The strong labor market has given us near record low unemployment, higher wages – and an unfortunate uptick in the number of reports of job seekers getting scammed.
“We are definitely seeing job scams,” said Rhonda Perkins, attorney and chief of staff of the Federal Trade Commission’s division of marketing practices. In 2021, the agency received more than twice the number of job scam reports than in 2020, Perkins said. And in the first quarter of this year, there’s been more than 16,000 complaints filed.
Job scams have been around for a while and the tactics scammers use can vary. Some will try to gain access to your personal information, while others might solicit payments from you or hire you for an illegal task, such as reshipping luxury goods that were bought using stolen credit cards.
So if you’re looking for a job, here are some of the red flags experts say to look for when reviewing potential opportunities:
The job post is flashy, but offers few details
In a job seekers’ market, employers are trying to stand out. But if a job posting is all about making money quickly or other big promises – proceed with caution.
“If a job ad is using too-good-to-be-true terms like: ‘quick money,’ or ‘unlimited earnings potential,’ or ‘laptop for free’ and has very few skill requirements … and a lot of caps and images to distract you, it just doesn’t come across professionally,” said Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs.
If you are unsure of the legitimacy of a post, check to see if you can find the opening posted directly on the company’s website.
You have questions, but they don’t have the answers
Getting a call from a recruiter is flattering, but make sure they are who they say they are – especially if it’s for a job you didn’t apply for.
“Pay attention to the questions they are asking you,” said Sutton. “If the recruiter is offering you a job very quickly without verifying your work experience or asking for references and moving very, very quickly – those are also red flags.”
If the job description was overly vague, be sure to ask for more details about the position, duty expectations and experience requirements.
“They will definitely run from you when you start asking more questions,” said Sinem Buber, lead economist at ZipRecruiter. “If they start giving you inconsistent answers or not answering your questions properly, you know that’s not a real job.”
Sutton added that scammers can fraudulently use a company’s name and recommended to check the recruiter’s email is legit. For instance, if the domain is “company-inc.com” versus “company.com,” she advised looking online to see what the company uses.
They ask for personal information
Job applications tend to include questions like your name, address, contact information and work experience, but it shouldn’t go much deeper than that.
“If they are asking you to provide personal information upfront during the interview stages, like your Social Security number for a background check … no legitimate company asks for a background check or Social Security number during the interview stage. That happens after you are hired,” said Buber.
Before giving out any personal information, Perkins recommended doing some online research. “Look up the name of the company, the person who claims to be hiring you, plus the word ‘scam,’ ‘review,’ or ‘complaint’… and don’t trust reviews on the company’s website. Those could be fake.”
They ask for payment
The only conversation you should be having with a potential employer about money should be about compensation. If they ask you to pay any fees for things like special services, training or software or equipment, that should be a major red flag.
“Don’t pay for the promise of a job, don’t make an upfront payment to get a job – only scammers will ask you to do that,” said Perkins.
There’s also a fake check scam that can involve a bogus company sending you too large a check for you to buy something like computer equipment and then asks you to repay the excess funds via a wire transfer service, cryptocurrency or gift cards.
These forms of sending money are hard for law enforcement to trace and people to get their money back, Perkins explained.
“Under the law, banks are required to make the money available quickly, so when you deposit a check and it looks like it’s cleared that doesn’t mean it’s a good check,” said Perkins. “The bank will find out later it’s a bad check.”