There were always scams and scam artists and there always will be. This is true for the real world and cyberspace alike.
With the advances in technology, scammers have become more skilled and their scams more sophisticated. There are many new scams to watch out for. Interestingly, a recent study showed that millennials are more easily conned than older generations, despite being tech-savvy.
After COVID-19 pandemic, people who are desperate to find a job, are willing to overlook red flags and hope for the best. Remember that scammers prey on the uninformed and the desperate alike. They don’t discriminate. Even if you are broke, you still have a lot to lose. You have probably heard of identity theft. Also, if you participate in criminal activity, you could end up in jail.
Learn to recognize the latest online job scams and protect yourself. Note that there are numerous other scams, which I will investigate in one of the articles on Workooze.
What are online job scams?
Online job scam is a fraud committed by con artists by posting fake job ads online in order to gain access to your money, or identity information.
I am not talking about the dangers of getting spammed. There are way more dangerous things nowadays. To help you get a general idea, read the long list of scams on the Federal Trade Commission website, the one on the official US government website, or these real scam cases.
Types of latest online job scams
- Mystery shopping scheme. You receive unexpected checks in the mail. The sender company wants you to cash them in, buy something (they may list exact items), and send back the remaining money. The problem comes later when you realize that the checks you received are fake. Your bank will notify you of the fraud. Now, you are in trouble for this bad check. Also, you can forget about the money you have sent to the fake company. Scammers are long gone by the time you realize what happened and you will be blamed and sued for writing the bad check. Fake companies may attempt to pay you with bad checks. You should never accept this kind of payment. Also, never send your own money to a company if they accidentally “overpay” you and ask you to send them back the difference.
- iTunes gift card scam. When a company asks you to open this type of account, you have to ask yourself, why do I need an iTunes account to get paid. In some cases, cybercriminals may ask you to pay some unexpected fees with an iTunes gift card. You buy the card and then give them the code. Would a traditional company ask me to do this?
- Fake job postings. The LinkedIn scam is an example where scammers contacted potential employees, gave them a much better job offer, but pressured them to urgently take it. After a month of working for a fake company, conned people didn’t receive a promised pay and didn’t have their old job to come back to.
- MLM scams. In multilevel marketing, you earn a commission by selling a product. If you recruit someone, you get a commission every time that person sells a product. Although there are legitimate jobs of this kind, you have to be aware of pyramid schemes — an illegal practice when a company focuses on new participants, not actual sales.
- Online Store scam. You are offered to sell products in your online store. They will worry about shipping and supplying products. Your job is promotion. But, you are asked to pay first for the cost of setting up the online business. When you make the initial payment, the company disappears, and your store never sees the light of day.
- Data Entry scam. There are legitimate data entry jobs, but here scammers ask you to pay upfront for training or a list of companies you can work for. Needless to say, when you send them the money, you will not hear from them again, and your money is gone. You are a victim of an online job scam.
- Virtual Assistant scam. You may be asked to pay for the company’s fair fee, for example. The scammers will send you a fake check. When you use this check, the check will bounce and the bank will hold you responsible.
- Fake job application scam. You are asked to fill out a job application with your personal information. There is no real job offer and the scammers actually want to steal your identity.
- Phishing scam. You are contacted via e-mail saying that you are the perfect candidate for a job opening with a particular company. When you click on a link they provide, you are directed to a website whose only intention is to collect your personal information and commit identity theft. Always avoid using their link. This link may lead to a fake website designed to get your personal information. Instead, find the company online yourself and continue more safely if you actually find the said company.
- PTC scam. Pay to click jobs are highly sought because they are easy and anybody can do them. Websites pay you a small amount of money after you have watched an ad online. The problem can arise for investors. The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy warned investors about investment scams in their bulletin. A PTC program may falsely offer investors a share in profits or non-existent advertising.
How to avoid scams?
Look for red flags, do your research, and listen to your gut feeling!
1. Look for Red Flags
Direct contact. This scam happens when you haven’t applied for a job at all, but instead, a company contacted you directly. They might tell you that somebody recommended you to them. Sometimes, they say they saw your CV, on some social media, and decided to hire you. You may be flattered, but stay cautious. Be extra cautious if they pressure you urgently decide. Don’t trade in your old, but a safe job for empty promises.
Big promises. If a job ad looks too good to be true, it is probably a scam.
Maybe they are offering a lot of money for practically no work. Maybe their hourly rate looks too high. An unusual high pay for an entry-level position should be an indicator of a scam. There is no reason for a company to offer high pay to you, or anybody else, for a simple job, that requires no qualifications, no skills nor much effort.
In 2009, a fake work at home scheme was set up to scam thousands of people under fake company names Google Money Tree, Google Pro, and Google Treasure Chest. The names were deliberately chosen to look like Google in order to deceive people into thinking this is legitimate work. The companies falsely advertised a pay of up to $100,000. People were told they have to buy kits to work at home, but weren’t told of hidden shipping fees. The scammers also got hold of their account information and could additionally charge them $72.21 each month.
Luckily, in this case, the scammed people were reimbursed by The U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Interview via Instant messenger or any other chat service. Here the problem is that you don’t really know who is on the other side. Since anybody can open an account, they are probably hiding their identity. Skype is ok, and a video conference is also normal practice during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. If this happens to you, ask them for their phone number, and call them instead.
Fake URL. Look at the company’s URL. It may be completely made up to look real. Type in Google the company’s name and see if it really exists. You should always be able to find the company’s details, phone, address, website… so you can check them out.
