Online job scams are a way for scammers to gain access to either your money or your bank account or credit cards.
You're searching Monster.com, Craigslist, or Indeed.com for a new job when you find a listing that seems perfect: The company is looking for someone with your exact skills, is located nearby, and is offering a competitive salary.
There's only one problem: The company wants you to pay for training materials before it will consider you for a job.
Or maybe the online job listing contains a link to a website that requires you to first provide personal information, such as your bank account or credit card numbers, before you can officially apply.
These are both signs of an online job scam, a way for fraudsters to trick often-desperate job hunters into giving up valuable financial information or sending them money for a job that doesn't exist.
What is a job scam?
Online job scams are another way for scammers to gain access to either your personal information, your money or your bank account or credit card data. These scams prey upon people searching online sites for new jobs.
Because job seekers are often desperate to find a position, they might overlook certain red flags that something is not right with an online listing.
Online job scams come in several types. The Federal Trade Commission says that some scammers will try to phish bank account or credit card numbers out of you.
Others will encourage you to pay for certification or training materials, often for jobs that don’t really exist. Still others will try to trick you into cashing fraudulent checks.
Scammers post their fake job listings on some of the internet’s most popular boards, the same platforms that many legitimate employers use. This can make it more difficult for job hunters to avoid these scams.
Fortunately, there are several warning signs you can look for to help protect yourself. If you come across these red flags in an online job listing, be careful: You might be dealing with a scammer.
Red flags of job scams
Online job scams come in many forms, and job seekers should always be vigilant as the risks of a scam can be high. When reviewing online job listings (or job listings anywhere else), here are the things to watch for.
The company insists on online interviews over messaging services
Legitimate companies won’t conduct job interviews through such messaging services as Google Hangouts, Skype, Yahoo Messenger or Facebook Messenger. Scammers, though, might use these services.
They’ll contact you with a job offer. But as you go through the interview process — through one of these messenger services — you’ll eventually be asked to provide such personal information as your bank account number or Social Security number. The person you’re chatting with will often ask for this to set up your direct deposit after offering you the “job.”
Don’t submit to interviews through messenger services. And if you do, never provide personal or financial information. The scammers on the other end of your online chat can use this information to commit identity theft.
Worth noting: Legitimate employers who may need to conduct online interviews — for out-of-state candidates, for example — will typically provide a link to their own in-house messaging platform.
Unprofessional emails without contact information
Real companies tend to have professional email addresses. They don’t use Yahoo or Gmail accounts. If you get a job offer and the email address looks more like a personal than a business address, be suspicious. And if the email is filled with grammatical errors or misspellings, that could be yet another sign of an online scammer.
Unclear job description or requirements
When companies are looking for workers, they want their online job ads to be as specific as possible. Legitimate job ads will have a clear description of what your duties would be and will list the requirements for the job. Legitimate ads might also give you an idea of what salary range and benefits you could expect.
Be leery of vague ads that give little information about the job being offered. Scammers often don’t take the time to craft realistic job descriptions or requirements in their ads. The more bare-bones an online job is, the more likely it is to be a scam.
The company requests your personal information during, or before, a job interview
Here’s a simple rule: Never provide any personal or financial information to a company during the interview process. Legitimate companies won’t ask for your bank account information or Social Security number during a job interview. They won’t ask for this information until you’ve accepted a job offer and are meeting with HR to sign your employment forms.
Scammers often dangle job offers before desperate interviewees. Then, before ending the interview, they’ll ask for a bank account number or Social Security number. They might say that they need this information to set up direct deposit for your paychecks.
Others might ask for this personal information in their fake job applications under the auspices of background checks. Then, after you provide this information, they disappear, and you never get that job interview.
Don’t fall for these scams: Armed with your personal information, criminals could access your bank accounts or open new accounts in your name.
The company requests that you pay for something in order to apply
Scammers know how desperate people can be when they are out of work. Some exploit this desperation by asking job hunters to pay for training materials or certification before they can officially apply for a job.
These scammers are happy to take any money you send them. Some might send bogus training materials. Others might disappear after you send your funds. But one thing’s certain: There’s no job.
Legitimate companies will never make you pay to apply for a job. If you encounter an employer asking for dollars? Don’t send any.
They offer consulting services instead of a job
Be leery if the company with which you are interviewing doesn’t offer you a job but does offer you the chance to pay for career counseling services. Some scammers trick job seekers into answering online ads for jobs that don’t exist just as a way to sell them on job-hunting or career-counseling services.
The job they offer isn’t the same one you interviewed for
You might think an interview is going well. But when it’s time for the company to make you an offer, it’s for a different job.
Some unethical companies will lure you with an online ad for a job that interests you. But they don’t want you for that job. Instead, they hope you’ll take a position that they’ve struggled to fill.
Don’t fall for this: Only accept the job that was advertised.
How to avoid job scams
Avoiding job scams is sometimes quite simple. If you use your instinct and maybe some Google searches, you’ll be just fine. Here’s a few tips that can help you avoid some of the fake listings that job scammers may attempt to entice or confuse you with.
Google the alleged company name
Google is your friend when you’re looking for a job. If you search a company’s name, you can discover if the employer is a real company with a web presence, or a physical address or listed telephone number.
If you can’t find anything online? You might be dealing with a scammer offering a fake job. Your search might even tell you if others have been scammed by this same “employer.”
Keep your personal and financial information private
Never provide your Social Security number or bank account information until you’ve been given a job. Don’t bite when scammers say they need this information to set up a direct deposit on your account.
Legitimate companies will wait until you’re hired to request this information, and you’ll have to provide it to the employer’s human resources department by filling out forms.
Don’t believe anything that sounds too good to be true
If a job promises high pay for little work, be leery. That’s a common sign of a job scam. And if these same scammers ask for your personal information before offering a job? End the interview.
Be careful when filling out online forms
Be especially cautious if an employer directs you to a link to an online form as part of the interview process. Never include important information — such as your bank account number or Social Security number, or even your date of birth or physical address — in such a form.
If you do, you might fall victim to a phishing attack. Remember, legitimate companies won’t require you to provide financial or personal information during the interview process.
Never pay for a job
Companies pay you. It doesn’t work the other way around. If a company insists that you pay upfront for training or course materials, walk away. Legitimate companies train you after hiring you, at no charge.
Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.
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