Job scams happen when you get promised a job by a recruiter, but you’re actually being swindled out of money. Business and job opportunity scams are among the most costly kinds of schemes; estimates show they were responsible for up to $367 million in consumer losses last year, according to a 2023 alert by the Federal Trade Commission.
And they are on the rise. The median dollar loss through job scams rose 66.7% from $900 in 2021 to $1,500 in 2022, according to a Better Business Bureau scam report.
Oftentimes, these job scams start during the hiring stage when you are applying or talking to a recruiter. They lure you in with an exciting opportunity that feels almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, oftentimes, it is.
HuffPost talked to real recruiters and career experts on how you can spot a fake job offer and avoid getting scammed:
1. Real recruiters build networks on job board sites like LinkedIn. It’s suspicious if they do not.
Part of being a recruiter is making connections. Watch out for recruiters who do not have any following on professional networking sites.
“A big red flag if a recruiter isn’t legitimate is if you cannot find a profile on LinkedIn or if nothing shows up when you type in their name and the company in a Google search,” said Gabrielle Woody, a university recruiter for the financial software company Intuit.
She said a majority of recruiters are on LinkedIn posting jobs while searching for candidates and building a pipeline, and that “if a recruiter doesn’t have a profile or has a profile with barely any connections or information then there is a chance they aren’t a legitimate recruiter.“
“Everyone starts somewhere, but I would expect that anyone working in recruiting is taking the time to build some sort of presence on LinkedIn,” said Bonnie Dilber, a recruiter with app automation company Zapier.
If you have suspicions, it’s OK to ask someone at the company to double-check their identity, Dilber said. “Link the profile and say ‘Can you verify that this person does in fact work at your company and is a recruiter?’ Companies will appreciate that because you’re also letting them know if they’re the victims of fraud,” she said.
Most companies will list their open positions on their websites, and it’s suspicious if the job you are applying for is not on there, too.
“If the company is offering this job and you see the posting on a third-party site, actually go to the company’s website to their employment portal and see if that job exists,” advises Melanie McGovern, director of public relations and social media for Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit which tracks job scams in each state.
“Most companies will post their job in multiple places ... Make sure that job actually exists before you apply for it or start talking to the person.”
2. Real recruiters do not ask for money or sensitive information like your Social Security number.
Legitimate recruiters do not make your job interviews or offers conditional upon some form of payment or exchange of highly sensitive personal information.
Being asked to pay for your own office supplies, as one recent job scam tried to get job seekers to do, is not typical. One common scheme involves a fraudulent employer sending you a check to deposit into your bank to buy office supplies and then asking you to send part of the money back through a third party like Zelle’s cash app or a wire transfer service like Western Union.
As the Federal Trade Commission warns on its job scam website, “No honest potential employer will ever send you a check to deposit and then tell you to send on part of the money, or buy gift cards with it.”
Recruiters asking for personal information should also set off alarm bells.
“The biggest red flag I see is if the contact is asking for personal information like your Social Security number or birth certificate. If the contact is asking for money for the job application, then that is another red flag,” Woody said. “No candidate should be providing personal information to a recruiter. The only things recruiters should be asking [are] questions around your work history, skills, and sponsorship needs.”
Legitimate recruiters will be asking about your relevant career experience for the post and why you are looking for a new job. But it’s not normal for them to be asking for information that goes beyond that, which could be a sign of identity theft.
“Be wary of those who want to evaluate anything outside of your knowledge, skills and experience in direct connection to the role,” said Jennifer Tardy, a diversity recruitment consultant. “For example, if someone is asking to see/review your credit report before they will interview you, that is a red flag.“
To avoid being scammed, Tardy recommends making sure that any recruiter who is direct-messaging you is also connected to a company that has a visible online presence.
3. Real recruiters are unlikely to ask you to do an interview over text or email.
“If they are using some sort of like an untraditional platform like trying to get you on WhatsApp or Telegram, that is a huge red flag,” Dilber said. “No company, especially no U.S.-based company, is going to use any of those, any site like that, any sort of text-based interaction.”
For McGovern, a recruiter doing a job interview over email and text is one of the biggest warning signs that the recruiter is fake.
“The biggest is that they’ll do it via email or text message. They won’t set up a face-to-face interview,” she said. “My job’s fully remote, and all of the interviews I had were face-to-face on the computer.”
4. Real recruiters are not likely to hire you on the spot.
Getting hired for a job typically takes longer than one conversation. It can take weeks, even months, before you get to the job-offer stage. Be wary of a rushed hiring process.
Dilber said that even with an entry-level position, you should still expect to have a virtual or phone interview with a hiring manager where you can be asked questions about your job experience and learn more about the role.
“One of the things I’ve seen is someone says, ‘You know, it was a phone call with a recruiter and then they said that it was so good that the hiring manager said that they could just make an offer to me,’” she explained. “And it’s like, well, that’s really unlikely that you can answer a few questions on the phone, talk to someone for 10 minutes, and then the company is so impressed with you that they’re offering you a job.”
Dilber said that even if the offer turns out to be legitimate, it’s a sign that the job will be terrible because it signals that the company has no hiring standards.
5. Real recruiters do not promise you jobs that are too good to be true.
McGovern said she sees scammers take advantage of job seekers’ desire to work fully remotely, for example, and advises people to make sure to look at other factors, even if your top priority is being offered.
“Especially if people are looking to be 100% remote, that is the only thing they’re focusing on,” she said. “You want to make sure that everything lines up before you give them any kind of personal information.”
If the job responsibilities are vague in the listing and the benefits are too amazing for a job where no previous experience is required, that’s likely a scam too, Dilber said.
“Anything more than $35 an hour for what seems like a work-from-home, no experience required [job] — like, companies are not paying an entry-level person $30-plus an hour to do anything from home,” Dilber said.
Fake recruiters may also reach out to you about jobs you have no memory of applying for because they are banking on the fact that you are not keeping track of your open applications.
“If you are applying for a lot of jobs, keep track of the companies that you’re applying to, just so you know when you do get a message if you actually applied for that job or not,” McGovern said.
Here’s what to do if you suspect you’re getting scammed.
Ultimately, scammers succeed when they can pressure you into making career decisions based only on your emotions, like fear or excitement, so that you avoid looking at the logical holes in what they are pitching you. Fighting back means doing research on who works at the company and maintaining a healthy skepticism toward people promising opportunities that feel too good to be true.
Some additional tips for avoiding job scams include doing a preliminary internet search with the employer’s name and words like “scam” to see if the employer has a known scam history and to make sure it is an accredited business, according to the Better Business Bureau.
If you believe you are talking to a scammer or have lost money to one, you can also push back by informing others who to watch out for. You can report the scammer to the FTC or to your state’s attorney general.