6 Red Flags You’re Dealing with an Online Job Listing Scam

You’re doing everything right. You’re making your way through the job search pipeline. You’re applying for jobs online, scheduling interviews, and discussing compensation. But somewhere along the way, things don’t go as you expect.

You receive a strange message. You’re offered the job of your dreams. But something doesn’t feel right. You don’t really know who this person is, and you’re being asked a lot of personal questions, or maybe even to pay.

Unfortunately, cybercrooks often post scam online job listings, hoping to steal your data and even your money.

6 Red Flags You’re Dealing with an Online Job Listing Scam

To put it plainly, scammers are looking to:

        • Access your private data
        • Trick you into wiring them money
        • Make you write fraudulent checks
        • Get you to pay for non-existent products or services
        • Have you download malicious files

And most do a pretty good job of impersonating credible companies.

Other times, they aren’t so subtle.

Job listing scams are virtually everywhere you look online. Shadier sites like Craigslist naturally have them. Your daily go-to social media like Facebook and Instagram are littered with them. Even professional networking sites likes LinkedIn aren’t off limits to fraudsters. What’s more, apps specifically designed for job listings can have scam cases slip through the cracks.

So how can you tell if you’re being targeted?

The job search process is pretty standard worldwide. The steps are predictable. When the job search process begins to take an odd or reverse course, you’ve got a problem.

In this article, I’ve laid out the top 6 red flags you can keep on your radar to help alert you to potential job listing scams online. I’ve also included some helpful tips for what you can do if you think you’ve been targeted.

1. The Job Application: They Ask You to Pay

Many online job search sites, require you to sign up or pay a small membership or account fee. That is normal. It is not normal to be required to pay to apply for individual jobs.

Likewise, it is not normal to have to pay to do your job. Many fake job listings mention that you may need to pay a fee or make an upfront “investment” to cover the costs of training sessions, materials, or evaluations.

Legitimate companies will specify if they‘re looking for someone with experience or if they‘re willing to train a candidate. The employer will always cover the costs of your training and materials.

Pro Tip: Use reputable online job listing sites with privacy policies that only allow verified employers. Top sites include Monster, Indeed, Glassdoor, FlexJobs, and LinkedIn.

2. The Initial Contact: They Use a Private Email Address

All credible businesses have set up their own email address domain that matches the name of their company, like @google.com, @dell.com, or @amazon.com. This is standard practice.

But scammers tend to rely on free email providers like Gmail and Yahoo addresses to cut costs. They also don’t typically have a website or registered company to connect the domain to in the first place.

While it’s normal for your mom or best friend to email you from their Hotmail account, it’s not normal for someone who wants to offer you a job. Respectable employers communicate with you using a respectable email address. Because they respect themselves and you.

Pro Tip: Try Googling the company’s name next to the word “scam” or “fake”. You may be surprised what shows up in your search results. Also be leery if no social media accounts come up in your search.

Pro Tip: Go to Who.Is and type the company’s web address into the “domain names or IP addresses” box and do a search. You’ll learn when the website was created. If the website is less than a year old, that’s your cue to leave.

3. The Interview: They Ask for Too Many Details Too Soon

It’s normal to be asked for some personal information. Both legitimate employers and scammers usually ask for standard details like your birth date and social security number. Some may even ask for basic bank account information to set up your direct deposit. But how and when they ask for these details is what you want to pay attention to.

True employers ask for your personal information after they’ve interviewed and sent you a job offer. You’ll have a proper in-person or video conferencing meeting. And you’ll typically receive information requests on an official form.

Scammers on the other hand, tend to ask for your personal information at or before your first meeting. You may not be invited to an interview. You may not even know what the person hiring you looks like. And you may be asked to provide details in an informal or unprofessional way like via email, DM, or SMS.

If you’re asked for sensitive or even financial information that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel right, walk the other way. You’re dealing with a scammer trying to take advantage of you, not give you a job.

