20 Common Job Search Scams and How to Protect Yourself

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.

Here at FlexJobs, we loathe job search scams and are truly interested in helping job seekers identify and steer clear of “too good to be true” job opportunities.

FlexJobs started in 2007 to fight back against the frustrating — and often harmful — fraudulent scams in the work-at-home job market. That’s why we hand-screen every single job and company before it’s posted on our site: to help job seekers stay safe and avoid job search scams.

Work-at-home jobs have always been a target of scammers hoping to gain personal and financial information. However, they’ve recently become even larger targets thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scammers are incredibly tuned into 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.

Must-Know Job Scam Facts

Angry woman doesn't understand her laptop
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To protect yourself from scams, you need to explore what drives the scam industry. Here are a few facts about job scams to keep in mind while job searching:

Knowing how to differentiate legitimate work opportunities from harmful ones is the best way to protect yourself in your search for a remote job.

While job scams can pop up in any profession, we’ve got a list of the most common job search scams you should be aware of.

1. AI-Generated Jobs and Companies

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Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

Artificial intelligence (AI) has helped streamline many processes, including those involved with scamming. AI can be used to create fake job postings and company websites.

As always, be alert whenever reviewing jobs and companies to make sure the information is aligned.

Reverse searching can help avoid fake sites and job postings. If in doubt, always call the company by finding their information online from their real website.

2. Cryptocurrency Exchanges and Ponzi Schemes

Upset senior with laptop
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

If you’re being promised huge profits with little risk for a small investment, it’s likely a scam. Utilize verified resources to invest financially.

3. Posing as a Legitimate Job Board or Company

Regretful and stressed senior businessman at home working on laptop and tired
Stock-Asso / Shutterstock.com

Scammers like to use existing brands and names to try to give their ruse legitimacy. Even FlexJobs has had its fair share of copycat scams.

Spotting these scams can be difficult, as they look real on the surface, but with a little digging, you can find the truth.

Research the company across social media and the web to verify emails, websites, people who work for the company, as well as other points of contact.

4. Using Fake URLs, Photos, and Company Names

Upset woman using a laptop
Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock.com

You come across an online job listing from a well-known company offering work-from-home jobs. Is it too good to be true? Is the company really what it claims to be?

Scammers will try to recreate the legitimate company’s website by slightly altering the web address. If you’re not looking closely, you may not realize that you’re on a scam website.

For example, a real company website might have the address, companyname.com. But when you’re looking at the fake website, the address is company-name.com. It’s a subtle change, but it could indicate you’re not on the company’s real website.

Scammers will also steal photos and images from real companies to create social media accounts, emails, and websites to try to make job seekers feel safer.

When in doubt, do your own research for company information and contact the company directly.

5. Gaining Access to Personal Financial Information

Frustrated man worried about money and finances for retirement while looking at his laptop
Arts Illustrated Studios / Shutterstock.com

This could be the oldest and most well-known scam tactic in the books. Even the most tech-savvy job scammers use this method because it still works.

It is true that before you start a job, you need to give your employer your Social Security number. And since most companies pay salaries via direct deposit, you will eventually need to share your banking information too.

However, if a company is asking you for this information early (like asking for your Social Security number on a job application, or wanting your banking information before they can offer you the job), the job is likely a scam.

6. Recruiting Through Social Media & Chat

Woman working on her laptop
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

Scammers use instant messaging services, like Telegram or WhatsApp, to communicate and conduct fake job interviewers with job seekers.

Although convenient, it is rare to actually secure a job or conduct a job interview with a legitimate company through a social media or chat platform.

If you are approached through chat, be sure to request that they give you a call, and do your research before interviewing to see if the results yield any red flags.

7. Lacking Verifiable Information

Worried man looking at computer
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

You may have thought you found your dream job, but upon further inspection, you can’t find any information about the company. If you can’t verify a phone number, location, web address, or employees, you’re definitely looking at a scam.

In this day and age, real companies will have an online presence and some social media engagement — if they don’t have a decent following, they may not be legitimate.

8. Phishing

Man shocked by taxes
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

Emails, texts, phone calls, instant messages, or even ads on popular search engines and website homepages — you name it, and there is a phishing scam.

