The world has changed because of COVID-19, and our “newnormal” continues to change along with it. As many of our routines have been upended, things like the great outdoors, home-cooked meals, and our need for trust and connection have taken on new urgency.
Unfortunately, this need for connection, mixed with increased stress, job-search fatigue, and an uptick in remote and freelance work opportunities, has created a perfect storm for employment scams to flourish. Fake opportunities purporting to be the real deal to trick job seekers are everywhere, as scammers have found new ways to impersonate real job openings, pose as recruiters or other representatives of well-known companies, and prey on unsuspecting people looking for jobs during a vulnerable time. And in times of stress, distraction, and desperation, people aren’t as likely to make sound decisions—making it easier for scammers to defraud them out of personal information, money, and identity.
According to a study by the Better Business Bureau, nearly three-quarters of those who lose money to employment scams are already in financial crisis. As more jobs are now remote, it can be even harder to identify whether a job posting, website, or recruiter is authentic and genuine at first glance—and scammers are keen to take advantage of this.
Arming yourself with the right knowledge is the first step to avoiding employment scams. But how do you know the difference between a real job opportunity and a scam? We’ve compiled a list of eight red flags to help you stay a few steps ahead, as well a few suggestions for protecting yourself moving forward.
Employment Scam Red Flags
1. Unsolicited or unprofessional communication. In 80 percent of employment scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker,communication was initiated by the scammer. The first rule of thumb is to question any communication coming your way that you haven’t initiated. The most frequent methods used by scammers to engage with their targets were email and text. Scammers often contact job seekers from an email that’s similar to an official company domain, although it may take a discerning eye to notice the discrepancies. While legitimate recruiters do regularly reach out to potential candidates as part of their job, it’s important to take a step back whenever you’re approached online to make sure the source is legitimate.
2. Unclear or questionable methods of contact. Any legitimate recruiter or employer will communicate via email, phone, video, and in person. Even through these channels, though, scammers persist. Some even go so far as setting up and conducting “interviews” on the phone or via platforms like Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. And while email is acceptable for initial contact, the process should naturally migrate to phone and video interviews. Professional recruiters won’t conduct interviews through email or instant message platforms. If a recruiter is using an email address not tied to the official company domain, that’s likely a sign to move on.
3. Broad, vague job descriptions. These are designed to reach as many people as possible. The requirements may be ridiculously simple: “You must be 18; you must be a citizen; you must have access to a computer.” The job listing will use generic job titles and descriptions and be light on actual company information. If a job description is scarce on details or promises that more information will be provided upon hire, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. This is also a cue for recruiters and employers to ensure that your job postings are detailed and specific and lend credibility to your job and your brand.
A note on vagueness due to confidentiality: A job posting may be confidential and omit certain company information if the current employee is yet to be replaced, but if a recruiter refuses to tell you the name of the company during the interview process, it’s a red flag.
4. Things seem a little too perfect or move too fast. If someone is offering you a job right away, either without an interview or upon initial solicitation through email or other means, it’s a big red flag. Likewise, if you’re being offered a job well above your pay grade, no experience necessary, you should run the other way. Jobs that promise a lot of flexibility in working from home and offer a huge salary but expect nothing from a candidate when it comes to skills and experience, are almost always scams.
5. You’re experiencing high-pressure tactics. You should never feel pressure to immediately accept a job without time to think it through—no matter how great it may seem. Good recruiters and hiring managers will always give a candidate a reasonable amount of time to decide on a job offer to make sure it’s the right fit for both parties.
Scam jobs often showcaseemployees who have made a lot of money, emphasizing how you can quickly do the same when you accept the job (and likely when you pay money for products or training). Any promises of drastic income changes overnight are empty ones.
6. You’re asked for personal information right away. This may include Social Security information, bank account numbers, online account information, or personal addresses. While HR will have you fill out personal and identifiable information upon hire for tax purposes, this request should still be vetted thoroughly, and it doesn’t happen during the interview process. Scammers may ask for your login credentials for a website they don’t control in order to gain access to your accounts. They may also ask you to open a bank account or fill out a credit report form on another website (that it turns out they own), so that they can steal your personal information.
