Job Search Scams- The Ultimate Guide to Spotting Them

Did you know that job search scams cost Americans nearly $2 billion in just 2020, roping in roughly 14 million people, according to The Better Business Bureau (BBB)? Scammers are looking to steal your identity, steal your money, and leave you with a mess when law enforcement gets involved. It’s nasty. We’ll talk about the warning signs, what scams are currently being perpetrated, how to do your homework to safeguard yourself, and how to report scammers.

Let’s talk about how they’re going to steal your money

This is going to be the wordiest section because in most cases, money is what they’re really after, and they’ve gotten quite sophisticated in how legitimate they can seem!

So without using all caps, let us just scream loudly: No legitimate employer will ask you to forward money, wire money, transfer money, reimburse them, provide your credit card info, or make you pay to get a job (not even for training or an “enrollment fee”)! None! If they do, you’re likely looking at a job search scam.

Money launderers are tricky

One of the most troubling trends is using job seekers to launder money. Money launderers send some wild job offer wherein all you have to do is help transfer funds or process payments, and they promise you’ll get a cut of every transaction. They say that they’re traveling or they’re abroad and can’t do it themselves (that’s not true). You’ll be illegally laundering money and will not only lose money but could land in legal trouble. Pass.

Launderers will also potentially use your personal bank account to shovel through counterfeit cash or counterfeit checks just small enough to not be flagged by the bank and they may go through, but when reported as counterfeit, you’re on the hook for repayment, and may be arrested for theft. Seriously.

What about direct deposit scams?

Similar to launderers, identity thieves will “get you set up for direct deposit” as a new employee, then they can simply use your application info combined with your bank info to use your bank account for laundering bad checks, even without you being on board, or they can simply go drain your savings and checking accounts. There’s not much recourse for this, we’re afraid.

You’re probably thinking about every job you’ve had where you’ve given an employer your banking info for direct deposit, but that was probably after you worked in a physical building with actual humans and work tools. You are not legally required to do direct deposit (and in some states, you actually can’t), so you can always ask to stick with a physical paycheck – that’s something scammers that want your bank info will get mad about and you’ll immediately know they’re not legit. Here are all of the direct deposit laws since each state varies.

You did so well that you got overpaid!

So let’s say you’ve been paid in cashier’s checks or a check. And wow, they overpaid you by a radical amount, how lucky! But you’re an adult, so you ask them what to do with the oversight (so you don’t lose your job).

You’re told to deposit the check, go ahead and keep the amount due to you, and send the rest of the money to someone via Western Union. A few days later, the bank is going to call you and tell you the check was fake. You’ve lost that money and your new “employer” won’t answer calls or emails. Keep all emails in case you need to show law enforcement that you aren’t the perpetrator! They won’t likely find the scammers, but at least you probably won’t go to jail for falling for a job search scam.

No real job requires you to pay before getting started

You may be told you have to purchase something before getting started at your new job. And it might sound like a reasonable request.

They may offer to send you a laptop, but you’ll need to buy the proper software. It sounds normal and the link looks legitimate, but you are instructed to send several hundred dollars via Western Union first. Some even say they’ll reimburse you. But it’s a scam. No real job requires this.

Another thing you may be told you’re financially responsible for is a credit report because of how high quality the company is, and this one is slick – they say it’s corporate policy to do a financial background check to verify your identity and that you’re qualified. Then, they send you to a corporate-looking link to gather all of your info for the “free report” and now they’ve got everything, even your social security number.

Many regulated industries ask your permission for them to run your credit, but you don’t pay for that.

And remember: If you’re required to pay for your training or buy a ton of their product before you can get started, you’re not an employee and it’s not a job offer

Shipping or reselling scams are particularly nasty

Here’s how the shipping scam works – you’re told you’ll make bank by reshipping merchandise for them (maybe a product was in a banged-up box), and they call it “distribution” or “home receiving” and you get products to repackage, and told to declare them as “gifts” for cheaper shipping at the post office.

Then oops, you’ll have to pay for the shipping and they say they’ll reimburse you (and the pay you’re promised is really impressive, so you go with it). But it’s mostly stolen products like electronics and when they reimburse you, it’s a fake check, and you falsified government documents at the post office, so you’re now in a world of legal trouble and your “employer” nowhere to be found.

Here’s how the reselling scam works – you’re told that you can make tons of money buying luxury products for far under retail prices, then resell them online for huge profits. Some even offer a free web platform and pay for your website and hosting. So you start paying for the products you’re going to market, but the package is either a box of dollar store junk from abroad or no package arrives. Either way, you simply threw money into a black hole.

Let’s talk about some of the red flags of job search scams

The great news about job search scams is that they’re typically using well-documented methods. There is a playbook, so to speak, and while it often evolves, the bones remain the same and there are the 9 common red flags to watch out for and become skeptical about:

Red flag #1: You didn’t contact them

The BBB reports that 80% of job search scams were contacted by the scammer, not the other way around. They also indicate that the most common communication methods are through a job board or via social media.

If you don’t have a profile on the job board they said they found you on, it’s never real, so that’s an obvious red flag.

But let’s say you do have a profile there –
just because they contacted you through a major job search site, that doesn’t guarantee they’re legitimate (scammers are smart)! When you get that email and it doesn’t even use your name, your spidey senses should be going off – generic is never good. 

Red flag #2: Everything is vague

Job postings or outreach that is wildly short on details should have you at least raising an eyebrow.

If the requirements are so vague that anyone can qualify (“Must be a citizen. Must have internet access. Must speak English.”), and there are no real details, no requirements regarding your experience, no mention of an industry, no listed job duties, only vague language, it’s typically fake.

