About 14 million people are caught up in employment scams every year, according to the Better Business Bureau, and people who are unfamiliar with job scams are most likely to lose money to them. In 2020 alone, BBB reports that fraudsters cost victims an estimated $2 billion.1
However, even for sophisticated job seekers, it can be hard to tell the difference between a scam and a genuine offer. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs and protect yourself during your search.
Top 10 Job Scam Warning Signs
Like your mom always said, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some tip-offs that the “job” is fake:
1. Too Good to Be True
You didn’t contact them. They contacted you.
According to BBB Scam Tracker, 80% of victims reported that the scammer initiated contact with them, typically through a job board or social media. In this scenario, the “employer” will often offer you a job right away or try to entice you by saying that you’ve already made the first cut and they want to interview you as a finalist for the job.
The pay is high—much higher than typical for the job.
Here are two examples, one from an online listing and another reported by a reader:
An online listing for a healthcare administrative assistant: This is a work-from-home job. Work hours are from 9 am-4 pm Monday-Friday You will earn $45 per hour for this position, you are also expected online at Yahoo Messenger during working hours. We also offer flexible hours…
A note from a reader about an operations officer scam: I have never had anyone offer me a job working 20 hours a week, for $72,800 annually, without an interview or two or three. They don’t really say what you will be doing or where…The company address is in Spain.
You get the job right away.
After a quick phone or online interview, the “interviewer” immediately contacts you to offer you the job.
Scammers troll job boards looking for victims. To reduce the chance you’ll get scammed, use job sites that have privacy policies and only allow verified employers to view the listings.
2. Vague Job Requirements and Job Description
Scammers try to make their emails sound believable by listing job requirements. Usually, these requirements are so ridiculously simple that almost everyone qualifies:
Must be 18 years old. Must be a citizen. Must have access to the internet.
(You wouldn’t be reading their email if you didn’t have internet access, right?)
The job requirements don’t mention years of education or experience. As a rule of thumb, if it’s a real job, the requirements will be quite specific.
Job scam emails usually don’t include clear job descriptions, either. Many job seekers say that when they ask for a job description or list of job duties, they get the brush-off. The interviewer either ignores the questions or says something like, “Don’t worry, we’ll train you.”
3. Unprofessional Emails
Some emails from scammers are well-written, but many aren’t. Real companies hire professionals who can write well. If the email contains spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or grammatical mistakes, be on your guard. Here’s an example submitted by a reader:
The Human resources have just reviewed your resume due to the one you posted on www.allstarjobs.com. You are now scheduled for an interview with the hiring manager of the company. Her name is Mrs. Ann Jernigan; you are required to set up a yahoo mail account(mail.yahoo.com) and a yahoo instant messenger.
In this example, the mistakes include:
- Capitalization errors: “Human resources” should be “Human Resources” and “yahoo” should be “Yahoo.”
- Punctuation errors: Commas, periods, and parentheses should be followed by a space.
- Grammatical errors: “Human resources have reviewed” should be “Human Resources has reviewed…”
4. Online Interviews via Messaging Services
Many attempted scams say the interview will take place online using an instant messaging service. The scammers often include instructions for setting up and contacting the hiring manager and may ask for confidential information.
If you’re applying for an online job and you’re told the interview will take place online via instant message, research the company and its representatives before you agree to an interview. And if you agree to be interviewed, ask detailed questions about the job during the interview.
Don’t give out confidential information such as your bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers.
5. Emails Don’t Include Contact Information
If the email doesn’t include the company’s address and phone, it’s a good bet it’s a scam. Also watch out for interviewers who make excuses for using a personal email address by saying the company’s servers are down, etc.
Some scam emails will look like they come from real companies. One reader reported:
The scammer’s email address was email@example.com. The real company email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Google email addresses to ensure their validity. Be sure to copy and paste each address into the search box as is. You can also type in the word “scam” after the email address to see if someone else has reported the company.
6. Search Results Don’t Add Up
Before agreeing to an interview, do your research. If it’s a real company, you should be able to find information about the company by doing an online search. Finding information does not guarantee the company is legit, but if you can’t find anything, you can bet it’s a scam.
