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Job Scams: 9 Kinds of Fake Jobs and How to Spot Them


If you see an ad for a job that seems too good to be true, chances are it might be a job scam. These scams can occur anywhere — on legitimate job platforms and social media sites, or through targeted email offers.

But no matter the approach, the scammer’s ultimate goal is the same: to steal your personal information, your money or both.

Even if you think you’re too smart to get caught up in a scam, it’s important to proceed with caution. Scammers continue to gain more tools and implement new approaches, making it tricky to spot a scam in action.

Let’s take a deeper look at nine common types of scams, including scamming examples, and nine ways to spot them in advance.

9 common job scams

Job scams aren’t a new thing — but the increase of remote jobs, along with advanced online technology, has allowed scammers to ramp up their efforts.

According to the Better Business Bureau, approximately 14 million victims fell prey to job scams in 2020, resulting in an estimated loss of over $2 billion. The following scamming examples represent some of the most popular types — however, it’s important to remember that any job could be a scam.

1. Work-from-home scams
2. Mystery shopper scams
3. Nanny and caregiver scams
4. Job placement service and fake recruitment websites
5. Government and postal job scams
6. Job scams on verified job sites
7. Unsolicited job offers
8. Pyramid schemes
9. Career advancement grants

1. Work-from-home scams

Flexible, remote jobs have become the holy grail in the employment world, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a wide variety of such jobs out there — in fact, we’ve compiled a list of 19 work-from-home websites to help you find your dream job.

However, scammers have used this rising trend to their advantage, luring victims in with the promise of earning thousands of dollars a month — all from the comfort of their homes.

These phony offers might require an upfront fee, perhaps to purchase a starter kit or undergo a specialty training course. Victims might also be left with credit card debt or a depleted bank account due to a fake check scam.

Watch out for these common work-from-home scams:

  • Reshipping: This “job” involves receiving packages at home, tossing out the original receipts and repackaging the goods. Then you reship them to an address supplied by the company. The products are often expensive items that were purchased with a stolen credit card. The promise of a monthly paycheck never materializes, and any personal information provided during the hiring process might be used for identity theft.
  • Reselling merchandise: The fraudulent claim here is that you can earn cash by buying high-end products on discount, then reselling them for a decent-sized profit. But after paying for the items, the packages never arrive, or you might receive a box full of worthless junk.
  • Data entry: There are legitimate data-entry jobs out there, but the fake ones usually require an upfront training fee.
  • Assembling crafts/products: With this job, you may be required to pay a membership or enrollment fee and purchase all the materials. Then, after hours of hard work, your final products are often rejected.
  • Stuffing envelopes: This scam works by requiring an upfront fee and pressure to sign others up for the same gig. You usually earn a small commission when your referrals pay the nonrefundable “joining fee.” In many cases, nobody ends up stuffing any envelopes.
  • Virtual personal assistant: The scam version of this job involves your employer sending you a check in advance, then asking you to send part of the money on to someone else. The check bounces, leaving you with a deficit for the money paid out.
  • Rebate processor: This is another job that requires a nonrefundable “training fee” to get started. You’re then required to post ads online for a variety of products. You earn a small commission whenever an item is purchased, but a portion is given to the buyer as their rebate. This last one might not always be a scam, but rather a job that’s just much less lucrative than advertised.

Meanwhile, if you’re serious about a remote job, check out these 12 companies that offer remote positions.

2. Mystery shopper scams

For those looking for a steady side hustle, mystery shopping might seem like the perfect fit. And if you find a good one, that’s awesome — however, many scammers use this job scheme as another attempt to steal your money.

The biggest sign is if they ask for an advance fee to start, or if they send you a check to cash for them and return some or all of the funds.

3. Nanny and caregiver scams

You might think that if a job is “in-person,” that would help rule it out as a scam. But any kind of job offer could be a scam, especially if you receive an advance payment before starting.

