It was no surprise that job scams soared three-fold during the Covid lock-downs. After all, con artists are brilliant at using economic devastation as a marketing tool. But, when the lock-downs ended, these scams ramped up and are now hitting new highs. Worse, they are increasingly costly and sophisticated.
In just the first three months of 2023, job scams have cost Americans some $850,000, according to the Better Business Bureau. The average job scam costs the victim $1,500.
“You would think that after the pandemic calmed down, you’d see job scams recede. But we are seeing the opposite,” says Keith Spencer, career expert at FlexJobs, a job board that researches and publishes only legitimate flexible and remote job options.
Two of the key reasons for this hike? Remote work is increasingly popular. But because interviews may be done remotely too, it’s tougher to differentiate between real and scam offers. And inflation is pushing even people with full-time jobs to seek out remote side hustles that they can do on nights and weekends.
Here’s how to spot the latest job scams.
Latest job scams
Scammers are increasingly using real job listings, posted on legitimate sites like Indeed and LinkedIn, and altering them imperceptibly to carry out the con, experts say. In some cases, they’ll pose as recruiters, who have reviewed your resume and think you’re a perfect candidate for a highly-paid position.
For instance, Beacon Hill Staffing Group recently warned that crooks were using its name for a recruiting con.
The scam starts with a LinkedIn message, supposedly from a Beacon Hill recruiter, saying that the victim matches the requirements for a well-paid job offered by one of their clients. Like other recruiter scams, if you respond with interest, they’ll email an official-appearing invitation for a virtual interview
The con artist may even send a “job briefing guide” spelling out the responsibilities and benefits. After the interview, you could get an offer letter that includes the company’s name and logo, according to the FTC.
In this case, the only warning sign job seekers may be able to see is that the emails are coming from a personal email address, rather than a corporate one. Beacon Hill says its recruiters never use a personal email address for company business. If the email doesn’t end in an @beaconhillstaffing.com, it’s not a Beacon Hill recruiter.
If you’re getting an unsolicited email from anything other than a corporate email address, consider it a red flag.
What the crooks want
Crooks are looking for one of three things with all of these scams:
- Your personal identifying information, such as a Social Security number or bank account number, that they can use to steal your identity or money from your account.
- Merchandize, such as computers, clothing or gift cards
- Cash payments for “application fees” or to “reimburse” the company for an “overpayment” that they’ve sent you via check. (These are really fake check scams that use a bogus job to pull off the con.)
Unfortunately, job scams are the perfect way to lure otherwise savvy consumers into giving up these things. After all, real employers do need your Social Security number and bank account information to pay you. And, companies do commonly reimburse employees for business expenses.
However, at some point in the process, the con artists will tip their hand. For instance, new employees are never expected to pay money for expenses before they get a paycheck. Legitimate employers also never expect workers to pay application fees.
What if the company says it needs you to be their U.S. representative, buying products locally and shipping them overseas? This is a scam. But it can be a clever one — and extraordinarily costly to the victim.
This is precisely what happened to Donald from Lake Placid, Florida, according to the Better Business Bureau. He was supposedly hired by a “reshipping” company that wanted him to buy computers and ship them to China. The company promised to pay him $76,000 annually to do this.
The company/con artist lured him into a false sense of security by paying for the first shipment promptly. But when he bought and sent another $100,000 in merchandize, the company disappeared. He is on the hook for more the $100,000 he charged to his credit cards.
How would you know this is a scam? The only reason a company wouldn’t be able to buy a product online and have it shipped overseas is if the product was restricted from overseas sale by law, as some technology and military products are. When that’s the case, you’d be breaking the law by “reshipping” these products.
If the products are not restricted, there’s no reason the company can’t buy them itself. Moreover, paying a full-time salary for a job that’s likely to require an hour or two a day is a classic red flag.
Clear signs of a job scam
What are clear warnings of a job scam?
- The company asks for up-front cash for “an application fee” or office equipment.
- Your job entails buying — with your own credit card — and shipping items overseas.
- You’re asked for personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account information, before you’re hired.
- There’s such a sense of urgency by the “hiring” company that you’re not given adequate time or information to properly evaluate the offer.
- The job responsibilities are easy and the pay is exceptionally high — like Donald’s fake job.
- You’re hired within hours, without a formal interview process.
Subtle red flags
When you’re dealing with a sophisticated con, the red flags are a little tougher to spot. But you can find them, if you look closely, Spencer says. Things to check:
- Are the messages from the person recruiting you coming from a corporate email address? Not sure? Google the company that’s supposedly making you the offer and find out by either calling the company or finding the email of an official corporate contact.
- Has the hiring company provided all the information you need to make a decision about the job? Have they asked you all the questions they would need to know to determine whether you’re qualified to take it? Many scam offers are vague about what qualifications are needed and what your work duties will be when you’re hired. Or, the job responsibilities are so simple that anyone could handle them.
- Can you find the job listing on the company’s corporate website. Open jobs typically are listed under “careers” on company websites.
- Are hiring documents sent through a secure portal? For instance, if you’re asked to provide personal information to start employment, is the personal information being sent through Docusign or another established and secure portal? You should never be sending privy information through unsecured email.
- Have you gone through the entire hiring process without a single in-person or video interview? Companies often schedule in-person interviews, even for remote jobs.
- Have you looked at your recruiter’s LinkedIn profile? Does it show them working for the company they say they represent? Can you find this employee’s name in the company’s employee directory? Before starting a job, it’s worth calling or emailing the company to be sure.
How to protect yourself
Don’t jump on a job offer. Spend the time necessary to check it out. Scammers always pressure you to move quickly because the longer you spend checking them out, the more likely you are to discover the con. Real employers don’t hire within hours.
“Seek out the LinkedIn profile of the person who you are talking to and the company,” Spencer suggests. “Also do a search with the company name and “scam” to see if anything has been reported.”
It’s understandable that job seekers might not want to appear too suspicious of a prospective employer for fear of losing legitimate opportunities, Spencer acknowledges.
But a legitimate employer is not going to fault you for being cautious. And, in this environment, “you need to be on your toes,” says Spencer.