Beware These 6 Red Flags That Signal Employment Scams

The internet abounds with job postings -- and scammers who use job postings to lure victims. Here's how to identify the ads that are really after your money or personal information.

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

Not too long ago, job hunters generally relied on newspaper ads to search for suitable positions. Technology has changed all that. The internet makes it easier than ever for job hunters to find open positions. But it also makes it easier for scammers to post fake positions or “exclusive” job leads in attempts at bilking you out of money or personal information.

To pursue legitimate opportunities in the online job marketplace 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 is required

Lena Wurm / Shutterstock.comLena Wurm /

Be wary of ads that ask you to pay for expenses like certification or training upfront. They’re likely posted by scammers who are smart enough to know you wouldn’t fall for it if they just asked for cash upfront. So instead such scammers ask you to pay fees for employment-related necessities.

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

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You don’t need an intermediary to find or apply for government jobs, so don’t buy claims of “inside information.”

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission warns 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.”

You can search and apply for federal government jobs on, which is the federal government’s official employment website. For postal jobs, visit the U.S. Postal Service’s “Careers” webpage.

Red flag No. 3: Financial information is required

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You should never supply financial information like credit card or bank account numbers to prospective employers, especially by telephone or email. Legitimate employers don’t ask job applicants for this information — but identity thieves might.

Credible employers also don’t send you a check, and then say it’s for an incorrect amount and ask you to refund the money. Those checks are fake.

In another scam that could lead to identity theft, you may be asked to provide a copy of your passport, driver’s license or Social Security card. These requests are typically not legitimate unless you are in the final hiring stages with a prospective employer that wants to conduct a background check or driving-record check on you. If you’re asked for such identification upfront, be very skeptical.

Red flag No. 4: The job description is vague

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Avoid jobs that are not clearly described. Scammers use vague language to cast a wide net and bring in as many potential 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.

Red flag No. 5: The pay is inflated

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Be wary if an ad boasts a high salary that is way out of line with the industry. Again, this could be a scammer’s way of luring in more potential victims.

Other telltale signs of a “too good to be true” ad include:

  • Personal email addresses — such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo addresses — rather than email addresses associated with a company
  • A request that you bypass an online application submission form
  • Lack of a professional website

Red flag No. 6: Obscure job sites

Dirk Ercken / Shutterstock.comDirk Ercken /

Anyone who wants a job would be wise to use online resources. According to a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center, “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 major job sites.

To learn about one of the newest major employment resources online, check out “How to Use Google’s Revolutionary Job Search Tool.”

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

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham @NancyDWrites

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.


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