How To Identify Job Scams: Watch Out for These Red Flags

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Anthony Aguilar

VP, Customer Operations at Aura

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    Are You Paying for the Promise of a Job?

    Lara Lafferty was thrilled at the prospect of working at Delish as a part-time proofreader. She had only applied a day earlier and had already received an offer letter for the position. “I love food; I love Delish. Super flexible opportunity, I was super stoked.” That is, until she was sent a $2,000 invoice for a work computer [*].

    And she’s not alone. Americans lost over $68 million just in 2022 to fake businesses and job openings [*]. For every job scam victim who lost money, at least one other worked without pay, and yet another lost personal information.

    From fake checks to reshipping scams, bad actors use a variety of employment scams to prey on unsuspecting job applicants.

    If you’re in the market for a new job, do you know how to identify a scam from a real job? Here are some of the most common red flags to know.

    You’re Talking to a Phony Recruiter: 24 Warning Signs

    1. They want your personal information
    2. They want your bank details upfront
    3. All communications are on chat apps or email
    4. The recruiter seems off to you
    5. The company lacks credibility online
    6. All emails come from unofficial domains
    7. No verifiable address for a physical office location
    8. Other employees aren’t on LinkedIn or have private profiles
    9. You’re asked to send money in advance for certifications
    10. The company asks you to pay for your own supplies
    11. They first reached out about a generic position 
    12. You receive direct mail about an interview
    13. Entry-level positions advertise high pay
    14. The recruiter’s emails are missing contact details
    15. Job listings have bogus company website URLs
    16. Emails have grammatical errors or obvious typos
    17. There is never a video interview or phone call 
    18. You notice vague job descriptions or role requirements
    19. The interview process seems too easy
    20. Your role requires you to “enroll new recruits”
    21. The compensation is 100% commission-based
    22. They dangle work-from-home jobs with flexible hours
    23. The company asks you to make wire transfers
    24. The offers sounds too good to be true

    1. They want your personal information

    Source: Reddit

    If a job ad requests that you submit confidential information, such as a copy of your driver’s license or Social Security number (SSN), it may be a scam. Potential employers may ask for some personal information. But will a legitimate company ask you for government-issued IDs? It's unlikely.

    Keep your personally identifiable information (PII) to yourself unless you trust the recipient.

    2. They want your bank details upfront

    Legitimate employers will only ask for your bank account information after you’ve accepted the job offer. If you have to provide any financial information upfront, watch out. 

    Scammers are likely trying to use your banking details along with your personal information (e.g., name, mailing address, or email address) to hack your bank accounts. If you come across a request like this, cease all communications. 

    Related: 11 Sneaky Venmo Scams Running Rampant Right Now

    3. All communications are on chat apps or email

    Another scam text courtesy Jotform
    Source: Jotform

    If a potential employer insists that you only speak with them on messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, or Telegram, you’re signing up for a fake job.

    Fraudsters will provide a phone number in the ad that you can call to get further details or show you’re interested in applying. 

    Once you text the number, the scammer will send you to a scam URL to upload documents or get more information. If you receive a similar text message, do not click on any links — they may be malicious and could download malware or spyware on your phone.

    4. The recruiter seems off to you

    The Human Resources (HR) department is the “face” of a company during the recruitment process. So, regardless of how recruiters are communicating with you (e.g., via email or phone calls), they should always be professional.

    If recruiters use emojis, address you like they’re talking to a friend, or badger you for an interview, watch out. Unprofessional behavior like these are signs of a scam.

    Related: How To Tell If An Email Is From a Scammer [With Examples]

    5. The company lacks credibility online

    Job scammers can create fake websites to add a sense of legitimacy to their “companies.” As you do research, make sure you don’t just rely on Google. Check the company’s LinkedIn profile and job sites like Glassdoor to verify it’s a real company. If the company has poor reviews from past employees (or doesn’t have a Glassdoor profile at all), it’s better to stay away.

    6. All emails come from unofficial domains

    Source: Northwestern University

    If any hiring manager contacts you using a Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or Outlook email address, don’t reply. No employees from a legitimate company will ever use their personal email addresses for recruitment. The email address should always include the company domain.

    7. No verifiable address for a physical office location

    Many fraudulent companies simply use a made-up company address as their office location to appear more legitimate. Prior to accepting a role, or even considering an interview, always do your due diligence and verify any contact information about the company.

    If you see a physical address listed on their website or LinkedIn company profile, verify the office’s location through a quick Google Maps search. Spending a quick minute verifying the address will save you a lot of headache down the road.

    8. Other employees aren’t on LinkedIn or have private profiles

    Another warning sign is not finding any of the company’s employees on LinkedIn, especially if the company’s website claims they have global offices or remote employees.

