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Avoid Job Scams: 9 Characteristics of Scam Jobs

By Susan P. Joyce

9 Warning Signs of Job Search Scams

When you apply for a job, you provide sensitive personal information, like your Social Security Number, so job seekers are a gold mine for scammers.

  • Sometimes the purpose of the scam is to collect information from you to sell to other scammers.
  • Sometimes the scammers want to take all the money in your bank account or sell you something useless.
  • Other times, the scammers will use you to commit crimes, like receiving stolen property or money laundering, so you end up at even greater risk.

You will find these scams in social media and in e-mail sent to you by people you don't know. You'll also find fake jobs posted on legitimate websites, like Craigslist, and also on fake versions of job boards and employer websites.

For more information on avoiding job scams, read the Guide to Avoiding Job Scams and The Job Scams Self-Defense Sniff Test.


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Nine Signs the Job Is a Job Scam

If the opportunity seems "too good to be true," it is probably a scam. Pay attention to what your instincts tell you if something feels "off" about the opportunity.

Before you apply for a job or respond to an email with a copy of your resume, make sure the opportunity doesn't match these criteria.

  1. It's a scam if: "No experience is necessary!"

    That's usually the sign of a scam. The description is only a sales pitch, vague, or so simple that anyone could do it. No particular skills, experience, or education are needed to do the job. When you analyze it, the job doesn't make sense, and anyone/everyone would qualify. Often, poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling are used in the description/pitch.
  2. It's a scam if: The job is VERY easy to do, and pays VERY well.

    Although you must start as soon as possible, very little of your time and not much effort are needed to do the job, but you will receive a handsome salary for minimal effort. "No experience necessary" may be part of the job description or pitch.
  3. It's a scam if: A genuine job interview is not required.

    A minimal fake interview can be done very quickly via text message (like Slack or Yahoo Instant Messenger) or email. Or, they claim to be so impressed with you that they don't need to actually talk with you about the job. (Which means you don't get to ask any troublesome questions!)
  4. It's a scam if: They found your resume on a job board you have never used - or not used in years.

    This is usually an emailed scam although it may come via social media. They claim to be following up on an application you have made, and you are perfect for their job. They are ready to hire you immediately. They may even thank you for your (nonexistent) application for the job. It's not your memory failing you. The application didn't happen!
  5. It's a scam if: The employer's and/or the recruiter's identity is not clear.

    The job description may look real, with some duties and responsibilities or a few tasks, but there is no clear indication of who the employer is. Ask (and verify) the name of the person who contacted you and the employer's name before you apply.
  6. It's a scam if: When you Google them, you find only job postings or warnings.

    If contact with them is only via e-mail to an address at gmail.com or some other e-mail service not associated with the business, it is a scam. If they are supposedly hiring for a legitimate employer, the contact information provided should reflect that.

    A legitimate business does more than hire people. A legitimate business -- even one only a few weeks old -- has a website for customers and potential customers/clients. And that website is very likely visible to Google so it shows up in a Google search. An "invisible" website, or no website, is the symptom of a scam. If there are warnings, pay attention. The Job Scams Self-Defense Sniff Test offers more details for Google searches.
  7. It's a scam if: They URGENTLY need to hire YOU -- IMMEDIATELY!

    They know that you are exactly the employee they need (without talking with you or anyone who knows you), and you must begin working for them as soon as possible -- preferably today!.
  8. It's a scam if: You must provide very sensitive information before anything else is done.

    Before you have been interviewed or finished your research about them, they need you to send them your Social Security Number, bank account number, or a credit card number so they can pay you without delay. Tell them you need to have them pay you by check, at least initially, and be particularly cautious if they want to know your birthday (even only the month and day), mother's maiden name, the first school you attended, or other very personal information.
  9. It's a scam if: You must purchase something from them to get started.

    They want to hire you immediately, but first you must pay for some supplies needed for the job. Only they can provide the appropriate supplies. Or, possibly, you need to pay them for some special training that they will provide you to help you get started.

If you really have no idea why someone would pick you to pay you handsomely to do a very simple job, get your guard up! As the old sergeant from Hill Street Blues said to the police officers as they headed out for their day's work, "Be careful out there!"

Three Important Cautions

Job search scams are everywhere. Some are easily recognized, but many others are not. The scammers are getting smarter, so we must be less trusting. Protect yourself from the scammers and identity thieves.

1. Keep your birthday a secret.

Avoid responding to requests for your birthday, Social Security Number, and/or bank account -- from people you don't know as well as those you do.

Your birthday is essential information for people who steal identities and money.

If you have posted your birthday on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social media site, REMOVE IT, if you can, make it private (not shared with other members), OR CHANGE IT to another date!

NOTE: Leaving off the year or using the wrong year is not sufficient -- birth years can be easily guessed.

It is illegal for employers in the USA to ask you your age, if you are not a minor, so a legitimate employer has no need for your birthday.

As long as the dates are different, use a sibling's or a friend's birthday, your parent's wedding anniversary date, your own wedding date, or some other date you can easily remember if needed. A wise friend of mine (a HR manager) uses January 1, 1901 as her "official online" birthday. Everyone knows it isn't real, but the online systems accept it.

2. Do not wire transfer money.

Once you have wired money to someone, you cannot ever get it back. That money is gone, permanently.

One of the most successful scam jobs involves asking people to deposit a check (that eventually bounces), deduct a "commission," and then wire the balance to the scammer. When the first check bounces, what you have wired to the scammer is gone permanently. Read Reshipper and Payment Rep Scam Jobs for the details.

3. Do not provide your Social Security Number or bank account number.

Until you know that an employer is legitimate and that you will be doing a real job, do not provide your SSN or bank account number.

The scammers may claim that they will deposit your salary directly to your bank account, so they need the account number immediately. Tell them that it is difficult to set up at your bank, so you prefer a paper paycheck initially. Tell them that once your bank has seen the real checks clear, they will let you arrange direct deposits.

Or, perhaps they claim to need to use your bank account to transfer funds for their business since they are not located in the USA. Think about that for a minute: a business that needs to use your personal bank account to move their money around the world? Really? The IRS will be very interested to discover you have received all of those funds -- and the IRS would expect you to pay taxes on those funds if the transfers ever happened.

Unfortunately, many scammers see job seekers as their "happy hunting ground" and they are very happy to take advantage of your interest in earning a salary.

More Information About Job Scams:


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.



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