Searching for work can be emotionally taxing, especially if you’ve been displaced due to the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic and desperately need work. Job seekers must stay positive and endure countless rejections before finding the right fit, regardless of one’s credentials, jumping through multiple hoops along the way. Scammers know this, too, and will try to trick vulnerable job seekers into giving them money or sensitive personal information.
Job seeker scams employ a variety of tactics, but they typically seek either an up-front payment or personally identifying data that can be used to steal your identity in exchange for a lucrative job prospect that doesn’t actually exist. Their goal is to appear legitimate and to get your hopes up, so the red flags may not always be so obvious. We’ll help you identify the tell-tale signs of job seeker scams so you can continue your job search with confidence in these uncertain times.
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What are some of the most common signs of a job seeker scam?
There is a broad spectrum of red flags indicating that you may be the target of a job seeker scam. These can include suspicious requests or activities, things that a real employer would never ask for or do. While job seeker scams aren’t new, the growing popularity of job sites such as LinkedIn and Indeed, where scammers can more easily search resumes and contact job seekers directly or post fraudulent job ads, provides new opportunities for identity and other types of theft.
Some of the most common signs of a scam include the following:
- Job requirements or wage/salary are too good to be true. You should have a pretty good sense of what certain types of jobs pay. If the salary seems unusually high for the role and they’re contacting you out of the blue, you have to wonder why. Trust your instincts.
- Job offer made too quickly. The hiring process is expensive for employers, and hiring the wrong person is even more costly. They typically put applicants through a rigorous vetting process. If an offer comes right away, it may either be a scam or an employer that has a difficult time retaining good employees.
- Communications are through messaging services only. It’s unusual for a legitimate employer to hold interviews via instant messaging apps. Before you agree to this, make sure you research the company and its representatives and never give out confidential information in exchange for access.
- Company information provided to you seems sketchy. Make sure you do your research and ask for a link to the company website. Scammers often put up sophisticated websites that look legitimate, but checking the site at Domain White Pages will reveal when the site was launched. If it’s less than a year old, it should raise a red flag. You should also check the website information given to you against the information in the job ad. If they don’t line up, ask why the information isn’t the same.
- They ask for confidential information or an upfront payment. There’s no reason to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) or other information that could be used to steal your identity. Also, you should never pay a fee as a condition for getting an interview.
- Your questions are met with inappropriate or unprofessional answers. Similar to an unusually prompt job offer, inappropriate or unprofessional answers to your questions indicate either a scam or an employer you may want to avoid even if it is legitimate.
How do you know if a job offer is real?
If you haven’t paid an upfront fee, given your credit card number, or provided sensitive data (such as your SSN or birth date), then the job offer is probably real. However, there’s still the possibility that they will collect this information after they have “hired” you, such as when you fill out your tax withholding form (which contains your SSN). Also, by setting up a direct deposit arrangement, scammers could attempt to access your bank account and drain your funds.
Fraudulent individuals and crime rings are adept at exploiting crises, and COVID-19 is no exception. It’s much easier for scammers to take advantage of job seekers when it’s billed as a work-from-home job, since they don’t have to worry about faking their workplace. Since many jobs that were once done in an office environment are now being offered as remote positions, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about these offers.
Every situation is different, but your best bet is to review the common signs of a job seeker scam listed above and always safeguard sensitive personal information.
How can I check whether a company is real?
If you’re at all suspicious about an employer or offer, you should conduct exhaustive research. Search the company’s name along with terms such as “scam” or “review” to see whether it is a known scam (but be mindful that allegations of a scam may not be credible). You also may want to check with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General’s Office, and the Better Business Bureau. Again, trust your instincts if something just doesn’t seem right. Once again, double check the information given in the job ad with any information you’ve asked for, such as the company website, contact information, and company address.
How can I tell if a job recruiter might be scamming me?
Fraudulent job recruiters will use many of the same tactics used by fraudulent employers to target job seekers. But, since many recruiters work independently or with small firms, it may be more difficult to verify their credentials. As with any job seeker scam, the ultimate goal is theft—whether it’s an upfront payment or the disclosure of sensitive information in exchange for purportedly being considered for a job.
What’s unique about recruiters, however, is that many of them use a vendor management system to manage applicants. These systems identify applicants (or potential applicants) using the last four digits of their SSN and their birth month and day.
If they ask for the last four digits of your SSN, you may decline and ask them to identify you by your phone number instead. Many security experts advise against giving out the last four digits of your SSN for identification purposes, claiming that it could still be used for unlawful means. If they ask for your entire SSN or your birth year, however, then it’s probably a scam. While the SSN may be used to steal your identity, it’s illegal for employers and recruiters to ask about your age.
Another thing to look out for is whether the recruiter is putting more energy into getting you excited about the job or determining whether you’re the right fit for their client. Legitimate recruiters want to find the right people for their clients, so they’ll ask pointed questions about your skills, experience, and qualifications. If they’re solely trying to talk up the job, then it may be a sign that you’re being targeted for a scam.
What should I do if I’ve accidentally given my personal information to a scammer?
If the recruiter or employer specifically asked for your entire SSN, birthdate, financial information, or other sensitive data that they generally don’t need—and you complied—then it’s likely you were the target of a scam. If they asked for just the last four digits of your SSN and you accidentally gave them the entire number, then it may just be an honest mistake. Either way, however, you’ve disclosed information that could be used against you.
In either scenario, you’ll want to immediately place a fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies. This informs creditors and other entities checking your credit report that you may have been the victim of identity theft. Also, you’ll want to check your credit score and be on the lookout for any mysterious charges or credit cards opened up in your name. Be prepared to make a Request to Cancel a Fraudulent Credit Card, Dispute a Fraudulent Credit Card Transaction, or draft an ID Theft Affidavit if necessary.
If you’re certain you were the target of a job seeker scam, you’ll want to take additional actions:
- File a police report if you know the name of the person who allegedly stole your identity, if they used your name with the police, or if another entity (such as a creditor) asks for a police report.
- File a report with the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Report the company to the Better Business Bureau, which may help others avoid a similar fate.
- If the scammer is using a fraudulent website, report it to Google, or report a fraudulent job listing directly to the job board where it’s listed (for example, LinkedIn or Indeed).
Be aware of job seeker scams and search for work confidently
Even if you love what you do for a living, searching for a job is perhaps one of the most universally disliked aspects of anyone’s career. Marketing yourself to prospective employers and receiving rejection emails can be a real drag, but it can get a lot worse if you’re not paying attention. Be sure to protect yourself against job seeker scams and ask a lawyer if you have questions or concerns.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.