    Some scam companies may even create fake profiles on LinkedIn for their employees. They set the employee profiles as private (i.e., these profiles will show up hidden as “LinkedIn Member”) while making one or two key profiles public.

    NPR's example on how to spot fake LinkedIn profiles
    Fake LinkedIn profiles were used to drum up sales for companies without adding more salespeople or hitting LinkedIn's limits on messages. Source: NPR

    As you’re doing your due diligence on LinkedIn, check the “People” tab and see how many employees the company really has. If the list doesn’t match what you’ve seen on the company website, move on with your job search.

    9. You’re asked to send money in advance for certifications

    It’s not uncommon for training to be required as part of your onboarding. However, no real company will offer unpaid training or expect you to pay for this training.

    Any training in which you participate should start on the first day of your official date of employment. You should be paid to attend, and not the other way around.

    During the interview process, ask if you need any certifications for the role and how you will be trained. You can also ask to put these terms in your employment contract (or in an email) so that you have it in writing.

    10. The company asks you to pay for your own supplies

    If the company expects you to pay for any equipment, supplies, or software that you need to do your job, watch out. Some fraudulent companies sell their own equipment or computer programs under the guise of training. Others need to hire a lot of employees, but don’t want to absorb the full operating costs.

    If the job doesn’t work out and you are let go or decide to quit, you’re stuck with expensive equipment or programs that you no longer need.

    Prior to signing the offer letter, always confirm that the company will provide you with all the supplies necessary to do your job, and get this in writing.

    11. They first reached out about a generic position

    It’s unlikely that recruiters will actively reach out to you for generic, entry-level roles. So, pay close attention to the type of job they’re recruiting for and how eager they are to hire you. This may be a sign that the role is hard to fill, the employee churn is high, or worse — it’s just another job scam.

    Did you know? Aura can help proactively secure your online accounts, connections, and devices. Learn more about our VPN, antivirus, and password manager. →

    12. You receive direct mail about an interview

    If, and when, a company reaches out for an interview, it should only be via email or LinkedIn. If they have your home address (without your having supplied it) and are sending you direct mail, don’t engage. They are likely trying to lure as many candidates as possible by sending mass direct mail interview offers.

    Related: Change-of-Address Scam: Why Scammers Want Your Address

    13. Entry-level positions advertise high pays

    Many fake companies will advertise a high pay for entry-level roles in their job descriptions to attract candidates. Unfortunately, many job seekers end up falling for this scam.

    If you come across entry-level positions (e.g., data entry roles) that claim to pay a lot of money, be cautious. Use websites like Glassdoor or PayScale to determine the average market rate so you know if the salary is too good to be true.

    14. The recruiter’s emails are missing contact details

    If you can’t find any contact details (aside from the recruiter’s email address), there’s a high chance it may be from a scammer — or even a bot, posing as a recruiter.

    The scammer is likely trying to force direct communication right away and deter you from doing research about the company. Report the email as spam and block the sender’s email address. If you open a line of communication, the scammer will use any means necessary to take advantage of you.

    15. Job listings have bogus company website URLs

    Many job scammers put fake company website URLs in their job postings or LinkedIn profiles to seem legitimate. Always take that extra step to browse the company’s website.

    If the website URL can’t be found, or the website looks like it uses a stock site template, be cautious. Do more research to find current or past employees to see if the company really exists.

    16. Emails have grammatical errors or obvious typos

    A couple of typos here and there are excusable — everyone makes mistakes. However, some errors are obvious warning signs: typos in the company’s name (especially for well-known brands), punctuation errors, lack of proper capitalization, or incomplete sentences.

    If the email contains any of the above, it’s possible that a non-native English speaking scammer is trying to lure you.

    17. There is never a video interview or phone call

    Under no circumstances would a real company ever conduct an interview via text messages or online chats. Scammers pretend to be people they’re not; so if they actually speak to you, they’ll be found out. If you can’t speak to the recruiter or hiring manager either over the phone or through a video interview, don’t engage.

    18. You notice vague job descriptions or role requirements

    Companies may advertise job opportunities with vague job descriptions to attract candidates who are desperately looking for a new job. Once “hired,” the company may ask you for your personal data (e.g., Social security number (SSN), bank account details, etc.) to steal your identity.

    Even if the job is posted on a legitimate job board, it’s best to stay away from any opportunity that doesn’t provide specific details about what you’ll be responsible for doing.

    19. The interview process seems too easy

    Scammers will try to appear legitimate by conducting a job interview. However, these interviews only cover basic questions about your previous job experience and why you’re in the market. Many candidates are either offered the role on the spot or within a day. If this happens, be wary.

    Before you accept, ask questions to learn about who you’ll be reporting to, what their management style is like, how you’ll be measured for success, and what the turnover rate is at the company.

