www.fedjobs.com; the Federal Jobs Digest site is www.jobsfed.com.

The Federal Trade Commission and OPM say this is how to spot a fake federal job service:

* If it "implies an affiliation with the federal government or a guarantee of high test scores" or a job.

* If it refers to "hidden or unadvertised job vacancies or claims that no experience is necessary."

* If it asks you to call a toll-free number for more information. "Often in these cases an operator encourages you to buy a 'valuable' booklet containing job listings, practice test questions and tips for entrance exams." Those materials, the FTC and OPM warn, "may be inaccurate, unnecessary or available at no charge from the hiring agency."

* If you are asked to call a toll-free number "that directs you to pay-per-call numbers for more information." Phone solicitations of this type "must contain full disclosures about cost. The solicitation must make clear if there is or is not an affiliation with the federal government. You must have a chance to hang up before you incur any charges."

If you have doubts about a federal employment job offer, an advertisement or a company offering job-hunting services, there are some real government workers you can call--who got their jobs the traditional way--and who can help:

The Federal Trade Commission, at 202-326-3128; the Postal Crime Hotline of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, at 1-800-654-8896; and your state attorney general.

Retirement Planning Help

* FEDweek, the Internet newsletter, has published two new guides to help federal workers with retirement planning. One covers the old Civil Service Retirement System. The other deals with the Federal Employees Retirement System. Each book costs $12.95, including postage and handling. For details, call 1-888-333-9335.

* An excellent OPM handbook, "FERS (An Overview of Your Benefits)" ($1.75), is being reprinted. Meanwhile, workers can get OPM's "Thinking About Retirement" pamphlet, on FERS and CSRS, at government bookstores for $1.25.

* FEND publications has updated its "Your Retirement" book, available in either a FERS or CSRS edition. It costs $12.95, plus shipping and handling. Call 1-800-989-3363.

Dec. 31 Magic If you had planned to retire late this year or early in 2000, consider the merits of Dec. 31.

Retiring on that day could mean more income and lower taxes. It is especially attractive for people who have built up lots of annual leave.

Retiring on Dec. 31 could boost the going-away check of many federal workers by several thousand dollars.

Check the Federal Diary tomorrow.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causey@washpost.com

Thursday, June 24, 1999