Job search scams

Online Job Scams: Recognize, Avoid, Report

Last updated on April 7, 2021

Complaints about fraudulent employment agencies, fake job postings, scam job offers and job-related scams grew to pandemic proportions during the second part of 2020, as bad guys took advantage of the millions of unemployed Americans, according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data. When it came to online job scams, most thieves sought your money and identity details. Others chose to steal your labor, paying you naught in return.

Here’s how it works.

Latest job scams

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned that job-seekers should not give away their money to earn money. (“You’re looking for a way to earn money – not give it away.”) A slew of new scams were making the rounds, mostly the following three:

  • Remote jobs – Most of us work remote today. Bad guys jump on this opportunity by selling you tempting online jobs, like becoming an online shopper. They don’t exist.
  • Unexpected job offer through LinkedIn (or the like) – You get a message telling you the guy loves your profile and wants to offer you – note, not an interview – but a job. Your online tracks tell him (or her) you’re ready prey.
  • Unemployment benefits scams – “Helpful” strangers email or call you, offering to file and obtain COVID-19 unemployment benefits on your behalf. Just one thing: You pay them a “tiny” fee to submit the claim, while “incidentally” giving them your personal information.

Job seekers that hackers typically target are females aged 25-34.

Classic job scams

While the pandemic introduced new scams, hackers added their good old-school oldies:

  • “Give me money, I’ll give you a job” – Fraudulent agencies and advertisements dangle the following: Pay us for certification, training materials, job expenses, software, our expenses to place you with companies and the like. Legitimate agencies don’t ask you to pay them for the promise of a job; they pay you. Fraudulent employment agencies and job recruiters copy other ads that you can find online for free.
  • A check from your employer – You’re hired, after which you get a large cashier’s check from your employer, which you’re asked to deposit in your account and to wire a part of that check to a stated third party for equipment or whatever. Everything looks good for a few days (it takes a while for money to transfer), and then your bank tells you that the check is fraudulent. It turns out, you’ve wired money to pay your new “employers”.
  • A short five-minute super-easy interview during which you’re hired. Never matter if you’re inexperienced. The dangled pay, by the way, sounds stupendous.
  • The interview is conducted via instant messaging. Legit interviewers use telephone, skype, or virtual conferencing. They see you in-person in normal times. The more important the job, the more interviews you should expect and by different people.

How to know if a job is a scam?

Giveaway signs include:

  • Immediate offer – The company/ recruiter offers you the job right away – no interviews, sight unseen – shooting you an email to the extent of, “we’ve seen your resume/ profile. We love you and want to hire you.”
  • Asking for money – Never pay for a job that asks you to pay for software, tools, training, certification and so forth. All job-related costs should be on the company’s dime. Similarly, don’t fall for companies that ask you to pay for immigration costs if you want to move to their country. All your immigration expenses are done directly through consulates or relevant immigration departments – never through companies that say they want to employ you.
  • Poor spelling and bad grammar in job description – Only employed by bad guys.
  • Unprofessional email addresses – Legit companies have email addresses that end their URLs with the name of their organizations. If you receive a job offer with an email address ending with or – it’s a hopeful hacker.
  • Misspelled URLs – like spelled with lower case l instead of I. Some are done so smart with simply a misspelled letter. Thieves like to jump on hot companies currently in the news. For example, right after the pandemic, scammers impersonated Amazon that then dominated the headlines.
  • Asking you for your personal information – like your social security number, scanned copy of your driver’s license, bank information etc. Don’t legit employers ask for this sort of information to pay you? Check that the third-party websites that process this data have URLs starting with https:// (instead of http://); the s stands for secure
  • Bank details – Organizations need it to transfer your payments. Beware if they ask for bank information for other reasons, or request additional relevant information such as your pins or answers to your security questions.

Some hackers get you to work for them for free

Giveaway signs:

  • “We’re new” – They assure you you’ll get paid as soon as they succeed. Desperate job seekers cling to that fantasy – and never get paid.
  • “It’s a test.” – You’re on trial, they tell you, for the first month or so. If we like you, we pay you. Shopkeepers don’t give away their products for nothing; never work for free!
  • Details of your contract are unclear or ambiguous – Check everything; make sure your contract has its i’s and t’s dotted.
  • The all-in-everything package – The company’s looking for loads of employees or wants you to be all their employees-in-one. Huh? They may pay you … cents on your minute.

How to know if a job posting is fake

  • Visit the company’s website and check the URL of their Career Does it match the URL of your job offer? You may be in luck.
  • Conduct a LinkedIn search – How big is their company? How many employees? How well-known? How old? What’s the background of the people who want to interview you?
  • Check with organizations like the Better Business Bureau or Britain’s Companies House for reviews on the company.
  • Head to to look up the registration data for domain names –  If your “company” was registered the week before or in secret – well, that’s a definite red flag…

Job offer scams FAQ

They ask you for money and/ or personal details, interview you sight-unseen offering you a job right away. Some ads have spelling and grammar errors, most have unprofessional email addresses with misspelled URLs.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the main agency that collects scam reports. Report your scam online with the FTC complaint assistant or call 1-877-382-4357 (9:00 AM - 8:00 PM, ET). You can also report the scam to your state’s consumer protection office or the federal government.
Look for an https:// site if you need to pass on personal information for payment. Never disclose more than the necessary information. All other times, keep personal information to yourself.


In rough times like COVID-19, recessions or depressions, it can be extremely tempting to fall for those sophisticated looking ads that promise you a job at the drop of the hat for “just a bit of money” or  “even if you’re inexperienced.” Why should you pay them – when they should pay you! And why would they want you if you’re inexperienced!

Remember, anything that looks too good to be true – almost definitely is. You’re looking for a way to earn money – not to give it away.