Searching for a new job can be thrilling but stressful. In your eagerness to land the perfect gig, it‘s easy to let your guard down and become ensnared in sophisticated job scams. Cunning fraudsters are lying in wait within job sites, social platforms, and your inbox, ready to capitalize on desperate and distracted job seekers.
Employment scams are rampant today, with an estimated 14 million people exposed to fraudulent job offers per year according to data from the Better Business Bureau. From clever check fraud schemes to damaging identity theft, job scams can wreck your finances, credit, and even freedom if you‘re not careful.
This comprehensive guide will illuminate today‘s most prevalent job scams, warning signs to watch for, and expert tips to help safeguard you during your search for employment. With awareness and caution, you can avoid employment pitfalls and feel confident pursuing legitimate job opportunities perfect for your skills and interests.
The Most Common Job Scams Threatening Your Job Search
Employment scammers have invented a wide array of highly convincing schemes tailored to deceive and exploit job seekers. Here are the top scams currently making the rounds that you‘ll want to avoid.
Reshipping scams account for a staggering 65% of all employment fraud reports according to the Better Business Bureau. With these schemes, scammers pose as employers hiring for roles such as virtual assistant, shipping clerk, or quality control inspector.
After "hiring" victims, they send them stolen goods to repackage and reship elsewhere. Victims are promised payment for this service after they complete a certain number of packages. But any checks they receive inevitably bounce, leaving the victim on the hook. Even worse, they could face felony fraud charges for unknowingly handling stolen goods.
Maria S. thought she‘d landed her dream work-from-home job as a shipping coordinator. But soon the FBI showed up asking about all the fraudulently obtained electronics being delivered to her home office. Maria was horrified to discover she was an unwitting cog in a massive reshipping ring.
"I felt so foolish for being lured in and not realizing sooner it was a scam," she recounted. "I lost over $5,000 reimbursing the bank and it nearly ruined my credit. I never want anyone else to be suckered into these schemes like I was."
Job posts promising big profits reselling brand name merchandise also prey upon eager job seekers. Applicants are told they can buy coveted items like electronics and designer goods at deeply discounted prices for resale at a large profit margin. But first, they need to submit an upfront payment to purchase the inventory.
Once money is sent, the scammers disappear without delivering any products. Victims are left empty-handed, unable to reclaim their "investment."
College students striving to make extra cash are frequent targets of these reseller scams. But anyone can be fooled by the chance to net huge profits for minimal effort.
Money Mule Schemes
Money mule schemes recruit unsuspecting job seekers to sneakily transfer stolen money. Scammers posing as employers send new "hires" fraudulent checks and instruct them to deposit the checks into their personal bank accounts.
They then demand the victims withdraw the funds in cash or wire transfers and rapidly relay the money to third parties, keeping a small "cut" for themselves. The checks eventually bounce, leaving victims liable for the lost funds. They may also face criminal money laundering charges for their involvement.
Scammers particularly target younger adults with money mule schemes, with over 50% of victims aged 25-44 according to BBB data. But job seekers of any age can become snared in these illegal operations without realizing it.
Training & Certification Scams
For training and certification scams, crooks pose as career counselors, coaches, or job placement services. They pressure applicants to pay steep upfront fees for training courses, certifications, interview coaching, or other services with the promise it will help them land lucrative new roles.
But after pocketing the money, these fraudsters never deliver any training materials or job placement assistance they marketed.
Jeffrey K. lost over $300 to an online training program guaranteeing it would help him transition from retail to a six-figure tech job.
"I‘m still stuck in my same old job and am out all that money," Jeffrey lamented. "I thought this would give me the skills I needed to finally get ahead. Now I‘m worse off than before."
Victims report these crooks use highly manipulative sales tactics to get them to pay up, playing upon their dreams of finding better employment.
Personal Data Harvesting Schemes
Some elaborate job scams mainly aim to harvest your personal details for identity theft and other fraud. Scammers lure in victims with tantalizing fake job posts promising flexible hours, great pay, and the ability to start ASAP with no experience required.
Once applicants "get hired," the scammers have them fill out extensive forms requesting a bonanza of personal data – full name, birthdate, SSN, scans of driver‘s licenses, bank account and routing numbers, and more. Victims‘ information is then used to open unauthorized credit cards and drain their accounts.
By the time applicants realize it was a scam, their good name and financial security have already been severely compromised.
Fake Check Reimbursement Scams
Many popular fake check scams follow the same formula. Victims receive a real-looking but fraudulent check from supposed employers along with instructions to deposit it into their bank account.
They are then told to withdraw the funds as cash or wire transfers to purchase work equipment, pay for training costs, or cover other setup expenses for their new "job." Applicants are promised they‘ll be reimbursed for these purchases with their first paycheck.
But when the checks inevitably bounce – after the victims already complied – applicants must repay the bank the full amounts themselves. These scams frequently target domestic workers, caregivers, tutors, and others in client service roles.
Felicia V. fell for one such scam when hired as a personal tutor. "I bought books and learning materials like they instructed. When the check bounced, I was devastated. I still don‘t know how I‘ll repay over $2,000 to the bank on my tiny income."