Pro tip: Keep records of all communications. If you think you may have given out your personal information to a scammer, contact your local law enforcement. They’ll best advise you on what your options are.

4. Salary Negotiations: The Offer Is Too Good to Be True

We all dream of being paid 80k for a few hours of work per week. And scammers know it. “Getting rich quick” tends to be a universal Achilles heel for most people. Fraudsters will offer you an amazing salary in exchange for super simple tasks and a small amount of your time. You’ll think you won the lottery!

Trust your gut. If some sketchy company offers you an unusually high salary for little to no work, it’s definitely not your lucky day. It’s a scam.

Pro tip: You have access to countless online tools to research what the going rates are (low to high ranges) for practically every job. If you’re offered pay that’s far beyond the outlier, keep scrolling. Good sites to research market rate salaries are payscale.com and salary.com

5. The Job Offer: They Hire You Immediately

Waiting for someone to reply to your job application can be nerve-wracking and seem to take forever. So when a company responds rights away with a job offer, you’re naturally going to be thrilled. But keep your emotions in check.

You took the time to apply to this seemingly reputable company. You wrote a thoughtful cover letter, updated your CV, and submitted your best projects. Why hasn’t HR asked to even meet you? No reference checks? They already trust you? How serious could the job or company truly be? Probably not too serious.

If you’re offered a job before you‘ve even a chance to prove your skills, let alone meet a real person, something is definitely off. I wouldn’t hire the first person who applied to my company, would you?

Pro Tip: If you‘re in contact with someone you think might be a scammer, tread carefully with your data. You can always insist on visiting the headquarters for a face-to-face meeting.

6. Your First Paycheck: They Pay You Upfront

Awesome, right?! Think again. Nine times out of ten, it’s not normal to be paid before you’ve done any work. So if someone offers you advanced payment, alarm bells should go off.

It can happen that a scammer will send you a check as an “upfront payment” after cozying up to you and building trust. You’ll be encouraged to deposit it right away. You may then be asked to go buy supplies or tools or other obscure items “needed for the job”. You may be told to keep the change. You may also be asked to wire the money to someone else who “will buy the items”.

Long story short, after you run around going to the bank, making transfers, and buying all those things you supposedly need so urgently, the check will bounce. Ultimately, you’ll find you‘ve paid for everything with your own money.

Don’t expect a real paycheck after this. And definitely don’t expect to hear back from the scammer. By the time the check bounces, they’ll have vanished.

Pro Tip: Practice common sense. It’s 2021, who actually pays with a check? And why should you be doing your boss’s financial leg work? Keep records of everything. Keep all your correspondence with potential employers, all bank records, and any given names or addresses. You’ll need this if you go to law enforcement.

To Sum Up

The job search process tends to follow a predictable pattern. You already intuitively know what’s normal and what’s not. So the moral of this story is to be vigilant, practice situational awareness, question everything, and trust your gut. If something seems sketchy or outside the “norm”, it probably is. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.

If you didn’t follow your instincts and managed to get sucked into any of the traps I mentioned, there’re several things you can still do, depending on how badly you got caught.

  1. Contact the company and demand your money back. Make it clear you intend to report them to the relevant business, government, and law enforcement agencies.
  2. Contact the local police immediately. Report the scam organization’s name, the job listing, and all contact details to the job sites or social media platforms where the scam was posted.
  3. Keep copies of all communications via email, DM, SMS, etc.
  4. Keep copies of your bank or credit card statements if you think your identity may have been stolen or compromised.
  5. Contact your bank and report possible fraud. If necessary, close all relevant bank accounts. In extreme cases, it may be wise to switch to a new bank.
  6. Routinely monitor your bank accounts for any unusual activities.
  7. Close all email addresses that were associated with the job scam.
  8. Monitor your credit report. Any strange negative marks can indicate fraud.
  9. Report online job scams to the FTC, the BBB, or other regulatory organization.

So with that, stay safe and secure. And happy job hunting!

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