April’s employment report saw the United States’ unemployment rate skyrocket from 4.4% to 14.7% in a month — the largest one month jump in joblessness in history. And before COVID is over, that number is likely to climb even higher.
Unfortunately, this rise in the number of people forced into job searching may have also given rise to an uptick in job scams. Since the pandemic’s effects fully began to be felt in mid-March, the Better Business Bureau has reported nearly 8,000 job listing scams in the U.S. alone. That’s an increase of about 8% compared to the same period last year.
As a job seeker today, how can you be sure the company you’re applying to isn’t simply trying you to scam you out of money or your personal information? We heard from experts about the sure-fire signs a job posting isn’t trustworthy.
1. They ask for money or for your personal information.
This can take a few different forms. Most job seekers know that being asked by a potential employer to provide money or personal information, like your banking info or social security number, are major red flags. But scammers sneak in asks for money in subtler ways, too.
“Are you required to deposit money upfront or to buy specific equipment or software from the employer? This is a big red flag,” Stewart J. Guss, founder of Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, said. It’s also worth confirming how you’ll be compensated, Guss added, since evidence of softer scams — namely, a company that’s technically legitimate but less candid in how it pays you — may appear: “Be wary of commission-only jobs! Some can represent a great opportunity with incredible earning potential, but many can represent a ‘trap door’ for your time and patience.”
Another example of these “soft scams”? Recruitment services that promise to help find you work, for a price.
“Psuedo-recruitment companies don’t work directly with organizations to find job seekers,” Kokab Rahman, Founder & CEO of Radeya Global Talent Development, said. “Instead they provide other services, such as premium job search services at a cost or CV/resume writing, cover letter writing, etc. To lure as many job seekers as they can, they’ll also post job vacancies on their websites. But because these types of companies are not hired by organizations, the vacancies on their websites may have been taken from other job websites, or the vacancies may be fake altogether.”
2. The company’s online presence, including on social media, is weak.
Do they have a basic website but their social media pages have few or no followers? What’s their presence like on employee review websites?
“If the job posting is on LinkedIn, click on the name of the company. See how many people work for the organization and where it is located,” Dana Case, Director of Operations at MyCorporation, said. “If the employee profiles seem fishy (read: blank avatars instead of headshots or no names at all, just job titles), you may see the listing as a red flag to avoid applying for the job.”
3. The address the company is listed under is a residential one.
“Nowadays, it’s tough to tell what is a scam and what is real. The best thing to do is Google the company,” said Kenny Trinh, CEO of Netbooknews, adding that you can always call the company, too, for added assurance. “Once they give you the address, Google it. If it comes up as residential, or if it’s in a sketchy place, call the company again. Bring up that the address looks a bit sketchy. If the company is fraudulent, most likely the person on the other end of the line will start making up random things or they may just hang up.”
4. You were contacted directly about the job, and at an odd hour.
Perhaps you get a call from someone at the company you believe you’re applying to. Was the time of the call in keeping with the business’ timezone and hours of operation?
“Did this company contact you out of the blue? Did they contact you at a weird hour?” Chantay Bridges, a coach and realtor, asked. “Was it on a day that is not the norm for your type of business? Let’s say normally this company operates Monday through Friday, yet you receive this job offer on a Sunday afternoon.”
5. The job posting includes spelling and grammatical errors.
It isn’t impossible for a typo to appear to appear on a perfectly authentic job posting. But an abundance of these errors should certainly be seen as a red flag, said Ryan Reiffert, a lawyer.
“One big giveaway of a scam posting is obvious spelling errors or grammatical errors,” Reiffert said. “Not to say that a ‘real’ job posting NEVER has these kinds of things, but many email scammers use intentional misspellings and bad grammar as sort of a ‘filtering’ mechanism to screen out those who are more skeptical.”
6. You’re asked to apply online somewhere other than a known jobs board or the company’s official site.
Jon Hill, CEO and chairman of the executive search and recruiting firm The Energists, advises watching out for job posting where “the application submission method seems unusual.”
“If you’re on a job board, you’ll most often be asked to apply through the site’s interface, but many scammers will ask you to bypass this system and contact them directly,” he said. “You should especially avoid these postings if the contact information is a personal rather than a business email address (e.g. one through Yahoo, Gmail, or some other free email hosting site).”
7. The job listing uses highly generic language.
Be on the lookout for overly vague job postings, Michael D. Brown, Director of FreshResults Institute, advised.
“One of the first signals that a job posting is a scam is the genericness of the job ad — is it relatively vague and lacking specifics in terms of job responsibilities and the specific profile of candidates they are aiming for?” he asked. “Next, when you are contacted, if the email doesn’t include your name but a rather ambiguous ‘hello,’ it is likely that the sender of the email didn’t specifically read your application. In that case, he is virtually sending that email to just anyone that applied. This is another pointer to the fact that the job ad is fraudulent.”
8. The job has been posted for months.
Although it’s quite possible for roles to remain unfilled and for legitimate job listings to be left up for large chunks of time, if the listing isn’t a relatively recent one, it’s worth approaching it with skepticism.
“If you see a job post that’s been there for a few months there are only two options here: it’s either scam or a position that is very hard to fill for whatever reason (unique skills required, the employer is too picky, or the pay is too low for a position),” Michael Tomaszewski, a Resume Expert and Career Advice Writer at Zety, said. “In the first case, you will be able to spot a fake job post quickly. It normally doesn’t provide many details about the company, position or requirements for the job. It’s vague, impersonal and often pops out in search results more than once.”
9. The job sounds too good to be true.
If the job sounds a little too good to be true — with high salaries advertised for part-time positions, for instance — it probably is. Of course, you don’t want to stop yourself short of going after an opportunity that really does have spectacular benefits. The key — beyond researching the company’s online employee reviews, which should be an early step regardless — is in paying attention to the exact language used.
“The posting will heavily exaggerate and make grandiose promises via simple but appealing phrases a la: ‘work from home,’ ‘quick money,’ ‘unlimited earning potential,’ ‘no previous experience needed,’ etc.,” Jessica Lim, HR Partner at MyPerfectResume, said. “Think used car dealerships. A lot of colors, noise, and attention-grabbing stunts, but not much quality under the hood.”
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.