If the job offer came from a private person using Gmail, stay alert, and double-check everything.
Poor spelling and grammar. Take a close look at the job ad. If you see a lot of typos or unusual, unnatural wording, be careful.
Suspicious words. Many scammers use particular words when advertising a fake job: no work, work from home, no skills needed, quick, free, immediate hire, minimal hours, make money fast, unlimited earning potential, etc. These words should be red flags that make you turn away.
Foreign employer. Sometimes, employers are based in foreign countries, but sometimes, it is just con artists trying to conceal their whereabouts. Be aware if you just see a P.O. Box address and try to check further.
No interview. During the hiring process, a company will always conduct an interview. They will explain everything: tell you who they are, what they are doing, what your job will be, and how much money you can expect.
No contract. If during a hiring process, you are asked to do some work for the company, this is a scam. If you haven’t signed a contract yet, you are not employed. This means they are scamming you to work for them for free.
Unpaid probation period. For example, scammers might tell you they want to test your skills and ask you to do something. Some scammers may present this to you as a probation period or even an additional free educational opportunity.
In the end, you will not get paid for your work and won’t be employed either. You have wasted your time, not earned money, and now you have to start the job search from the beginning.
Immediate hire. If you are hired right away, without going through the proper interview process, run away. If the company skips asking you for references, or even your CV, run away. This is a scam without a question.
Pressuring to give out personal information – social security number, date of birth, or bank account password. In the real world, people are usually more cautious; they know they are not supposed to give out any personal information. Somehow, when online, they let their guards down and write their personal information on Facebook, for example. A lot of people write where they live, the date of birth, education history, put personal photos, information about vacation plans, and more. Don’t make it easy to scam you.
Money up-front. The scam is that a company asks you to pay up-front for anything needed to do a job, like supplies, the latest software, or even a background check they need to conduct. Also, they may offer additional coaching, certification, etc. and ask you to pay for it. All legitimate companies that offer you training will do it free of charge, or they won’t hire you in the first place. Any job offer that asks for your money first, is a scam.
Using your bank account. Real companies would never ask you to open an account so they can use it to move money around. This is a criminal activity called money laundering, which you don’t want to part of.
Do your research before you accept the online job.
Read as much as you can about the latest online job scams. Being informed is already half the battle won.
Find out as much as you can about the company. Does the company even exist? Does this job positions exist? Have they advertised the job opening?
Use only trusted job platforms. They check out the companies and ads for you to minimize the risks. Their business relies on having a good reputation, so they try hard to protect it.
Read reviews. Find out what the customers or employees are saying online about the company. Bad reviews don’t necessarily have to put you off, while no reviews could mean this company doesn’t exist. You can google the company’s name + scam and see the results.
A legitimate company should be listed. Check the company via Better Business Bureau, or State Consumer Protection Offices.
Compare the online hiring process to the traditional one. They should be more or less the same. The company puts an ad for a job opening where they list the job description, their info, and how to contact them. There will be an interview. After you got the job, you will sign a contract. Everything should be transparent, clear, and simple. Also, it will be available in written form.
Before accepting the job, ask the potential employer hard questions without hesitation: Who will pay me? Will I be paid on commission? Do I have to pay for supplies?
Try to slow down the whole process, so you can find out more about the job, or simply to discourage the scammers.
3. Gut feeling
Listen to your instincts. Scammers prey on everybody, really, but especially the desperate unemployed people. Don’t overlook the red flags and get yourself into more trouble.
Sometimes the best thing to do is just walk away.
To find out how gullible you are take this Quiz: Can You Spot — and AVOID — Scam Jobs?
What to do if you’ve been scammed?
Ask for advice and help. Contact your bank to stop or reverse any payments.
Always, even if not scammed, check your bank reports.
After a scam incident, you may want to change your e-mail address and your bank.
Contact the fake company, if you can, and tell them about your concerns or plans to contact the authorities.
Then, contact the administrator of the job website where you read the ad.
A WPF Report states that the largest job sites have already instituted mechanisms to allow consumers to officially complain about job fraud by email or telephone.
Job platforms are very vigilant in fighting fake job ads because their business is based on a good online reputation. They will remove the fake ad and alert the police.
Then, if unresolved, contact the authorities — FTC (Federal Trade Commission), the BBB (Better Business Bureau), the FBI, or the Attorney General.
You may sue the scam artists and get your money back.
How to report online job scams?
Contact the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
Contact the Attorney General’s office — naag.org.
Contact the FBI and file a complaint.
According to BBB Employment Scam Report, employment scams were the riskiest scams in the last couple of years. After the COVID-19, BBB launched another research to help understand the latest online job scams.
According to the FBI 2019 Internet Crime Report, ICR3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) received 467,361 complaints. Victims lost more than $3.5 billion.
Don’t think you’re safe if you live outside the US. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center, employment scams cost Canadians millions. Identity is worth more than stolen money because fraudsters can then generate a credit to buy expensive items.
With new online scams appearing constantly if something smells fishy, rather walk away than take a chance.
Avoid oversharing on social media. Remember that LinkedIn is actually a social media platform giving cyber criminals plenty of ideas.
Scammers don’t discriminate. Everybody should be extra careful online, no matter how IT experienced you are.
Don’t take somebody’s word for the truth, double-check everything, don’t rush in and save yourself from potentially devastating consequences.
You may end up with minimal losses like a month’s pay. More serious ones like losing your savings, hurting your credit score, identity theft, or even going to jail, are much harder to recover from.
Have you been scammed?
Share your experience so we can all learn from it. Comment below.