By NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — Nearly two years after losing his job as a car salesman and with bills and debts piling up, Angelos started surfing the Internet for postings outside Greece. A small ad on a Web site offering "opportunities abroad" caught his eye, and he dialed the accompanying contact number and was told about a factory job in Sweden.
A month later, he was out $2,300 and still jobless.
"They told me to wire the money to cover procedural costs and the airfare," said Angelos, 38, a father of two who declined to give his full name for fear of jeopardizing future employment possibilities. The airline ticket never arrived in the mail, and follow-up calls went unanswered. A 300-mile road trip from Athens to the northern port of Thessaloniki, the job agency's stated location, led nowhere. The address did not exist.
Angelos, whose wife is also unemployed and who borrowed the money for the agency fee from relatives, is by no means the only Greek to have been duped in such frauds. The authorities say criminals are busy preying on increasingly desperate Greeks facing an ever-deepening recession and an unemployment rate of 27 percent over all and more than 60 percent for those under 25.
"People come to us regularly with such stories," said a spokesman for the Greek police's electronic crime squad, which recorded a doubling in cases of online fraud last year but has no statistics for the job swindles, which he called "a new but growing trend".
"They reel people in with offers of promising-sounding jobs, they get their money and then they disappear," the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he works undercover, said of the rackets. Sometimes the advertisements refer to jobs that do exist but are exploitive, offering a fraction of the salary promised originally.
"We have evidence, but the investigation stalls as soon as it crosses the border," said the spokesman, adding that the authorities had lodged requests for help with specific cases in Germany, Britain and other destinations favored by austerity-weary Greeks seeking a rosier future.
Thousands of Greeks have sought to emigrate since the spring of 2010, when the government signed its first loan agreement with international creditors in exchange for an array of austerity measures that have slashed living standards. There are no government statistics confirming the size, or breakdown, of the exodus. But most appear to be heading for relatively prosperous northern European countries like Germany, as well as Australia, which has one of the largest Greek immigrant populations in the world.
German government statistics showed a 43 percent increase last year in Greek immigrants and a similarly large influx from other debt-ridden euro zone countries in southern Europe, like Spain and Portugal. Many Greek émigrés are qualified professionals, with an estimated 120,000 moving abroad over the past three years, according to a recent study by the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki.
The move is much harder for unskilled workers, particularly those who do not speak the language of the country they move to. It is they who usually fall victim to rackets, according to the police and employment sector officials.
The chief of the association representing private job agencies in Greece, Athanassios Kottaras, said he received six or seven complaints every week (they were almost unheard-of just two years ago) from Greeks moving abroad for jobs that turn out to be nonexistent or exploitive. Mr. Kottaras has appeared several times on Greek television to raise awareness about the problem, which he attributes to hundreds of illegal job agencies.
The head of Greece's state labor inspectorate, Michalis Kandarakis, said there were about 300 such illegal job agencies in Greece, compared with the 90 legal ones represented by Mr. Kottaras. But he said closing them down was difficult, as they often changed names, staff and premises to elude the authorities. "They even lodge charges of harassment or attempted blackmail against inspectors to slow down the process," Mr. Kandarakis said.
The Greek Orthodox association in Melbourne, Australia, has published a warning on its Web site after receiving "numerous complaints" from Greeks "in regard to certain unscrupulous individuals that seek to take advantage of prospective migrants." The site warns against professed migrant advisers who are "seeking exorbitant amounts of money for the purpose of issuing visas and finding employment."
Official efforts to combat the swindles are often hampered by the victims' reluctance to report their experiences to the authorities.
Vangelis Kouris left the Greek capital for Oslo last month after his bakery business collapsed and efforts to find work failed. But a job packing fish in a Norwegian factory, proposed to him by Greeks at a cafe near his neighborhood in Athens, did not exist. Neither did the factory. Mr. Kouris, 45, has since been sleeping at Oslo's main railway station as he looks for work, anxious to raise some money for his wife back home, who has bowel cancer and cannot afford medical tests, he said.
But he has refused to alert the authorities in either country out of fear that he will be ordered back to Athens. "I had a bad experience," Mr. Kouris said. "But I have to stay and try my luck here. There's no work back home, nothing."
Ioanna Zacharaki, a social worker based in the German city of Düsseldorf, reported an alarming influx of Greeks seeking work, adding that many claim to have been duped in job frauds. Working with other local Greek immigrants, she has organized concerts and other events to raise money to pay for return flights for those who want to leave and hotel accommodations for those who insist on staying. But she is reluctant to report suspicious cases to the police. "People are obviously making a commission in these exchanges, but what do you tell the authorities? You don't want to get mixed up in anything," she said.
The worst thing, according to Greeks in destination countries, is that those exploiting the hopeful emigrants are generally Greeks. "Swindling your compatriots when they're down on their luck," Ms. Zacharaki mused. "I never thought I'd see it happen."
A version of this article appeared in print on June 1, 2013, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Amid Recession and Rising Joblessness, Greeks Fall Prey to Employment Swindles.
Source: The New York Times, 31 May 2013