Looking for Your Dream Job? 6 Red Flags That Signal Employment Scams

Keep your job search on track by learning to identify ads for jobs that really aim to take your money or personal information.


Your dream job may be a click away — but unless you are savvy to scams that populate the internet, that dream could become a costly nightmare.

Not too long ago, job hunters generally relied on newspaper ads to search for suitable positions. The relatively high cost of placing ads was enough to keep most scammers out of the employment pages — and prevented some legitimate employers from placing ads as well. Technology has changed all that. Low- or no-cost ads abound online. It makes it easier than ever to connect job hunters with positions, but it has a downside: Postings for fake positions or “exclusive” job leads that aim at bilking you out of money and/or private information.

To pursue legitimate opportunities in this chaotic marketplace of jobs, and not get sidetracked, you need to be savvy.

Check out some of our recent reports on getting a job…

… and then learn to identify these six red flags:

Red flag No. 1: Upfront payment required

Lena Wurm / Shutterstock.comLena Wurm / Shutterstock.com

Ads that ask you to pay for certification, training or expenses are not legitimate. Mashable, which has its own job site, cautioned applicants to avoid any ads that ask you for cash. Scammers don’t ask for cash up front. Instead they ask you to pay fees for software, training, insurance or other job necessities.

Red flag No. 2: ‘Inside track’ on government jobs

g-stockstudio / Shutterstock.comg-stockstudio / Shutterstock.com

You don’t need an intermediary to find or apply for government jobs so don’t buy claims of “inside information.” There are no “previously withheld” federal job ads.

It seems scammers promising job opportunities at the U.S. Postal Service are especially prevalent. The Federal Trade Commission issued a caution to job seekers about such scams.

These scammers advertise in the classified sections of newspapers or online and offer — for a fee — to help job seekers find and apply for federal and postal jobs. Some even try to hoodwink people by using company names that sound like federal agencies, like the “U.S. Agency for Career Advancement” or the “Postal Employment Service.”

All the information you need to apply for government jobs is on USAjobs.gov. You can also go to the U.S. Postal Service careers site for free information on jobs in that field.

Red flag No. 3: Credit card or bank account information is required

Yulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.comYulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.com

You should never supply this information, especially over the telephone or by email. No legitimate prospective employer asks for this information. Credible employers also don’t send you a check, say it’s for an incorrect amount, and ask you to refund the money via check. The checks from those organizations are fake.

In another scam that could lead to identity theft, you may be asked to provide a scan of your passport or driver’s license, or your Social Security number. These requests are typically not legitimate until you are in the final stages of discussion with a prospective employer — typically because they want to conduct a background check. If you’re asked for it upfront, be very skeptical.

Red flag No. 4: The job description is vague

Everett Collection / Shutterstock.comEverett Collection / Shutterstock.com

The reason you should avoid jobs that are not clearly described is that scammers use vague language to cast a wide net and bring in as many potentially vulnerable victims as possible. Legitimate employers don’t want to sift through a stack of applications from unsuitable applicants, so they spell out what their legitimate job requires and entails. One of the ways these scams work is by bait-and-switch. So, for instance, the advertisement is for “public relations” and offers few details. Once an applicant arrives, the dishonest employer might reveal the job is door-to-door selling of vacuum cleaners. It gives the dishonest employer a shot at making a hard sell on a difficult, commission-based job.

Red flag No. 5: The pay is too high for the work

Alexandr79 / Shutterstock.comAlexandr79 / Shutterstock.com

Most of us have an idea of what pay we might be expected to earn for a certain job. If we don’t, we research it before applying. So when an ad boasts a high salary that is way out of line with the industry, it’s almost always a scam, reported MediaBistro, which runs its own job site. Other telltale signs of a “too good to be true” ad include email addresses that are personal (such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo addresses that don’t link back to an employer). Other red flags include a request you skip a submission form, such as those on MediaBistro. The lack of a professional website or no listing on professional job sites are also warning signs.

Red flag No. 6: Obscure job sites

Dirk Ercken / Shutterstock.comDirk Ercken / Shutterstock.com

Anyone who wants a job would be wise to use online resources. According to Pew Research: “Among Americans who have looked for work in the last two years, 79% utilized online resources in their most recent job search and 34% say these online resources were the most important tool available to them.”

But you don’t need to go to obscure job sites. Even though there are certainly legitimate ads on out-of-the-way sites, you’ll have fewer headaches if you stick to the main job sites that screen advertisers. Here are the five most popular job hunting sites, according to EBizMBA.com:

To see their whole list of top sites, check out this page.

Alternatively, depending on your profession, you may have better luck going to job sites specific to your industry. For instance, FinancialJobBank.com specializes in accounting jobs, HealthcareJobsite.com does exactly what you would expect — hosts job listings for health care and medical professionals. If you’re in the market for an hourly job, check out Snagajob.com, where legitimate employers seek hourly workers. Do a little research to find the best career sites in your field before spending time on applications.

What is your experience job hunting online? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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