14 Common Job Search Scams and How to Protect Yourself

Young woman working on a laptop
BublikHaus / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.

Here at FlexJobs, we loathe job search scams and are truly interested in helping job seekers identify and steer clear of “too good to be true” job opportunities.

FlexJobs’ CEO, Sara Sutton, started FlexJobs in 2007 to fight back against the frustrating — and often harmful — fraudulent scams in the work-at-home job market. That’s why we hand-screen every single job and company before it’s posted on our site: to help job seekers stay safe and avoid job search scams.

Work-at-home jobs have always been a target of scammers. However, they’ve recently become even larger targets amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. And given that many nonessential businesses in the U.S. have had to cut hours and reduce staff, finding a new job can be difficult.

Scammers are incredibly tuned into the fact that some job seekers are desperate to make money, and they will use this in recruiting new professionals who may not be accustomed to looking for work-from-home jobs.

Knowing how to differentiate legitimate work opportunities from harmful ones is the best way to protect yourself in your search for a remote job. And while job scams can pop up in any profession, we’ve got a list of the most common job search scams you should be aware of.

1. Data entry scams

Hands typing on a laptop in the sunlight
Undrey / Shutterstock.com

Data entry scams come in many forms, but the common theme is that they promise a lot of money for a job that does not require much skill.

Jobs in this category often require an upfront payment for processing or training and very rarely pay as well as advertised. There are legitimate data entry jobs out there, but they do not advertise extravagant wages, and they do not require an initial outlay of funds.

Actual job posting for a data entry scam:

“Numerous companies are looking for workers to submit information into online forms and they will pay you nicely in return. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme but a legitimate way to earn money from home. For Full Details please read the attached .html file.”

2. Pyramid marketing

Scammer posing as a businessman with credit card
Pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

Pyramid marketing is illegal and has no basis in real commerce. Typically, there is no product involved in a pyramid marketing scheme, just the exchange of money.

Similar to chain letters, people invest in pyramid marketing because they believe they will benefit from investments made by people who follow them into the program. For someone to make money with a pyramid marketing scheme, someone else must lose funds.

Actual job posting for a pyramid marketing scam:

“My name is Michael. I’ve made it my job to help people succeed online. I’m constantly on the lookout for the best ways and means to make your job simpler, and I pass the good stuff on to you. I have developed the eBay Cash Machine – it allows everyone to make a great income on eBay 99% automatically. It only takes a few minutes to set up and once that is done you will have your own eBay Businesses that literally run on auto-pilot! You just wait for the money to come in!”

3. Stuffing envelopes

Hand pulling money from an envelope.
Moonborne / Shutterstock.com

Stuffing envelopes is a job scam that has been around for many years. Although variations exist, this scam typically involves signing up and paying a fee to “stuff envelopes from home.”

Once enrolled, you receive a document explaining how to get others to buy the same envelope-stuffing opportunity you did. You earn a small commission when someone else falls for the scam and pays the nonrefundable fee.

Actual job posting for an envelope stuffing scam:

“$550 to $3,000 weekly. Ten dollars for each circular you mail…Free postage…Free circulars…No newspaper ads…No magazine ads…No bulletin board ads! Paychecks mailed to you every week! Advance paycheck forms included in your package!”

4. Wire transfers

A bank transfer button on a keyboard
Odua Images / Shutterstock.com

Popular among thieves, wire transfer scams move money quickly from one account to another. These transactions are difficult to reverse, making it nearly impossible to recover lost funds.

Although sometimes the request for a money transfer may seem legitimate, it should always be thoroughly checked out. Scammers have been known to pose as company executives asking employees to fraudulently move money from one account to another.

Actual job posting for a wire transfer scam:

“We are small new firm engaged in export of goods to overseas outside my country. We have won various small exports contract at one time or the other, recently we were (engaged) contracted to supply financial programs for market analyzing, management project software in USA which was successfully done. We do not have so much time to accept wire transfers and can’t accept cashiers checks and money orders as well. So we need your help to accept this payments in your country faster. If you are looking to make additional profit we will accept you as our representative in your country. You will keep 10% of each deal we conduct.”

5. Unsolicited job offers

Scam
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Unsolicited job offers often come in the form of a job scam email. These offers are not sought out by the job seeker and offer either immediate employment or the opportunity to interview for a great job.

Some scammers will even pretend to be from a well-known company or job board (such as FlexJobs, ZipRecruiter, or Indeed) to convince a job seeker to interview. These offers may also come in through social media (like Facebook or Instagram).

Even LinkedIn is no stranger to job search and recruitment scams. It is possible that a legitimate recruiter is reaching out to you about a legitimate job. It’s also possible that it is a scam.

Scammers will use LinkedIn to reach out to targets, knowing you’re more likely to fall for the scam because the message is coming through LinkedIn. Treat every unsolicited offer as a job scam — no matter where it comes from.

Actual job posting for an unsolicited job offer scam:

“Our Worldwide Corporation is looking for new employees on various vacancies. We are already for a long time in the market and now we employ employees to work from home. Our supreme desire now is to enlarge our business level to more countries, so we are advertising here in hope of cooperating with you all. We highly appreciate honest and creative employers. You do not need to invest any sum of money and we do not ask you to give us with your bank account requisites! We are engaged in totally officially authorized activity and working in our corporation you can reach career growth at a permanent job.”

6. Online re-shipping

Woman shipping packages
Luis Molinero / Shutterstock.com

Online re-shipping is a very serious job search scam because those who fall for it unintentionally become criminals.

Re-shipping jobs, also known as postal forwarding, are work-at-home jobs that involve repacking and forwarding stolen goods to customers outside the U.S.