Even if you’ve already vetted the legitimacy of a job offer, be sure to get all contracts and details about a job in writing, from an official source, before you offer any personal information.
7. You’re being offered, or asked for, money upfront. These two tactics often intertwine, because an offer of money ends up coming out of your own pocket. Common employment scams entail offering job seekers compensation for expenses. They may send you a check to “purchase equipment” for the job that ends up being forged and bounces, and in the meantime ask you to wire money from the “check” to another account which is, in actuality, your own money. Another common tactic is to send victims fake checks, then, once the check is deposited, claim the person was “overpaid” and ask them to wire back the difference or forward funds to another account.
Legitimate employers will also never ask you to spend your money on equipment or training in order to secure the job or “pay your way” to an interview, a job offer, or a job “tryout.” They also won’t ask you to work for them without pay for a certain period of time, so don’t agree to this type of arrangement.
8. Grammatical mistakes abound. Bogus job offers and solicitations will often contain a multitude of spelling errors and poor punctuation. The job description and accompanying communication you receive from a “recruiter” may feel scripted or the language may feel unnatural.
How to Protect Yourself From Scams
Do your due diligence. It’s important to do research on a potential employer to prepare for interviews, though this type of research is more like a background check to verify authenticity through a digital trail of legitimacy. Does the domain in the recruiter’s email address match the correct, official website of a legitimate company or organization?If you’re unfamiliar with the company that’s hiring, look them up on the Better Business Bureau. Conduct reverse Google searches for any contact information you receive during your research to see what results come up and whether they match what you’re being told.
Technology expert Anna P. Murray recommends asking the person communicating with you for their postal address and the phone number where you can reach them. Then, ask for a reference for another person who’s gotten a job with this recruiter. Turn any inbound communication back to outbound. Independently call a company’s HR department to make sure the person contacting you works for the company, that the job actually exists, and that they’re using the correct email address (and not impersonating someone with the company). Take the time to find the job listing on the company’s website directly, rather than through anyone else sending it to you. Your own independent, outbound research is going to be the safest route to determining legitimacy.
Use your own common sense. Lastly, keep in mind that scammers are nearly always purporting to be what they’re not. Listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t seem legitimate, it’s probably not.
When in doubt, reach out. When in doubt, call or email someone on our team directly to address any communication you’ve received that seems fishy. The Signature team is committed to helping job seekers understand what they’re up against and how to defend themselves against the latest scammers—including those who are impersonating the Signature Consultants’ name or posing as one of our recruiters.
One thing you can always expect from Signature is honest, open communication. Receive an email that doesn’t look quite right, or a LinkedIn message that seems suspect, but claims to be from a recruiter or other staff member at Signature or our firm in general? Call or email us and we’ll look into it immediately and let you know if it is in fact from us. Our recruiters and account managers are always available to answer questions and discuss concerns. Maintaining integrity and honesty with our candidates and clients is one of our core values, and we don’t take it lightly.
You can also report questionable contact to authorities through the FTC’s Complaint Assistant and the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker. Navigating today’s job landscape can seem overwhelming, but the Signature team is always here to help. By learning how to differentiate between authentic jobs and scams, you’ll heighten your awareness and increase your ability to protect yourself, now and in the future.
We believe the future belongs to innovators and problem-solvers. It’s our job to create connections that inspire success. That’s why we’ve spent 20+ years building strong relationships and bringing together top tech talent and forward-thinking companies. Signature Consultants joined forces with DISYS to offer a more diversified portfolio of services. Through IT staffing, consulting, managed solutions and direct placement services, we deploy thousands of consultants each year to support client’s tech needs across the U.S. Signature Consultants is also parent company to Hunter Hollis and Madison Gunn. Learn more at sigconsult.com.