If a job requires you to click on a specific link or is asking for detailed personal and financial information, someone is trying to collect your sensitive information for malicious use.

Phishing scams often look like they come from a trusted and well-known company, so always reach out to an employer directly through their legitimate website, rather than respond to any “phishy”-looking communication.

9. Google Doc: Inviting or Mentioning

Upset senior using a laptop
LightField Studios / Shutterstock.com

A lesser-known scam includes inviting you to or mentioning you in a Google Doc that you wouldn’t normally use.

The name may or may not be someone you know, and the title of the doc may look legit. However, pay close attention to the email used to send the doc, as well as any links that may be included.

These scams will typically provide a link for you to click on to “start earning now.”

10. Paying for Remote Work Equipment

confused senior looking at computer
metamorworks / Shutterstock.com

While it’s not completely out of the norm to have to obtain your own home office equipment, job seekers do not need to do so before being hired.

Many scammers will ask job seekers to send money for equipment needed to perform the job and state that they’ll be reimbursed in their first paycheck.

11. Data Entry Scams

Suspicious woman at laptop
Pheelings media / Shutterstock.com

Data entry scams come in many forms, but the common theme is that they promise a lot of money for a job that does not require much skill. Jobs in this category often require an upfront payment for processing or training and very rarely pay as well as advertised.

There are legitimate data entry jobs out there, but they do not advertise extravagant wages, and they do not require an initial outlay of funds.

12. Pyramid Marketing

Frustrated man on laptop dealing with scams
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Pyramid marketing is illegal and has no basis in real commerce. Typically, there is no product involved in a pyramid marketing scheme, just the exchange of money.

Similar to chain letters, people invest in pyramid marketing because they believe they will benefit from investments made by people who follow them into the program. For someone to make money with a pyramid marketing scheme, someone else must lose funds.

13. Stuffing Envelopes

Upset woman using a laptop computer
Nebojsa Tatomirov / Shutterstock.com

Stuffing envelopes is a job scam that has been around for many years. Although variations exist, this scam typically involves signing up and paying a fee to “stuff envelopes from home.”

Once enrolled, you receive a document explaining how to get others to buy the same envelope-stuffing opportunity you did. You earn a small commission when someone else falls for the scam and pays the nonrefundable fee.

14. Wire Transfers

Unhappy laptop user
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Popular among thieves, wire transfer scams move money quickly from one account to another. These transactions are difficult to reverse, making it nearly impossible to recover lost funds.

Although sometimes the request for a money transfer may seem legitimate, it should always be thoroughly checked out.

Scammers have been known to pose as company executives asking employees to fraudulently move money from one account to another.

15. Unsolicited Job Offers

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fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Unsolicited job offers often come in the form of a job scam email. These offers are not sought by the job seeker and offer either immediate employment or the opportunity to interview for a great job.

Some scammers will even pretend to be from a well-known company or job board (such as FlexJobs, ZipRecruiter, or Indeed) to convince a job seeker to interview. These offers may also come in through social media (like Facebook, Telegram, Reddit, Twitter, or Instagram).

Even LinkedIn is no stranger to job search and recruitment scams. It is possible that a legitimate recruiter is reaching out to you about a legitimate job. It’s also possible that it is a scam.

Scammers will use LinkedIn to reach out to targets, knowing you’re more likely to fall for the scam because the message is coming through LinkedIn.

A new twist to this scam is fake recruiters who, after connecting on LinkedIn, ask job seekers to download Telegram for the interview. Treat every unsolicited offer as a job scam — no matter where it comes from.

16. Online Reshipping

Woman worrying about her target-date funds
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Online reshipping is a very serious job search scam because those who fall for it unintentionally become criminals.

Reshipping jobs, also known as postal forwarding, are work-at-home jobs that involve repacking and forwarding stolen goods to customers outside the United States.

Although promised a paycheck and reimbursement for shipping charges paid out of their own pocket, those who fall victim to this type of scam rarely receive any money.

17. Rebate Processor

A frustrated man sits at his laptop computer
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Rebate processing jobs mislead job seekers by promising high income in exchange for processing rebates at home. A nonrefundable “training” fee is usually required to get started as a rebate processor.

Instead of simply processing rebates, this job involves creating ads for various products and posting them on the internet. A small commission is earned when someone buys the products, part of which is sent back to the buyer as a rebate.