If you’re interviewing for a nanny job, make sure to meet the family face to face. You should also beware if the employer offers any payments before you’ve actually started work — this could be a fake check scam as mentioned above.

4. Job placement service and fake recruitment websites

If you’re a new graduate or anyone else looking for the next best opportunity, connecting with an employment agency could be a smart move. However, scammers will go to great lengths to create fake agencies or recruitment websites. The biggest warning sign is charging a fee to help you find a job.

A legitimate employment firm will charge the hiring company a fee, not you. In addition, be aware of any company requiring your Social Security number or bank details as part of a pre-screening process — this is a definite red flag for an identity theft scheme!

5. Government and postal job scam

Another popular scam is the fake government job. The scammers will duplicate a real government website, making it hard to spot the discrepancies. However, the scam usually requires a fee to apply or demands to pay for specific study guides in order to pass a “postal exam” or some other test.

In reality, information regarding any federal government or U.S. Postal Service job is easily accessible to everyone. Furthermore, it’s free to apply for any job, including ones with the government.

If in doubt, only apply via USAJobs.gov or usps.com/employment. And remember, a federal agency job is one of 11 common jobs that offer student loan forgiveness, making it an excellent option to consider if you have school debt.

6. Job scams on verified job sites

Fake employer scams can be found on any platform, even reputable sites like Indeed and CareerBuilder. Because of this, it’s important to never let your guard down.

Most employment sites find current openings by scouring company websites, LinkedIn posts or recruitment agencies, or by allowing companies to list jobs directly on their platform. Although verification is required, scam jobs can still slide through.

7. Unsolicited job offers

If you receive a random email or LinkedIn message offering a job, be wary. The Better Business Bureau’s states that 80% of employment scams reported to their Scam Tracker were initiated by the “employer.”

Not every unsolicited job offer is corrupt, but it’s important to look for warning signs. If the potential employer asks for your driver’s license, Social Security number or bank account information before hiring you, then definitely report it and move on.

8. Pyramid schemes

Pyramid schemes, a form of multi-level marketing (MLM), are illegal scams that require you to sell products while also recruiting others to work with you. Often you’re pushed to buy an absurd amount of inventory, above and beyond what you’re realistically capable of selling.

People usually believe they’re working for a legitimate MLM, only to discover it’s a pyramid scheme in disguise. Ultimately, people can’t keep up with the fees, inventory costs or recruitment expectations, and end up quitting after losing everything they’ve invested.

9. Career advancement grants

This scam lures job seekers in with the promise of a generous grant to help further and expand their career. Typically, you’ll receive an email prompting you to apply online for a government-sponsored “career advancement grant” which can be used toward classes, degree programs and more. They even claim you don’t need to pay anything back.

Sadly, this is yet another too-good-to-be-true situation, where the scammer is after your personal information.

If you’re serious about advancing your career, you can read about five easy steps to land your dream job. You could also consider investing in a career coach, a situation where it’s OK to pay someone to help you take your career to a new level.

9 common warning signs that a job is fake

Even though scammers can change their tactics at any time, this list contains some likely red flags. Just remember to always keep your eyes wide open for potential scams.

1. Sounds too good to be true
2. Unprofessional emails and communication
3. Online interviews held via messaging services
4. Receiving money upfront
5. Fake URLs and email addresses
6. They ask for your personal financial information
7. They require no experience
8. Sense of urgency
9. Your gut says it’s a scam

1. Sounds too good to be true

If the job promises you a ridiculously high salary with minimal hours or hires you on the spot without any interviews, it could very well be a scam.

2. Unprofessional emails and communication

If the emails are littered with misspelled words and other typos or way too casual in their tone, it’s worth taking a closer look.

True, some employers might be in a rush, so a few punctual errors shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. But if the entire message doesn’t sound professional, let this be a clear warning sign.

3. Online interviews held via messaging services

Many scammers utilize various platforms to conduct fake interviews, such as Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Facebook messenger.

If you’re offered the job and haven’t done a single video interview, it’s important to pause and investigate the company.