Government Imposter Schemes
These scams involve fraudsters impersonating government job recruiters. They instruct applicants to complete a "small" upfront payment to process their application or cover study guides for required skills testing. But no legitimate government jobs ever require payments to apply or interview.
Once they obtain the funds, these scammers disappear without another word, never providing the promised applications or study materials. These shams often target older job seekers seeking coveted federal, postal, or military roles.
Jim C. explains how he lost $250 to a fake Postal Service job offer: "They told me I had to pay for a study guide to pass the postal exam and qualify for a carrier job. I wired them the money right away so I could get started. But there was no study guide. I couldn‘t even get the Post Office to return my calls about it."
Secret Shopper Scams
Secret shopper scams are rampant thanks to the ubiquity of mobile check deposits. Victims are "hired" as secret shoppers and mailed checks, supposedly to cover evaluating local stores and restaurants. They‘re given instructions to deposit the checks, withdraw funds, and complete tasks like buying gift cards or money orders to transmit photos back as "proof" of their mystery shopping duties.
But after they finish the assignment, the checks bounce, leaving the victims to foot the bill themselves. Major retailers like Walmart are common fake shopping destinations, yet Walmart does not utilize any mystery shoppers.
"They had me shop at my local Walmart and send gift cards to test their service," recalls scam victim Julia T. "I never thought to call Walmart and verify if they actually worked with this mystery shopping company. The scammers made everything seem so professional."
Warning Signs a Job Offer is a Scam
Scammers constantly fine-tune their tactics to better evade detection. But there are several red flags that should immediately raise suspicions about any job opportunity:
- They ask you to pay upfront for anything – training, certifications, applications fees, equipment
- The role promises very high earnings for easy, flexible remote work requiring no special skills
- You are not asked for a resume, qualifications, or background information
- They request extremely personal details upfront – SSN, bank accounts, scans of your ID
- The role involves receiving and shipping merchandise, forwarding money, or money transfers
- They send you a check and tell you to wire portions to third parties
- Emails and websites look amateurish, with typos, grammatical errors, or inconsistent branding
- Interactions are only via messaging apps or anonymous email addresses with no phone communication
- The “company” has no verifiable online presence, credentials, or physical address
Expert Tips to Avoid Job Scams
While scammers constantly fine-tune their tactics, you can take proactive steps to avoid being defrauded:
⚪️ Never pay any money upfront for training programs, certifications, applications, or supplies. Legitimate employers do not charge fees to hire or onboard new staff.
⚪️ Vet all job offers and employers extensively online before providing personal data or depositing checks. Search for reviews, complaints, inconsistencies, and signs of fabrication.
⚪️ Insist upon phone or video interviews if possible. Refuse to communicate solely via messaging apps or emails.
⚪️ Create new contact details like burner emails and virtual phone numbers when job searching to limit damage if accounts get compromised by scammers.
⚪️ Use prepaid debit cards or digital wallets when making required job-related purchases. This adds a layer of protection if paying for training programs or buying equipment.
⚪️ Open a separate bank account to receive job payments from unfamiliar companies. This isolates your funds if fraudulent checks get routed in.
⚪️ Trust your instincts. Take your time vetting anything that raises red flags. Check out companies through resources like the Better Business Bureau before moving forward.
⚪️ Search online job boards safely. Stick to reputable sites like LinkedIn and Indeed. Be wary of classifieds sites like Craigslist which contain more scams.
⚪️ Report suspicious job listings to get them removed before they ensnare other job seekers.
No matter how tantalizing an opportunity appears, stay vigilant throughout your entire job search process. Avoiding falling victim requires consistent awareness and caution.
What To Do If You‘re Victimized By a Job Scam
If you realize you‘ve been swindled by a job scam, take these steps right away to limit the damage:
🚨 Contact your bank immediately to report the fraud and stop any pending transfers or payments.
🚨 File a report with the FTC and your local law enforcement agency. Notify your state attorney general.
🚨 Monitor your credit reports and all financial accounts closely for signs of misuse of your personal information.
🚨 Enable two-factor authentication on all important accounts to block scammers.
🚨 Change account passwords, avoiding reused passwords for better security.
🚨 Consider freezing your credit to protect your name from being used to open unauthorized accounts.
🚨 Let the scam job platform know so they can remove the fraudulent listing and warn others.
🚨 Warn others by reporting the scam on sites like Better Business Bureau to help prevent further victims.
Staying vigilant after being scammed once is crucial since fraudsters often try to re-scam previous victims. Learn from what happened but don’t blame yourself. Job scammers can fool even the most prudent job seekers. Focus on protecting yourself from future attempts.
How Can You Avoid Falling for Employment Scams? – Key Takeaways
Searching for jobs today is treacherous, with sophisticated scammers looking to take advantage of eager applicants. While many highly convincing job scams exist, you can protect yourself by learning common schemes, watching for red flags, and employing smart precautions.
Fundamentally, thoroughly vet all job leads and potential employers before providing personal information or money. Take your time to confirm an opportunity is legitimate, and trust your instincts if you have any doubts.
With awareness and caution, you can spot deceitful offers and confidently pursue fruitful new careers at exceptional companies. Don‘t let scammers derail your hopes and dreams. By remaining vigilant throughout your job search, you can avoid traps while landing the perfect role for you.