    20. Your role requires you to “enroll new recruits”

    It’s not always easy identifying pyramid scheme — or multi-level marketing (MLM) — jobs because recruiters know exactly how to sell you on the company.

    Recruiters will make promises of six-figure salaries, 4 to 5-hour work weeks, being your own boss, working from home, or promotions based on how many friends you can recruit. These are all telltale warning signs of an MLM job, so it’s best to steer clear if you come across these promises.

    21. The compensation is 100% commission-based

    The downside of these roles is that regardless of how many hours you work, you won’t make money unless you make a sale. This includes any time you spend in training once you’re hired for the role. This means that after you start the new job, it’s likely you won’t make any money for the first few months.

    Save yourself the stress, and ignore job opportunities that don’t offer a base salary that you can depend on. Commissions should be considered added bonuses to your overall compensation as opposed to being 100% of your compensation.

    22. They dangle work-from-home jobs with flexible hours

    WFH scam job offer via How-To Geek
    Source: How-To Geek

    Although flexible, remote roles are becoming common across many industries, context is important. It’s likely a scam if the job description promises, “FLEXIBLE HOURS !!” or “WORK AT HOME, EARN $$$.” Descriptions like this lure unsuspecting candidates into working for companies that may try to take advantage of their employees.

    23. The company asks you to make wire transfers

    In wire transfer scams, the company will mail you a check, ask you to deposit the check into your account, and request that you make smaller transfers on their behalf. You get to keep the difference as a “bonus.”

    Unfortunately, these checks never clear once you deposit them — and you can’t recover the wire transfer that you’ve already sent. If any company uses this tactic, say no and discontinue further communication.

    Related: 10 Common Types of Financial Fraud & Schemes (With Examples)

    24. The offers sounds too good to be true

    Even if you do your due diligence and decide to go through with the interview process, always do a gut check.

    Some recruiters are savvy enough to handle objections you have, prompting you to accept the job. If anything feels off throughout the entire process, take a step back. Think rationally; if your gut is repeatedly telling you that the job seems like a scam, trust it and move on.

    What To Do If You’re the Victim of a Job Scam

    If you think you’re a victim of a job scam, here’s what you can do:

    • Contact your bank to notify them that you may have been a victim of identity theft. Request a freeze on all your bank accounts, and order new debit cards.
    • Notify your credit card issuer to cancel your credit cards, and request new cards. Review the fraud victim’s checklist and follow all 10 steps to ensure that your credit score remains unaffected.
    • If you sent money to a scammer using a credit card, notify the issuer that it was a fraudulent transaction. Request a reverse transaction to get your money back.
    • Consider either freezing or locking your credit to protect yourself from scammers using your personal information to access your credit file.
    • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. If you gave the scammer your personal information, also file a report of identity theft with the FTC. 
    • File a report with your local police department or law enforcement agency after you’ve filed an identity theft report with the FTC.
    • Update your passwords for all your online accounts, and use a secure password manager to keep track of your new passwords. You may have unintentionally shared information that scammers can use to crack your security questions and hack your accounts.
    • If you shared any government-issued ID details with the scammer, immediately contact the appropriate government agency for a replacement.
    • Sign up for a credit monitoring service to get real-time alerts of any suspicious financial transactions.

    Related: How To File A Police Report For Identity Theft

    How To Protect Yourself From Job Scams

    Lara Lafferty knew how to cover her bases after she realized she had been scammed. After Lafferty reached out to the hiring managers she thought she was speaking to on their real Delish emails, they confirmed it was a scam.

    Consider going through this checklist so you avoid these employment-related scams:

    • Check review websites such as Glassdoor to see what past employees have said about the company and its upper management.
    • Do your own background check on the company and their employees on social media platforms like LinkedIn. Make sure the employees have public profiles so that you can gauge whether they are real or fake.
    • Verify the identities of anyone who has reached out to you by contacting the company they work for directly.
    • Never share any personal information or financial details with any recruiter or hiring manager via email, text, or phone.
    • Check the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker to search for job scams related to that company.
    • Never download any attachments or click on any links in emails from senders you don’t know.
    • If a recruiter cold-calls you for a job opportunity, verify the recruiter’s identity by hanging up and calling the company at its official customer service number.

    ​​Nearly 53.4 million Americans were unemployed between April, 2021 and April, 2022 [*]. Scammers target vulnerable groups like that to scam them — or worse, steal their identity. 

    If you believe that you’re a victim of a job scam or identity theft, act fast. Identity theft protection services like Aura can monitor your banking and online accounts and alert you of suspicious activity. 

    And if the worst happens, our experienced Identity Theft resolution team is here to help 24/7. You’re also covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses related to identity theft.

    Ready for ironclad identity theft protection? Try Aura 14-days free →

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers