Allegations of Pay-to-Work Schemes on the Rise

VIDEO: Gio Benitez catches up with a man allegedly involved in a pay-to-work
WATCH ABC Investigates Alleged Fake Employment Agencies

Unlicensed employment agencies are raising the hope of jobs for the unemployed all across America.

But very often the job seekers who use these agencies are still unemployed, part of the pool of 9.5 million people unemployed in the United States.

Nearly 20,000 complaints were filed last year by consumers who claimed they were the victims of job or employment related schemes, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Some of the complaints were made by people who claimed they were promised jobs and employment for a fee, but received nothing in return.

The FTC says the problem is affecting people all over the country. ABC News interviewed three people in New York City who said they paid hundreds of dollars to a man named Maryous Oliver.

The three job seekers said they met Oliver after they replied to an ad on Craigslist Ads, similar to one ABC News found for security guard work that reads, “Looking to hire 10 guards… Interview Today… Start Tomorrow.”

All three claim that he promised them jobs after they paid for and completed required training.

This is how much they say they lost:

“Two hundred dollars,” Wesley Roundtree, 26, of New York, N.Y., said

“Three hundred dollars,” Lizbeth Gomez, 23, of New York, N.Y., said

“Twelve hundred and fifty dollars,” said Aguilar, 40, of New York, N.Y, who asked that his first name not be used.

“Twelve hundred and fifty dollars?” ABC News’ Gio Benitez asked.

“Mm hmm,” Aguilar said.

Said Roundtree: “I let desperation blind me, and that’s what happened.”

“GMA Investigates” wanted to see exactly what would happen if we responded to the ad, so an ABC News producer made an appointment.

In hidden camera video taken by the producer, Oliver is seen wearing what he claims is a security badge.

It isn't long before he starts talking to the undercover ABC producer about money.

“The training is $997 and that’s for your security license. You’re paid $21.37 an hour, that’s full time, alright,” Oliver told the ABC News producer. "Now if it it's part time, you're looking at 16.87. Which one do you want to do? Full or part time?"

In the meeting with the undercover producer, Oliver identified himself as "Mr. O’Neil"

But ABC News learned that Mr. O’Neil is really Maryous Oliver, an ex-convict working at an employment agency, which authorities say is unlicensed, and the owners unknown.

After our producer gave Oliver a total of $1,097, "GMA" Investigates showed our video to Julie Menin, New York City’s Consumer Affairs commissioner. Menin told Benitez that her office is investigating Maryous Oliver.

“We are very familiar with Mr. Oliver and other bad actors in the industry like him,” Menin told ABC News. "He is promising that there will be a job out there. And that is not what employment agencies are allowed to do.”

Shortly after showing the video to Menin, Benitez confronted Oliver outside a Manhattan office. As Benitez approached, he said, “Mr. Oliver. Hey there, Gio with ‘Good Morning America.’ How are you?”

“Hey, what kind of business are you running here?” Benitez asked.

“What kind of what?” Oliver asked.

“What kind of business are you running?” Benitez repeated.

“What kind of business I’m running?” Oliver asked.

“The security guard business,” Benitez said.

“Where?” Oliver asked.

“Right there,” Benitez responded.

Benitez told Oliver about the hidden camera video the ABC News producer shot in which the producer paid over $1,000 and Oliver told him he would get a job paying over $20 an hour. Oliver denied ever telling our producer that he would receive a job paying $21 an hour.

“First of all, I have nothing to say. What you’re saying is not true,” Oliver said.

“You’re caught on camera,” Benitez answered.

“Not true? Really? So you’re saying the hidden camera doesn’t exist?” Benitez asked.

“I’m just saying not true,” Oliver said.

“Really? Because we have it on camera,” Benitez said.

“Not true. Anything else?” Oliver replied.

Indeed, Oliver denied ever promising people jobs, and said that all money received is for training only.

But even that is illegal, according to commissioner Menin.

“The problem with his conduct is he's saying, ‘You will be hired.’ He is offering this guarantee of a job.” she says.

"Plus, the training, saying that you have to spend $990 on training in order to be able to access this job. This is unfortunately all too common with unlicensed employment agencies. And that is why we at the Department of Consumer Affairs are cracking down and have issued over 100 subpoenas to this industry.”

Benitez asked Oliver, “How do you sleep at night knowing that these people who need jobs aren’t getting those jobs?”

“First of all, I have nothing to say. What you’re saying is not true,” Oliver replied.

“Not true? That’s your only comment?” Benitez asks, as Oliver shakes his hand and walks away.

As for the three job seekers we interviewed, they never got that security guard job, or their money back.

The training course required to become a security guard usually costs less than $100.

Authorities warn consumers to be suspicious of an employment agency that wants you to pay in advance, and advises clients to make sure the agency is licensed.