Although promised a paycheck and reimbursement for shipping charges paid out of their own pocket, those who fall victim to this type of scam rarely receive any money.

Actual job posting for an online re-shipping scam:

“Honest workers needed for a package processing company located in NY, but any location in US are welcome! We have customers worldwide and started that position to suit they needs. We offer you 40$ for each processed package. The payment shall be made twice a month. The Company shall also bear all shipping expenses. Your salary is totaly depends on your ability to work fast and handy.”

7. Rebate processor

Computer with "Cash Back" on screen.
one photo / Shutterstock.com

Rebate processing jobs mislead job seekers by promising high income in exchange for processing rebates at home. A nonrefundable “training” fee is usually required to get started as a rebate processor.

Instead of simply processing rebates, this job involves creating ads for various products and posting them on the Internet. A small commission is earned when someone buys the products, part of which is sent back to the buyer as a rebate.

Actual job posting for a rebate processor scam:

“Make money simply by filling out online forms – Enter the data into the forms that we provide you, click submit, sit back and collect the money. You’ll earn $15 per rebate processed. Opportunities like this do not come by every day – act now!”

8. Assembling crafts/products

Hands working with wood
Stasique / Shutterstock.com

Work-at-home assembly jobs have been around a long time. Most companies offering these positions require you to pay an enrollment fee and purchase all supplies and materials from them as well.

Companies are known to reject finished products regardless of how closely they match the sample finished product. Or, you have to buy a list of companies looking for your assembly services. Once you pay for the list, however, you rarely find the work you thought you would.

Actual job posting for a craft assembly scam:

“The first thing that you’ll be receiving is a portfolio of all of our companies, their pay scales and the things you can assemble. That’s so you can pick out your job because there are about 85 different jobs for you to choose from and you are guaranteed any of those jobs. We do have a one-time, lifetime enrollment fee of only $38.95. Now, that enrollment fee is backed with a 90-day Satisfaction Guarantee. All we ask is that you participate in the program for 60 days.”

9. Career advancement grants

Scam
Atstock Productions / Shutterstock.com

This scam is geared toward job seekers who may want or need to gain extra education or certifications for their career. You’ll typically receive an email asking you to apply online for a career advancement grant that supposedly comes from the government and can be directly deposited into your account if approved.

Actual job posting for a career advancement grant scam:

“Hi, hope you are doing well. We were notified that you may be eligible for the new Career Advancement grant. If you have not taken advantage of this program, the deadline is approaching soon. $5,730 can be direct deposited into your account, should you qualify for the grant. Last week 71 members took advantage of this Career Advancement grant. This is a grant from the government and does not have to be paid back.”

10. Using fake URLs

robocall
Bacho / Shutterstock.com

You come across an online job listing from a well-known company offering work-from-home jobs. Is it too good to be true? Is the company really the company it claims to be?

Scammers will try to recreate the legitimate company’s website by slightly altering the web address. If you’re not looking closely, you may not realize that you’re on a scam website.

For example, a real company website might have the address companyname.com. But, when you’re looking at the fake website, the address is company-name.com.

It’s a subtle change, but it could indicate you’re not on the company’s real website.

11. Gaining access to personal financial information

Scammer studying personal information on computer
PR Image Factory / Shutterstock.com

This could be the oldest and most well-known scam tactic in the books. Even the most tech-savvy job scammers use this method because it still works.

It is true that before you start a job, you need to give your employer your Social Security number. And since most companies pay salaries via direct deposit, you will eventually need to share your banking information, too.

However, if a company is asking you for this information early (like asking for your Social Security number on a job application, or wanting your banking information before they can offer you the job), the job is likely a scam.

12. Communicating through chat

Work from home scam
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Scammers use instant messaging services to communicate and conduct fake job interviewers with job seekers. Although convenient, it is rare to actually secure a job or conduct a job interview with a legitimate company through a chat platform.

If you are approached through chat, be sure to request that they give you a call, and do your research before interviewing to see if the results yield any red flags.

13. Lacking verifiable information

work worry
Stock-Asso / Shutterstock.com

You may have thought you found your dream job, but upon further inspection you can’t find any information about the company.

If you can’t verify a phone number, location, web address, or employees, you’re definitely looking at a scam. In this day and age, real companies will have an online presence and some social media engagement — if they don’t have a decent following, they may not be legitimate.

14. Phishing

Phishing scam liar on phone
pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

Emails, texts, phone calls, or instant messages — you name it, and there is a phishing scam.

If a job is requiring you to click on a specific link or is asking for detailed personal and financial information, someone is trying to collect your sensitive information for malicious use.

Phishing scams often look like they come from a trusted and well-known company, so always reach out to an employer directly through their legitimate website rather than respond to any “phish-y” looking communication.

How to identify job scams

African American man in a suit studying a document
WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock.com

There are some telltale signs that indicate a job posting is probably a scam:

  • The ad uses words that are probably too good to be true: quick money, unlimited earning potential, free work-from-home jobs.
  • There is a sense of urgency, or the recruiter is pushing you to accept the job now. Any legitimate company won’t push you into accepting a job offer immediately.
  • The job post or email has obvious grammatical or spelling errors.
  • You’re offered the job without a recruiter verifying your work experience or asking for references.
  • The “company” has an email domain from Gmail or other popular providers.
  • The job description is unusually vague.

While anyone can fall prey to job scams, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe while you search online:

  1. Do your homework. Research the company and the people who contact you. What results do you get when you search company name + scam?
  2. Connect with the company. Go directly to the company website and see if the job is posted on their jobs page.
  3. Trust your gut. If it feels like a scam, it probably is.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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