18. Assembling Crafts/Products

African American man working on laptop
SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock.com

Work-at-home assembly jobs have been around for a long time. Most companies offering these positions require you to pay an enrollment fee and purchase all supplies and materials from them as well.

Companies are known to reject finished products regardless of how closely they match the sample finished product. Or, you have to buy a list of companies looking for your assembly services.

Once you pay for the list, however, you rarely find the work you thought you would.

19. Career Advancement Grants

online senior
552964717 / Shutterstock.com

This scam is geared toward job seekers who may want or need to gain extra education or certifications for their careers.

You’ll typically receive an email asking you to apply online for a career advancement grant that supposedly comes from the government and can be directly deposited into your account if approved.

20. Posing as Recruiters

job candidate
ViChizh / Shutterstock.com

It’s exciting when a recruiter reaches out to talk to you, however, scammers love to use this method of manipulation. In a situation where you’re full of hope, they prey on vulnerabilities that get you to let your guard down.

Before giving any information or moving forward in any process, verify that the recruiter actually works for the company or service they say they do.

How to Identify Job Scams

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Viktoriia Hnatiuk / Shutterstock.com

Some telltale signs indicate a job posting is probably a scam:

  • The ad uses words that are probably too good to be true: quick money, unlimited earning potential, free work-from-home jobs.
  • There is a sense of urgency, or the recruiter is pushing you to accept the job now. Any legitimate company won’t push you into accepting a job offer immediately.
  • The job post or email has obvious grammatical or spelling errors.
  • You’re offered the job without a recruiter verifying your work experience or asking for references.
  • The “company” has an email domain from Gmail or other popular providers.
  • The job description is unusually vague.
  • The job requires upfront expenses from candidates.
  • The job claims to pay a lot of money for little work.
  • The company markets their “rags-to-riches” stories as a selling point.
  • The product the company sells is supposedly endorsed by celebrities or public figures.

More Scams to Be Aware Of

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By GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com

Social media is also a place to easily fall for a scam. Here are a few signs to be aware of:

  • Unclear and/or unrelated comments on social posts talking about “amazing opportunities.”
  • Job postings shared on individual feeds or direct messages.

There are additional items to be aware of, particularly if you make it to an interview round. Here are some red flags to be aware of:

  • The email for an interview is from a generic email address.
  • The interview is alarmingly short.
  • The entire interview process is done without speaking to a live person.
  • You’re asked for money or personal information during the interview.
  • The interview is with a “mystery company.”
  • You’re offered the job quickly.
  • Your pay will be based on recruiting.

How to Protect Yourself

thoughtful man looking computer
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

While anyone can fall prey to job scams, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe while you search online:

  1. Do your homework. Research the company and the people who contact you. What results do you get when you search [Company Name] + scam? You can also use the BBB’s scam tracker to review (and report!) job scams.
  2. Connect with the company. Go directly to the company website and see if the job is posted on their jobs page.
  3. Trust your gut. If it feels like a scam, it probably is.

Expert Advice for Avoiding Remote Job Scams

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GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com

The FlexJobs career experts share the following advice to job seekers looking for remote, work-from-home jobs:

“At times, either our need for employment or our excitement for a job can be difficult to contain. Scammers know this and can prey on those emotions and needs.

“While it’s certainly good to have a level of excitement in your job search, do your best to also think logically, do your research, and ask questions to verify the legitimacy of a position, rather than making decisions solely from an emotional standpoint or pure excitement.

“Those trying to scam others can use urgency or a fear of missing out on an opportunity to cause people to not question something that in reality feels ‘off’ about the process. In other words, there is a pressure to ‘decide now’ or an urgency to ‘send some personal information.’

“In reality, these are often indicators that you need to do more homework about the organization. A legitimate organization that is interested in your great qualifications will likely appreciate your thoroughness and professionalism.”

Additionally, “With scammers using new tools and methods of phishing for personal and financial information, it’s more important than ever before that job seekers stay vigilant to the latest online career scams. When in doubt, walk away — if you feel like a job may be a scam, it’s not worth finding out the hard way.”

And if you think you’ve found a scam, reach out to the company to inform them, and report the scam to organizations like the BBB and FTC.

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