How to protect yourself from common job search scams

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A new FlexJobs survey reveals 14 of the most common–and successful–job-search scams. Here’s how to identify them and not become a victim.

Image: iStock/Melpomenem

Many remote workers, notably those who made the transition last year at the start of the pandemic, are at a higher risk of becoming a potential target of scammers. A year ago, there was a scramble for companies to quickly send on-premises employees to work from home and the fast-tracking put workers at a higher risk to fall victim to a scam: The limited IT resources (IT departments were stretched to capacity) compelled people to try and fix their own tech problems, which put them in a vulnerable position for scammers claiming to be affiliated support staff.

Yet, many of those who work from home continue to be attractive prey: A recent survey from FlexJobs found 17% of respondents have been a victim of a scam and a further 72% worry about them. Now, FlexJobs revealed the 14 most common, and effective, job search scams.

“Unfortunately, online job scams remain a troubling component of the work-from-home job market, even as the number of legitimate remote job opportunities continues to grow,” said Sara Sutton, founder and CEO at FlexJobs, in a press release. “Especially with unemployment still high, finding a new job can be difficult. Scammers are incredibly tuned in to the fact that some job seekers are desperate to make money, and they will use this in recruiting new professionals who may not be accustomed to looking for work-from-home jobs.”

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Don’t fall prey to the most common scams

FlexJobs identified the persuasive language and presentation of 14 scams:

  • Data entry scams: These are appealing because no skill is required for what is comparably “a lot” of money; scammers use a ploy of an initial fee for processing or training. Once paid, the victim never hears from the company again. Legit jobs don’t have required funds to start the job.
  • Pyramid marketing: Scammers dress this up in various ways, but the bottom line is it is a “deal” where the earliest people involved get others to also join, with the belief that those who invest after them will benefit them financially. In the illegal pyramid scheme, someone has to lose funds for those who arrived first to profit.
  • Wire transfers: A “company executive” tells an employee they need to move funds from one account to another.
  • Unsolicited job offers: An offer you should refuse: The opportunity to interview for a great job arrives in the form of an email or a message through social media. Job search and recruitment teams may reach out to you, even through a legitimate site like LinkedIn, knowing the recipient will assume validity. “Treat every unsolicited offer as a job scam, no matter where it comes from,” reported FlexJobs.
  • Online re-shipping: Also called “postal forwarding,” these are jobs that make the workers unintentional criminals. The remote jobs involve repacking and forwarding stolen goods to buyers outside the US. Not only is the “employee” conducting a crime, but they don’t get a promised paycheck or reimbursement for shipping charges. 
  • Rebate processor: A non-refundable “training” fee is a hallmark of this scam, which is a “job” that involves creating ads for various products and posting them online, and earning a commission when the product is sold.
  • Assembling crafts and projects: Here’s an old-school potential scam, where a victim has to pay “the company” for enrollment, supplies and materials. Some will reject the finished product, even if it matches the sample. Some companies sell a list of companies allegedly looking for assembly services, which rarely provide any employment.
  • Career advancement grants: This scam preys on job seekers looking to upskill education or through certificates and it offers an application allegedly from the government; when it is “approved” the funds can be deposited into the victim’s account.
  • Fake URLS: These scammers try to trick applicants by slightly altering the website address of a viable businesses.
  • Getting personal financial information: This older scam still works for scammers. If the company is asking for your social security number and banking information–essentially what a business needs if you’re legitimately hired–before you have the job, it’s likely a scam.
  • Chat communication: Most legitimate companies are not going to conduct job interviews through chat, so request a call and do some research before interviewing to be sure there aren’t any red flags.
  • Lacking verifiable information: The job sounds perfect, but there doesn’t appear to be any information on the company available. “If you can’t verify a phone number, location, web address, or employees, you’re definitely looking at a scam.”

Tips to avoid work-from-home job scams

FlexJobs offered the following six tips to skirt a scam:

  1. Trust your gut if the job feels scammy.
  2. Know the signs of an online job scam. Recognize the hallmarks which FlexJobs identifies as:
  • You’re asked for personal financial information–such as your social security number, your bank account, your home address and phone number, your date of birth, etc.–early on in the job interview process.
  • The job pays a lot of money for little work. After all, if it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is.
  • The company boasts several rags-to-riches stories that showcase high-flying lifestyles.
  • The job posting mentions quick money, drastic income changes overnight, etc.
  • The job posting has glaring grammatical or spelling errors.
  • The product is supposedly endorsed by countless celebrities or public figures.
  • The contact email address is personal (e.g., johnsmith3843@gmail.com) or one that mimics a real company’s email address (e.g., johnsmith@dellcomputercompany.com).
  • The job requires several upfront expenses from candidates.
  • Compensation is based on how many people you recruit.
  • A recruiter offers you the job immediately without verifying your work experience or doesn’t ask for references.
  • In one of the latest remote work scams, the Federal Trade Commission reports that the operators of a work-from-home scheme used “misleading spam emails to lure consumers into buying work-from-home services.” These emails used fake news stories and fake celebrity endorsements to convince consumers to purchase. In total, the settlements with the operators of this scheme imposed an $11.3 million judgement.

3. Consider keywords. Be wary of these terms: Free work-from-home jobs, quick money, unlimited earning potential, multi-level marketing, envelope stuffing, investment opportunities and seminars.
4. Research the business. Make sure a recruiter is the real deal, “always do due diligence on both the recruiter and the job.” Use resources like The Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Verify the person and company.
5. Connect with the company directly. If a hiring manager cannot tell you the name of the company (they’ll lose their commission, for example), don’t interview/proceed.
6. Question the communication. You may be initially contacted via email, but any other communications should be through a call, video interview, or both. 

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