Red Flags of Jobs and Employment Scams: How to Protect Yourself

  • Published: Apr 24, 2024
  • Last Updated: Apr 30, 2024

Job scams continue to rise in the United States as of 2024. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost about $490 million to job opportunities and employment scams in 2023, with 107,134 reports. This was a significant increase over 2022, with 95,327 reports of employment scams and a $373.5 million loss to these scams. Besides financial losses, scam artists are also conning unsuspecting job seekers out of their personally identifiable information. While they have always existed, job scams have been on the rise since 2020 following the widespread outbreak of COVID-19. Scammers have continued to take advantage of the pandemic's lingering impact, particularly job losses, to fleece unsuspecting job seekers in America.

Con artists use varying tactics for job scams. Hence, identifying employment scams and warning signs helps you steer clear of them, which is vital to avoid financial losses and safeguard your personal information. As you hunt for potential job opportunities, it is important to consciously look out for red flags and recognize employment scam warning signs to protect yourself. Although this can be a daunting task, careful observation and some awareness can prevent you from falling prey to employment scams in the United States.

Employment Scams

Understanding Job Scams

Job scams in the United States thrive on the need of unsuspecting individuals to gain employment and make money for themselves. Typically, the fraudster poses as a company offering fictitious job opportunities and targets job seekers to con them out of their money and/or personal information. The anxiety linked to getting a job makes it possible for scammers to entice unsuspecting victims into overlooking the common red flags associated with employment scams. The likelihood of falling victim to a job scam depends largely on the urgency to land a job. When you are pressed for a job, there is a high tendency to throw caution into the wind and embrace whatever lies a prospective employer throws at you.

Amid that pressure to land a good paying job, understanding how to tell if a job offer is a scam is key to avoiding being fleeced. Common characteristics and red flags include an attempt to obtain something from you, unclear job details/descriptions, unprofessional communication, and unrealistic promises. When a would-be employer communicates unprofessionally with poor grammar and several spelling errors, the supposed job offer is most likely a scam. A legitimate recruiter/employer will proofread their job placement posts before publishing them and check emails communicating offers of employment properly before sending them to potential employees. Similarly, when a prospective employer insists on communicating with you through messaging Apps or emails only, without the option of in-person or phone interviews, it is possibly a job scam scheme.

Also, be cautious when a job post or offer promises easy and quick money or unrealistic high wages, and you tell yourself, "This looks like a job for me." Scammers often lure unsuspecting people with job positions requiring minimal effort with promises of high salaries. When the potential remuneration of a job offer is too good to be true, it is probably not as good as it seems or may even be a scam. Furthermore, a job offer with vague details about the position or employer is most likely a scam. Any job offer missing vital details, including what type of work you would do, is likely a fake job posting. Another common red flag associated with employment scams in the United States is when a prospective employer requests payment upfront or asks you to provide sensitive personal information. A legitimate employer will only ask you for information relevant to the job for which you have applied. They will not ask you for personally identifiable information during the application process.

Recognizing Red Flags in Job Offers

Recognizing red flags in job offers is essential to avoiding unpleasant experiences and protecting yourself from illegitimate companies with fake job postings. Identifying the red flags early enough can prevent you from spending money on fake expenses and losing money to illegitimate or nonexistent companies. In addition, it can improve your job search efficiency as you will not have to waste time on fake job postings and reserve your time for genuine job offers and legitimate employers. Furthermore, if you can spot red flags in job offers, you will be able to protect your personal information from scammers who can use it to steal your identity.

 Red Flags in Job Offers

The following explains how to recognize red flags in job offers and how to tell if a job offer is a scam:

  • Unclear Job Details and Prerequisites - Scammers' descriptions of job positions are often vague and list requirements that almost anyone will be eligible to apply. For instance, a job posting whose requirements specify that applicants must be citizens, at least 18 years old, have a phone with internet, and can speak and/or write the English language is possibly a job scam. Almost everyone will qualify for this. A legitimate job posting will mention clear and specific qualification requirements, including years of experience and education. Also, a job offer that does not list the exact job description/duties and offers to train you may be an employment scam
  • The Prospective Employer Requests Confidential Information Upfront - Any employer asking you to provide sensitive information during the application process is most likely out to steal your identity. For example, scammers engaging in employment scams may ask unsuspecting job seekers to complete credit report forms online, which will require them to provide sensitive personal and financial information. In another case, bank account takeover can happen, they can request bank account details to either open a new bank account or transfer money to the accounts of prospective employees.
  • The Company Requires That You Pay for Something Before Completing the Hiring Process - If a prospective employer asks you to pay for something before hiring you, it is a red flag that should be taken seriously. This includes wanting you to pay for your own supplies, software, or work equipment. For example, they may ask you to send money, for instance, $150, to install a particular software on a new PC that will be sent to you as part of your work tool. Any legitimate company will provide you with everything required to do your job for free and never ask you for any kind of payment. In another instance, a scammer may direct you to a website and ask you to pay with your credit card to obtain a credit check report. Beware that any prospective employer asking you to make a payment before hiring you wants to prey on you
  • The Job Offer Promises Higher Pay than Typical for the Advertised Job Position - It is a red flag when a job offers you wages much more than what is typical for the job, especially when compared to similar jobs on online job boards. For example, a job offer that promises flexible working hours and $60 per hour when similar jobs pay between $10 and $15 elsewhere is a potential employment scam
  • The Employer Contacted You and Offered You a Job Position - A company initiating contact to offer you employment, especially for an entry-level position or a generic role, may be a sign of a job scam. For example, do not jump at an offer in which the prospective employer reaches out to you first and tries to coax you by saying you fit into the role and want to interview you alongside other finalists for the job. You may be walking into a job scam scheme
  • Unprofessional Communication - If you perceive that the communication between you and a would-be employer is highly unprofessional, the odds are that the job offer is fake and a scam. For example, while some scammers can write good emails, many cannot, and their emails are often laden with punctuation, spelling, grammatical, and capitalization errors. Make sure to look out for these red flags in your email correspondence with a prospective employer. Typically, legitimate employers hire professionals for roles such as any communication going outside their network. Additionally, an email from a prospective employer emanating from a personal email address or not including the company's contact information (address and working phone number) is as good as a job scam. Note that some scam emails may look authentic and from well-known companies. However, a closer look at such emails, including the spelling of the email addresses, can help you spot that the emails are from scammers and intended to rip you off
  • The Employer Insists On Conducting Interviews Via Instant Messaging Services - Consider it a red flag when a would-be employer wants to interview you using an instant messaging service or a chat app. In many cases, the supposed companies will send text messages containing links to malicious links (URLs) under the guise of interview URLs. Such links can potentially download spyware or malware on your mobile device

If your gut tells you a job offer is too good to be true, it is probably a job scam. Make sure to trust your instincts. If you choose to follow through, do not be hounded to divulge personally identifiable information or make any financial commitments. It is always best to thoroughly research a prospective employer and ask questions from people to avoid falling victim to employment scams.

Employment Scams: Warning Signs

Employment scams in the United States typically target individuals searching for work. Due to the increasing rate of job-related scams, it is important to be able to recognize fake job postings and avoid falling prey to scammers' tactics.

For example, when an unknown person promises you immediate employment without applying or going through due process, that is most likely a warning sign of an employment scam. Also, beware of job postings that do not require any experience or certain skills to get employed. This is one of the common warning signs of employment scams. In addition, if you are required to pay a certain amount of money to get employment, it is a warning sign that you are about to get ripped off for a non-existent job. Furthermore, be suspicious of any job requiring you to provide your personal information before the interview. It is a tactic to scam you, and you may become a victim of identity theft.

It is best to research the legitimacy of job adverts or verify the authenticity of employment offers, especially when you have doubts. A vital step to doing this is to check job scammers lists by contacting relevant agencies like the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Similarly, ensure that a thorough background check is conducted on a company after receiving a job offer from them. To do this, research their history and credible online presence and obtain their address. If the address of the prospective employer does not exist or cannot be found, you were probably offered a fake job. A reputable company will have a digital footprint. In addition, a legitimate employer will reveal the identities of their hiring managers and will not limit your communication with them to emails. They will let you communicate with their recruiters through phone or video calls.

Identifying Employment Scams

Several fraudulent persons or "employers' try to take advantage of job seekers by making fake job postings online, even on legitimate job boards. The responsibility of identifying employment scams lies largely with job seekers. You can only identify job scams and avoid being fleeced if you deeply understand the warning signs. The most common ones are discussed below:

  • You Got a Job Offer Without an Interview - If you apply for an advertised job vacancy and receive a job offer without being interviewed, it is unarguably an employment scam. A reputable employer or company will subject you to at least one level of interview before hiring you if you have the matching skills, educational requirements, and/or experience
  • The Prospective Employer Uses Pressure Tactics on You - If a would-be employer or its hiring manager pressures or pushes you into making quick decisions, especially regarding accepting their employment offer, you are possibly being targeted for a job scam. Scammers may claim they urgently need to fill the position and tell you you either accept the offer and its terms or risk losing the job. They do this to box you into a corner and rush into making an irrational decision. No genuine employer will do that. A legitimate company will allow ample time to make your decision to either accept or reject a job offer
  • The Employer Asks You to Make Payment for Work Equipment or Training - Be cautious of any job offer you receive that requests you to make any payment for work tools, software, credit check reports, training, or training materials. It is an employment scam. While it is customary for many companies to train new employees as part of the onboarding process, a legitimate employer will likely pay you for attending the training rather than ask you to pay
  • You Are Requested To Make Wire Transfers - You are being targeted for an employment scam if a prospective employer mails you a check, asks you to deposit it into your bank account, and then says you should make a few wire transfers immediately after the check is deposited. The catch is you will be told to keep the balance as a bonus. You will only realize you have been scammed when the deposited check does not clear. Know that no prospective employer will pay you for doing nothing, and you will never fall prey to this tactic
  • There are Too Many Inconsistencies in Their Correspondence With You - If there are multiple typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, and punctuation mistakes in a potential employer's emails to you, that is a warning sign that it may be a job scam. Similarly, there may be no name or contact information/address on such emails

