by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
While the Internet and online job boards have revolutionized the job-hunting process for millions of job seekers and employers, these developments also brought with them an increase in unscrupulous individuals and companies out to scam unsuspecting people who are simply looking for a better job.
There are thousands and thousands of stories of job-seekers receiving emails from job scammers after posting their resumes (and contact information) on one or more job boards. While it is certainly every job board's responsibility to protect the privacy of the people who register their information -- and many have not done so well -- it is also the responsibility of the job-seeker to remember the adage, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Certainly home-based jobs and business opportunities are one of the biggest areas in which scammers and con artists operate, but they have also been known to disguise themselves as legitimate businesses (called phishing) offering great job and employment opportunities.
What can job seekers do to protect themselves? Here are 10 key tips for avoiding potential job scams. While some of these tips might seem a bit extreme, it is always best to err on the side of caution -- especially when your personal and financial information, identity, and credit are on the line.
- Never provide sensitive financial or personal information. Do not release your social security number, bank account or PIN, PayPal, or credit card information. There is absolutely no reason why a recruiter or employer would require any such information from you. Never impart any financial information. You will eventually have to provide your social security number to an employer -- when you're completing a job application or employment contract -- but do so only after you have validated that the company is legitimate.
- Don't agree to have your earnings direct deposited into your bank accounts from any new or unknown employer. While direct deposit is a much more efficient method for getting paid for your services, you do not want to grant any organization access to your account until you know it is completely legitimate and trustworthy.
- Never agree to a wire transfer of any sort. Any mention of a wire transfer -- or sending money to make more money -- should force an involuntary action to delete the message. No legitimate job opportunity is going to involve wire transfers.
- Be wary of any recruiter who asks for money from you upfront in return for finding you a job or providing job leads. Legitimate recruiters get paid by the employers for whom they place candidates -- not from the candidates. Furthermore, most of the scammers who ask you to pay for job leads will provide you -- if they actually do so -- with the same ones you could find on a search of Indeed or other job-search engine.
- Reject job postings or emails that state that no experience or expertise is required for the position. All legitimate job openings have some sort of job description that includes information about education, skills, and experience required to qualify for the position.
- Carefully examine the email details of unsolicited job offers. Emails that claim to be from a legitimate company (Coca-Cola) but then have a return email address with a general (free) email site (such as CocaCola@gmx.com) and not the company address (such as SHandy@CocaCola.com) are not to be trusted. Also carefully examine links in emails to guarantee they are linking to a legitimate Website (CocaCola.com) rather than some fake site (http://scamsite.cocacola.com/ or http://55.342.45.192/cocacola/).
- Request more details from prospective employers who provide little or no details in their job postings or emails. Vague promises can be very persuasive, but the truth lies in the details -- so request detailed information about the services they provide or the job they are hiring for. Request and review contracts carefully. Consult with a lawyer when you have serious concerns or questions.
- Ignore postings that guarantee you a job -- especially ones that guarantee you a postal or government civil servant job. These scammers basically provide you with information about the government exam -- for a large fee -- that you could easily find for yourself for free.
- Don't be swayed by amazing testimonials or money-back guarantees. These are simply marketing gimmicks designed to make you feel more at ease in falling for the scam. While testimonials can be real, even legitimate companies have been caught making them up. And money-back guarantees are worthless unless you have the time and money to sue -- if you can even find the scammers to do so.
- Harness the power of the Internet to research all job opportunities. Do a background check of the prospective employer with the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, and Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Job Scams
Remember to think twice -- or more -- before responding to any job posting or email that promises you easy money. While home-based careers selling stuff, doing data entry, or starting your own online business are the most prominent scams, be wary of unsolicited offers from what appears on the surface as a legitimate company or organization.
Your best job and business opportunities are almost always going to come from someone you know -- or someone who knows someone you know -- that's the power of networking. You aren't guaranteed a fantastic job or income using networking to track down job leads -- but it's the most effective tool in a job-seeker's toolbox. (Learn more about networking in the Art of Career and Job-Search Networking section of Quintessential Careers.)
Finally, if you think you may have already fallen victim to a job scam, immediately contact your bank and credit card companies as well as the major credit reporting agencies so that you can protect your identity and salvage your financial credit. (See also the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing identity theft.)
Additional Job Scam/Work Scheme/Employment Con Links
Here are some additional resources dealing with job scams and work schemes:
- Avoiding Online Job Scams, from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
- Privacy Tips for Online Job-Seekers, from PrivacyRights.org.
- Job-Hunting Scams, from the Federal Trade Commission.
- Beware of Job-Hunting Scams and Online Phishing Scams, from Microsoft.
- Work at Home Scams, from About.com's Alison Doyle.
- Critical Tips for Job Seekers to Avoid Payment Forwarding Scams, from the World Privacy Forum.
- Scams & Schemes in Work and Employment Services, some useful links from the Riley Guide.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.