Keep in mind that many companies require an extensive interview process, including the opportunity for you to meet several members of the team. A real employer will usually ask a series of common interview questions and will almost never offer you the position right on the spot.

4. Receiving money upfront

One of the most common ways for scammers to steal your money is to send you a check, then instruct you to send a portion of the money to someone else. Or they might later claim they had overpaid you and ask for part of the money back. This also works with other payment options, such as PayPal.

The money takes a while to clear in your bank account, so it’s easy to think it’s legit — this is why so many people fall for the fake check scam. However, no real employer should ever ask you to send funds back.

5. Fake URLs and email addresses

Many scammers create email addresses and domains that appear identical to the real company. However, if you take a second glance, you’ll notice a few minor discrepancies. For example, [email protected] looks like an official Microsoft employee. However, [email protected] looks like a scammer email.

The same applies to altered website addresses, such as www.2ibm.com for an IBM job offer, as opposed to www.ibm.com. If in doubt, copy the email or domain name and do a Google search. If others have fallen prey to the scam, it could show up in the search results.

6. They ask for your personal financial information

With a real job, you’ll be required to submit personal information on your first day of employment, such as your Social Security number and bank account details for direct deposit. You can check out these five job forms, which you’ll need to fill out for most jobs out there.

The red flag is if a potential employer asks for this information before you start. A scam is also likely if they demand unnecessary personal information, such as your credit card numbers.

7. They require no experience

If a company claims you’ll earn thousands a month with no degree and no experience, it could be a scam. A high-paying job will usually require one or more of the following: a college degree, extensive experience in the field, references and a solid resume.

Don’t be blindsided by lucrative job offers. Sure, a few amazing ones might exist, but always do your fact-checking first.

8. Sense of urgency

Scammers are known for pushing people into a job ASAP. They want to get your money before you wise up.

Because of this, if your employer puts on the pressure for you to join today, be careful. A real employer will rarely push you to start immediately.

9. Your gut says it’s a scam

In the end, if your sixth sense is screaming that something’s not right, you should listen to it. That doesn’t mean it’s definitely a scam, just that you should dig a bit deeper. It’s totally OK to ask more questions for peace of mind.

Tips for avoiding a job scam

1. Call the company directly: Ask to be transferred to HR, another employee or someone who can answer your questions. If you can’t reach a real person, run!

2. Research the company’s website: If the job’s not posted on the company’s main website, consider this a red flag. You should also check the domain name and make sure it doesn’t have any weird characters or numbers added to it.

3. Check for similar scams: Search the job description, the employer’s name and email and any extra details to see if others have fallen for a similar job scam. If in doubt, check the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker for their current job scammer list.

What to do if you paid a scammer

If you think you’ve been scammed out of money, you have options. Immediately contact your bank, credit card or the company you used to transfer the funds — often, the transaction can be canceled or reversed. If not, the company will instruct you on possible next steps, such as closing down your accounts.

Next, report the job scam to one or more of the following:

Meanwhile, if identity theft is involved, and your scammer has your Social Security number or other sensitive info, it’s a good idea to contact Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This will help prevent the scammer from opening a new credit card in your name.

Job scam FAQs

What’s the quickest way to ensure a job is legit?

Call the company directly and ask to speak to a real person. Check the company’s website for the job listing, as opposed to a job board like Craigslist. Research the company’s name and the specific job description to see if others have fallen for a similar scam.

How do I supply my Social Security number and bank account details without falling for a scam?

An employer will require all official paperwork to be filled out on your first official day on the job — remember, a scammer will often ask for these details before you’re hired, as some bogus identity check. You should also avoid sending your personal information over email or text.

What if my employer sends me a check?

Not all checks are evil. Just make sure it’s for actual work that’s been completed, not to purchase equipment or send a portion to someone else — a real job almost never asks for you to send money back to them. For extra safety, ask your bank how long it takes for a check to clear, then wait the full length before withdrawing the funds.



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