Evaluating Job Offers for Legitimacy

It is normal to want to jump at any job offer and say this looks like a job for me, especially when you are pressed for work. However, you will most likely fall victim to an employment scam if you fail to scrutinize every job offer that comes your way beyond the surface. The following are tips that can help you effectively vet job offers and prevent getting hit by job scams:

  • Do Your Research - The best way to vet a job offer and protect yourself from a possible employment scam, especially when you notice any discrepancies, is to thoroughly research the prospective employer. Sparing a few days to research can help determine if the employer is legitimate or on the job scammers list. While researching the company, make sure to look out for its social media presence, official website, reputation reviews on popular job boards, and rating or registration with the United States Better Business Bureau (BBB). In addition, investigate the professional profiles of the company's recruiters or hiring managers, particularly the ones with whom you have exchanged emails or have spoken. Also, find out if the company has a physical address and valid and working phone number while not forgetting to verify its company's tax ID number, otherwise known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Review the Job Offer Closely for Suspicious Details - Scanning a job offer meticulously for certain parameters can help determine its authenticity. Although having one or two of such parameters may not exactly mean that a job offer is fake, it becomes a source of worry when there are many of them in one job offer. Some of these parameters include wrongly spelled words, vague job descriptions, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and capitalization errors. Also, be sure to check the salary to find out if it offers reasonable pay as jobs in similar categories or levels. Otherwise, you may have been issued a fake job offer
  • Consider Asking for the Opinions of Others - It is natural to overlook the warning signs of an employment scam due to the excitement of receiving a job offer. However, asking for the opinions of friends or colleagues can go a long way in determining the genuineness of any job offer. More importantly, seek the thoughts of trusted and more experienced colleagues or supervisors on the part of the job offer that seems suspicious

Self-Protection Measures

The following are self-protection measures to protect you from falling prey to employment scams:

  • Avoid sharing sensitive or confidential information, including financial or personally identifiable information with anyone online
  • Source a company's phone number independently online and make inquiries about the job's legitimacy directly on that line if you are dealing with a recruitment agency
  • Refrain from being pressured to act fast in accepting a job offer. Exercise caution and take your time to verify the genuineness of a job offer before making your decisions
  • Consider not sharing personal information like your date of birth or home address in your resume
  • Avoid sharing identity documents with a prospective employer unless you have ascertained that the employer is legitimate
  • Verify every job advert, especially if you suspect it is targeted at scamming unsuspecting job seekers. Do not trust every job advert that appears on legitimate job boards
  • Consider configuring your email box to move all potential scam emails to spam. That way, you never get to read them
  • Be sure to report suspicious job adverts or activities to the relevant government agencies, including local law enforcement, during your job search

Implementing Self-Protection Strategies

As you go about searching for jobs, make sure to remain vigilant and stay informed to avoid falling victim to job scams. Implementing the following self-protection strategies can help you safely navigate the job market and safeguard your job search:

  • Seek guidance from trustworthy professionals, such as a career mentor or counselor, before engaging in a job search
  • Recognize the red flags or warning signs of an employment scam
  • Only search for job openings on well-known job boards or platforms, and be sure to do your due diligence while at it. Read reviews from former or current employees, review the company's social presence, and verify the legitimacy of every job posting on such job boards
  • Report an employment scam to the appropriate authority if you ever encounter a fake job posting. Gather as many details as possible to form your report. Such information can include the name of the individual or company that made such fake job postings, phone numbers or emails, and any other information that can help relevant authorities in going after the scammers. You can contact any of the following authorities to file your report :
    • The National Fraud Information Center (NFIC)
    • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
    • The Better Business Bureau (BBB)
    • The attorney general's office or labor department office in your state
    • Local law enforcement agencies
  • Always submit personal information online over a virtual private network (VPN) to safeguard your data from scammers. In addition, be sure to use two-factor authentication and complex or strong passwords for all online accounts, including your email

Recognizing the red flags and warning signs of job scams is key to avoiding falling victim to such schemes. The red flags include requests for payment upfront, requests for confidential information at the application stage, job offers with high wages for little work, and employers with no online footprint. Others are the insistence of a prospective employer to communicate only through instant messaging apps or email and its unprofessional behavior. Implementing certain self-protection strategies, including using only reliable job boards for job searches and reporting any fake job postings you come across, can safeguard you from employment scams.

Ultimately, trust your instincts. If you are convinced a job offer is too good to be true, then it probably is. Always do your due diligence and do not be in a hurry to accept a job offer, send money, or share sensitive information while in search of a job. By sharing this article or the knowledge gained with your friends and colleagues, you can better help other active or potential job seekers avoid job scams. In addition, sharing it can foster a safer job search experience for others.

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