Job-Search Scam Red Flags
Visit the U.S. government’s “Scams and Frauds” page and you will find a long list of popular methods by which people cheat, or attempt to cheat, millions of Americans every year. Oddly missing from the list are job-search scams. With business increasingly being conducted online and more employees working remotely than ever before, however, scams targeting job seekers are on the rise. Here are some red flags.
(Note: By “red flag,” I mean a signal that something might not be right, i.e., a warning that there may be danger ahead if you are not careful. The existence of a red flag does not necessarily mean you should immediately abandon an employment prospect. It simply means you should investigate further to determine if you are being scammed.)
1. Offers “out of the blue”
Normally, the expectation is for a potential employee to initiate contact with the potential employer. It is rare for a business to reach out to individuals they do not know and ask them to apply for an open position. If you’ve uploaded your resume to a job-hunting website, then it is possible that a company might look at it and reach out to you, but that probably happens far less often than optimistic job hunters would like to believe. Since it can happen sometimes, though, you shouldn’t rule out a prospect on this basis alone. You should do some further investigation. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
2. Immediate job offer
Receiving a job offer before you’ve even applied for the position is a major red flag. An application and an interview customarily are required first. Normally, an employer will want to review a resume or at least an application for the job. Then, if it seems like you may be a good fit for the position, he or she may extend an invitation to participate in a job interview.
Some job search scammers know that immediate job offers raise suspicions, so they will actually give people an “application” or “questionnaire” to complete and set up what appears to be a “job interview.” To make the charade even more convincing, they might even claim to need some time to get approval from a higher-up before they can make a decision.
3. Amazing pay, benefits, hours, etc.
If the terms of a job offer sound too good to be true, a scammer might be trying to reel you in. Compensation and/or benefits that are grossly out of proportion to going rates should send up a red flag for you to investigate further.
4. Vague promises regarding income
An employer may have a legitimate reason for declining to publish a specific wage or salary. Beware of vague promises of “great wealth,” “high income,” or similar language, though.
5. Vague job description
Employers normally know exactly why it is that they need to hire someone. This is why job descriptions typically are very specific and detailed. In some cases, a vague job posting might be the fault of a poor communicator. If the interviewer is evasive about the specific responsibilities of the job, however, or can’t answer simple questions about what it is, exactly, that your job will entail, take it as a warning that something might not be right.
6. Vague company description
Incomplete information about a company in a job announcement is not necessarily a red flag. If, however, an interviewer refuses or evades direct questions about what the company does, then you should be concerned. You should be even more concerned if you are still unable to determine what the company actually does after you have conducted a thorough Internet search.
7. Ridiculously low qualifications for the job
Scammers want to reel in as many prospective victims as possible, so they generally will set the qualifications for a supposed “job opening” at an unreasonably low level. For example, an announcement of an opening for a tax accountant for which the only qualifications are an ability to type 35 wpm and a “can do” attitude might not be legitimate.
8. Unusually flexible hours
With shifts in the nature of work and the advent of remote work from home, offers of flexible hours are not uncommon. You should be concerned about extremes, however. Examples: a position without any minimum number of hours required, or a position offering both high pay and only a few hours of work.
9. Payment required
Some employers might expect you to purchase certain kinds of materials or tools for a job if you do not already own them. Repair shops, for instance, sometimes expect their mechanics to have their own tools. Some teachers, too, may be expected to purchase teaching aids that a school does not provide. A company might require a hired employee to purchase a uniform. No company should require you to pay money simply to be considered for a job, however.
10. Poor English
Job announcements, offers, and proposed contracts do not usually contain misspellings or syntax errors. Of course, a typographical or grammatical error or two is not uncommon. Some allowances need to be made. The poorer the English, though, the higher the red flag should rise.
11. Incomplete or incorrect contact information
Business correspondence, including email messages, normally will contain contact information. An email message from a human resources officer at a company, for example, normally will set out the person’s name, title, company name, and email address in the body of the message. A mailing address and telephone number are also customary. Omitting one or more of these things, or providing information that does not match contact information you’ve discovered online does not necessarily mean the person sending the message cannot be trusted, but it is a signal to you that further investigation is warranted.
12. Generic email address
If a company has a domain name, then employees and agents of the company normally will communicate using a company email address. For example, if the company’s name is Bilco and it owns the domain name, www.bilco.com, then communications from the company normally will come from an email address in the following format: [identifier]@bilco.com. If the company has its own domain name but the alleged “human resource director” communicates with you from a generic account like yahoo.com, hotmail.com, or mail.com, you should proceed with caution.
13. Text-only job interview
Employers and recruiters normally like to be able to see the person they are interviewing for a job. Accordingly, if the interview is not conducted in person, then they are likely to use a meeting platform like Zoom, Teams or WebEx. If a potential “employer” insists on a chat-only (texting) job interview using Telegram, Skype, IM, etc. — with neither video nor audio — you need to ask yourself why.
14. Undue pressure or persistence
A red flag should go up if an “employer” exerts a lot of pressure on an applicant to make a decision about an offer either immediately or within an unreasonably short timeframe. In addition, something may be amiss if an alleged “employer” is constantly calling or emailing you to persuade you to make a decision. Even if it isn’t a scam, consider whether this is the kind of employer for whom you would want to work, anyway.
15. Request for confidential information
This should be a fire brick red flag for you. True, at some point your employer is going to need to know your Social Security number and verify your identity. At some point, too, banking information will need to be shared if you decide to opt for direct deposit of your paychecks. If a potential “employer” requires this information from you before you’ve signed an employment contract, however, this is a strong indication that you should look for employment elsewhere.
The objective of most job search scams is to get people to divulge these things to the scammer. Equipped with this information, the dirtbag can proceed to hijack your bank, credit and other financial accounts. Trillions of dollars have been stolen through identity theft.
Before accepting a position with a company — and before divulging any personal information — check out the company, the alleged representative who communicates with you, and the job offer very thoroughly. Even if you have received correspondence from a person you believe (or have been made to believe) is a real employee of a real company, check out the company to make sure it is legitimate and reputable.
Be aware that sometimes a scammer will set up a website that looks a lot like the real company’s website, or will create a phony company and set up a website for it in order to make it look real.
Use every resource you can (GlassDoor, Dun & Bradstreet, BBB, etc.) to learn everything you can about the company. Check to see if it has a presence on social media platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) Learn who the principal officers are. Is the person claiming to be a human resources director listed as such on the company’s website? Does he or she have a presence on LinkedIn or other social media? Does the email address from which you have received communications match one listed on the company’s website and/or in social media profiles and company pages? If you have confirmed that the company and its website are legitimate, check the site to see if the position you have been offered is listed there. Contact the company in a manner indicated on the website to check/confirm that the job offer is legitimate. Confirm all of these things with more than one person, independently. In short, do everything you possibly can to confirm that you have received a genuine job offer from a genuine employee of a genuine company. Do not proceed until you are certain you are not being scammed.
Thomas James, Minnesota attorney, is a private practice lawyer in Cokato, Minnesota and the author of E-Commerce Law. If you found this article useful, please share it.