For example, one reader got a scam job offer from Fijax.com:
Firstly, their email is very unprofessional; there is no signature at the end. When I checked for the company on Google, I found nothing, not even a website!
Some scammers pretend to represent real companies. One of our readers reported that she received a job offer from “Proctor and Gambel,” but the real company is named “Procter & Gamble.” Another reader says he was offered a job by someone who claimed to represent a real company, but when he did his research, he found out it was a scam:
ALWAYS contact the REAL company and ask if this employee exists. That is how I found out this employee was a fraud.
Sophisticated scammers sometimes set up nice-looking websites—but looks can be deceiving.
Go to Who.Is and type the company’s web address into the “domain names or IP addresses” box and click the search button. The results will tell you the date when the website was created. If the website is less than a year old, be on your guard.
When searching for information about the company online, search for both the company’s name and the email address. Also, copy/paste paragraphs from the email into the search box. Scammers may change the company name but re-use the other parts of the email, and it’s possible you’ll find an identical email posted online.
7. You’re Asked to Provide Confidential Information
Some scammers ask for your bank account information to set up direct deposit or transfer money to your account, or ask you to open a new bank account and provide the information to them:
Other scammers will tell you to go to a website and fill out a credit report form or provide confidential information so they can “put you on the company insurance.” Identity theft scams try to get you to provide your Social Security number and birth date and other personal information.
Before entering personal information online, check to make sure the website is secure by looking at the web address bar. Secure websites have URLs that begin with “HTTPS://”, not “HTTP://”.
8. Sending Money or Using a Personal Bank Account
Some readers say they’ve received checks that look like real cashier’s checks. They are instructed to deposit the check, keep some of the money for themselves, and send the rest of the money to someone else via Western Union or Money Gram. Then, a few days or weeks later, they get a call from the bank saying the check is fake. They have lost the money they sent.
Here’s an example of a scam sent from a reader:
Once you receive the check, First of all, I want you to head right away to your bank and get the check cashed. Deduct your first-week pay which is $500, and Deduct an extra $100 for the Money Gram sending fee and proceed to the nearest Money Gram outlet around you to make payment to my wife’s travel agent.
Some scammers ask to use your personal bank account to transfer money from one account to another account. It is called money laundering, and it’s against the law. Other scams ask you to receive and forward packages from your home. These packages might contain stolen goods or illegal substances.
9. They Want you to Pay for Something
Legitimate companies don’t ask for money. If you’re told you need to purchase software or pay for services, beware. Here are three examples:
Buy This Software
A reader reports:
They were offering $15 per hour for training and $24.75 to start. I was so excited to work from home and actually be paid a decent wage.
The interview went well, and I was told I have the job. YAY! Then I was told that they were going to send me a brand-new HP laptop for work, but I needed to pay for the software for it. I thought not a problem; I’ve had to upgrade in the past for jobs.
Well, here is the red flag: ‘We need you to send $312 Western Union for software costs…’
Pay for a Credit Report
The job will require you to work in a high financial environment, so it is our corporate policy that we perform financial verification checks on all employees to ensure applicant registration info. It’s corporate policy that we have applicants sent through our link, so we are compliant with the U.S employment standards act… Fill out the form and indicate that you want the free report.
Here’s what a reader had to say about this scam:
…These companies are using the internet to get job-seeking people to use their site. Then they tell them they need a credit check to apply for a job through their site. Then the company charges an unauthorized fee on your credit card, which you used to pay a $1 one-time fee for the credit check. Preying on those who can least afford it! Shame on you!
Pay to Have Your Resume Reviewed
The scammer wrote:
You have a lot of strong, relevant experience and are an excellent candidate although it would be best to improve your resume before doing anything with it. I can refer you to a resume writing expert that can improve your resume to the standard we are looking for, and I believe he charges around $150 or so…
10. Your Gut Says It’s a Scam
Researching the company is your best defense, but some scammers are very clever. If you start to feel that things aren’t right, trust your intuition. Ask questions and pay close attention to the answers.
Slow the process down and don’t be pressured into making a commitment or giving out personal information. Do more research. If it turns out to be a scam, report it to the authorities.