When you ask for more details, if you’re ignored, redirected, or they gaslight you by swearing you’re great and that they’ll train you no matter what, that’s an even bigger red flag. 

Red flag #3: The pay is too sexy

If you know what this employer is offering is far above the industry standard, or there is no actual work required, it’s probably a scam. Sometimes they try to trick folks new to an industry, so if that’s you and you’re not sure what it should pay, is a standard resource for research.

No one is going to pay you $45.00 an hour to hang out on a beach all day. Sorry! 

Red flag #4: It all happens too quickly

Pay attention to timing! If you get a job offer before you’ve had an interview, during an interview, minutes after, or are told you’ve made the final cut and a decision will be made immediately? Red flag.

This is a predatory practice that takes advantage of people who don’t know better, and they use urgent language because they have to move quickly before they’re caught. 

Red flag #5: It sounds like a high school kid

Words matter. A typo or two isn’t a dealbreaker, but if the grammar is atrocious and the typos are out of control, it’s not always a real job listing. It can be someone abroad running a scam on folks, hoping that Google Translate will translate an entire job listing or email (which it typically can’t accurately do (yet)).

Sometimes startups use informal language, but if it’s at a third-grade reading level and simply unprofessional, put your guard up. 

Red flag #6: Someone’s using their “personal” email

If someone is saying they’re a recruiter at a major corporation like Amazon, they’re just not going to email you from a Hotmail account. Scammers often say their company’s servers are down and that’s why they have to use their personal Gmail account. It’s bull.

Another red flag is that if there is a typo in the email address. If the email is “,” that’s not a match, that’s scam. Watch for the little details.

Red flag #7: Don’t click that link- the offer may be a job scam!

If an email is sent to you out of the blue with an amazing offer, don’t click any links. It may appear to be from a corporate email, not a personal email, but an email address can be spoofed, and is a common sign of job search scams.

The way this part of the scam works is that you can’t apply directly for the job on say the Walmart website, rather a link (which could also be spoofed) or a slightly misspelled URL that is easy to miss. Instead, you’re sent to a website that looks like the Walmart site, so you quickly fill out a form with your personal info to apply, and scammers and hackers now have your info to use themselves, turn to the next step of the scam, or sell to a third party.

This act is called phishing and is an incredibly common way for offshore scammers to get your personal information to later use and abuse. 

Red flag #8: It’s called a “work from home job”

The phrase “work from home job” isn’t necessarily a naughty one, but it should be viewed with some skepticism given that it has become the phrase of choice for recruiting victims of job search scams.

Today, real jobs are called “remote jobs,” or “telecommute” opportunities, or simply “remote work,” but “work from home” is fairly exclusively used by scammers now. Small businesses that don’t know better may also use it unknowingly, so it’s not a promise that you’re being scammed, just a red flag to watch out for. If this is the only red flag, you’re probably fine to proceed. 

Red flag #9: The software used for the interview is important

Increasingly, one-way video interviews are being used by legitimate employers, but more often it’s scammers because they don’t want to show their face on Zoom.

Lots of scams go down specifically over social media direct messaging or chat apps, and most employers don’t use that as an option, whereas scammers do because they can say their camera is not working, but you still feel like it’s legitimate because video was initiated.

Then, after the scam is complete, they delete the account to move on to the next scam victim without a trace. And let’s not act like Facebook is going to help you in any way.

The software used to interview is important – more reputable platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, or Skype are commonly used with legitimate employers. But again, scammers are smart and can trick us all in other ways, but chat apps or a text-only “interview” should merit more questions on your end. 

Best practices for researching before responding

If you run into any of the aforementioned red flags, you know you need to dig deeper, but how? Don’t even respond to their solicitation or click any links until you’ve done your homework. Verify first, then respond. Trust us on this.

  1. Research the company’s site. What did they say the website is? Does the LinkedIn account also have that same URL? Are there any employees listed on LinkedIn? Where do they live? Do they look real? Is the site a weird string of numbers and letters? Do a WhoIs search and see who owns the site – is it a corporation or some dude in the Phillipines? Is it less than a year old, but the hiring company is supposedly Ford!?

  2. Search Google for “[Company Name] + Fraud”, “[Company Name] + Scam,” and “[Company Name] + Ripoff” because people have often posted about the scheme. Do the same for the email address that reached out to you. There are sites dedicated to warning others and they rank highly in Google!

  3. Watch out for “http://” sites versus “https://” sites. If you’re asked to supply confidential information via a site that is simply “http://,” be weary because that “s” on the end is encryption and it’s standard for collecting data so it’s secure.

  4. Before responding or clicking a link, it can be tough, but you can try calling the company. LinkedIn is an easier way to sleuth, but even that info can be faked. Ask if that person works there and if they do, may you speak with them, or ask the receptionist how to verify that the person is actually with.

  5. Ultimately, err on the side of safety. It is better to lose a potentially real opportunity than have a wiped out bank account and cops knocking on your door.
Woman holds her head in frustration as she looks at her laptop. Potentially a victim of job search scams.

What to do if you’re already a victim of job search scams

We don’t want to get your hopes up too high, but there are ways you can fight back. Don’t delete any emails or delete texts to your cell number. Gather as much documentation as you possibly can.

Then, you can start by contacting your state’s Attorney General, then the Federal Trade Commission. Those are the entities that oversee these types of scams, and they’ve already heard of the one you’ve been victimized by. They’ll know what kind of information they’ll need from you.

You might not get your money back, but you might at least be able to clear your name and get back to searching for a real job – you deserve a GOOD one!