Here's how to identify a job scam!Despite our best efforts, job hunting can turn out to be an emotionally draining experience. To worsen matters, scammers posing as legitimate employers may approach us or trick us into approaching them. The signs of a job scam can vary wildly, with some being laughably obvious and others being deviously clever. That’s why we’ve taken the time to highlight many of the telltale signs of a job scam so you can lower your risk of falling for one.

What are the biggest job scam red flags to look for?

Job scams have increased in sophistication over recent years, meaning that it isn’t just typos and bad spelling you’ll want to be on the lookout for as indicators of a scam. Here are some of the biggest signs of a job scam to watch for.

Offers that are too good to be true

A good rule of thumb for identifying scams is that they’ll often provide what appear to be low-effort ways of making lots of money. This strategy can be seen in nearly all work from home scams, which offer you the chance to make thousands of dollars from the comfort of your house doing things like mystery shopping, medical billing work or even operating your own business. Scammers’ offers also usually require few, if any, sort of qualifications — another telltale sign — which allows them to cast a wide net and pick whomever they want as a mark.

Straightforward job scams aren’t the only thing you should be worried about, either, as scammers have branched into career development opportunities too. In some instances, scammers might post professional development scams, as is the case with the growing career advancement grant scam, wherein potential victims receive unsolicited emails and messages suggesting that they qualify for a government grant to help them pay for training to transition to a new career. Should you apply for one of these opportunities or be “lucky” enough to have a scammer reach out to you about one, you’ll likely get an immediate offer in a manner that almost feels like winning a sweepstakes contest. But real job offers and real professional development opportunities aren’t instant and instead take time and effort to work toward. If you encounter low- or no-skill job offers with high pay or the opportunity to work from home, or you are offered unsolicited free money for job training, you should be wary, as these are likely scams.

Paying for employment or training

Yet another immediate red flag is any job offer that requires you to pay money for the opportunity. Often seen as a part of work from home scams, in these instances a scammer might have you cash a fraudulent check (or write your own with a fraudulent check as reimbursement) to pay for supplies, or they may simply want you to pay out of pocket for required training or materials. Whatever the case, it typically ends with them disappearing with your money. You should avoid jobs that require you to pay upfront for supplies or that require you to wire money to unspecified accounts, as this is not how legitimate business is done.

Poorly written copy

Typos, bad grammar and misspellings are becoming less of a hallmark of a fraudster than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean poorly written, scammy job posts don’t still exist. Bad copy tends to leave a lot to the imagination, as it’s either filled with industry buzzwords, excessive promotion of a company’s beliefs and culture, or very brief descriptions of the job, missing critical details. While a potential employer should sell you on working for them, reputable job listings should both promote an employer’s brand and provide you with clear and detailed information about the job’s requirements, the application process and some indication of the job’s pay range and/or benefits. Copy falling short of this is, at the very least, a sign of unprofessionalism — but it can also be one of the hallmarks of a scam.

Extensive requests for personal information before an offer

While some potential employers might want to look at your credit and might need your social security number to do a background check, you typically won’t be asked for any personally identifying information like your SSN or bank account numbers before being hired. In addition, remain alert for any potential employer that asks you to submit sensitive personal information over an insecure medium like email. Legitimate employers know that this data is highly sensitive and needs to be handled a certain way through proper channels, like a human resources department. Keep this in mind as you’re filling out job applications online as well as in person, as scammers can also exist in the offline realm.

Limited public information about a company

Ideally, before either your interview or your offer from a potential employer, you should research who they are. While you might not always find much information, this alone isn’t necessarily a sign of a scam. However, it is an indication that you should proceed with caution. Certain kinds of work like bookkeeping, drop shipping, mystery shopping and freelance or remote work may be much harder to vet than jobs in other fields, which makes these fields rife for job scams. Limited information about an employer combined with any of the signs listed above should be taken as a strong indication that you’re dealing with a scammer.

What should you do if you suspect you’ve encountered a job scam?

If you’re already partly through the application process for a job (or maybe even just starting a job) and you feel something’s amiss, there are a few things you can do to help you determine if you’re being taken for a ride.

Use WHOIS to confirm the legitimacy of any site or domain

Both legitimate employers and scammers will likely direct you to a company website or communicate with you using an email address associated with their brand. You can use a directory operated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, to help you distinguish real offers from fake ones. This database, known as WHOIS (said like “who is”), acts like the phone book of the Internet and we detail how to use it here.

WHOIS can help you determine who owns a site in some cases or where the owner might be located. Even when domain owners have domain privacy active — which obscures ownership information listed on WHOIS — this can tell you something about the employer. For example, public-facing companies tend not to use domain privacy, so if you’re interacting with a company that has a lot of clients (especially in a field like medicine or finance) and they have domain privacy active, it could be a concerning sign. In the same vein, you might also be able to use a website’s SSL certificate (this is what generates HTTPS encryption on a page) to verify information about a company. Click here to read about SSL certificates and how you can use them in tandem with a WHOIS lookup to help you verify the authenticity of a website.

Use social and review sites to see what people know about an employer

Though you should take these with a grain of salt, sites like Glassdoor can show you the common complaints about companies with poor interviewing or hiring practices. If you Google a company or employer’s name along with the words “job scam,” it’s very likely that review sites detailing a string of complaints will come up if this employer is known for conning applicants. You can also utilize sites like LinkedIn to find managers or employees in positions you might be applying for. Not every company uses LinkedIn, so you should take the implications of an unsuccessful search with a grain of salt, but LinkedIn and similar sites can help you potentially find people who either know of or are directly affiliated with a particular employer.

Freeze your credit

Now that credit freezes are free, there’s little reason why they shouldn’t be a standard part of your financial priorities. Life changes like unemployment and employment present key opportunities for scammers and are a time when you need to be extra vigilant about identity theft. You can do this by not just watching out for fake job ads, but also by freezing your credit and monitoring your credit reports during your job application process. If you think you’ve fallen for a job scam and you provided any of your personal information to the scammer, this becomes doubly important, as your data could be used for all manner of illicit schemes.

File a complaint with the FTC

If you come across a job scam, whether you fell for it or not, the last thing you probably want is for them to keep doing what they’re doing and trick other people. That’s why it’s important to report any scams you come across to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can use its online complaint tool to file a formal complaint, which can help the authorities shut the scammer down once and for all.

There are many scams out there. To inform yourself about them, keep reading our scams blog.