How to avoid scams while job-hunting online, according to career experts (2024)

Landing a job has become more difficult, even while the labor market may look robust — and it's a situation that scammers are eager to exploit.

It's a big enough issue that federal agencies like the FBI and Federal Trade Commission have issued warnings about job scams.

One common scheme: Swindlers who pose as recruiters and contact you unprompted — including on job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn or even through WhatsApp messages — to entice you with a job opportunity you didn't apply for.

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Then, they may ask you to send them money or personal information, according to Amanda Augustine, a career expert at TopResume. Or they might claim that you first need to complete their training course or coaching services to be eligible for their job opening in a predatory attempt to sell you their products, she says.

While real recruiters do often reach out cold to potential hires, there's a key difference between them and the grifters: "They're straightforward with you," says career and leadership coach Phoebe Gavin.

Here are ways to spot and protect yourself from a con while job-hunting.

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If a job posting "seems too good to be true," it probably is, Augustine says.

That includes openings promising to make you a lot of money fast. In those "get-rich-quick" instances, "run for the hills," Augustine cautions.

Be wary if a company is quick to offer you a position without going through the standard vetting procedure. A legitimate process should require at least one interview, even if it's only over the phone, she says.

Still, an interview doesn't guarantee the role is above board. Scammers sometimes hold phony interviews using text chat and video messaging to obtain your personal information without blowing their cover, according to ZipRecruiter. Some duped job hunters have taken to social media to share their experiences with fake interviews.

LinkedIn blocked more than 63 million fake accounts during the second half of 2023, according to its most recent community report. The platform also removed more than 108 million pieces of spam and scam content over the same period, per the report.

The job site is "committed to ensuring the platform remains authentic, secure, and easy to use for members," said Oscar Rodriguez, LinkedIn's vice president of trust product management, in a statement.

Ultimately, if a recruiter reaches out to you for an unusually attractive job you haven't applied for, "you need to be especially suspicious," Augustine says.

Question vague or nonexistent job descriptions

Sometimes a disguised fraudster will insist they can't provide any details because a job posting is confidential. But generally, if a company can't produce a copy of the job description, that's a big red flag, Augustine says.

Some companies make executive-level job openings confidential to high-profile applicants at first, but they will begin disclosing more details about the role as the interview process gets underway.

"If you are not at a director level or above and someone is approaching you for a confidential listing, it's probably a scam, because there isn't really much reason for a company to be cagey about hiring an individual contributor or a manager-level position," Gavin says. "It's those senior-level positions that can have some PR consequences if it is known that they're doing a search."

For job openings that have no reason being kept so tightly under wraps, a formal job description should be handed over upon request, Augustine explains. You should also watch out for job descriptions that are "really vague" and fail to offer enough information about the job title, location, key responsibilities and qualifications.

A job description riddled with typos and errors can also indicate a scam. Because of new tools powered by artificial intelligence like ChatGPT that can fix grammatical issues in text, however, Augustine says this clue is becoming less prominent.

Check the company's online footprint

You should be able to locate a company's digital presence, Augustine says. That could be a LinkedIn profile, website or social media page.

"Even your mom-and-pop ice cream shop has a Facebook page these days," she says. "If there's absolutely no digital trail about this company, or it's really, really sparse when you're running some Google searches, I would be concerned."

Ask a prospective employer to direct you to their website — where you can also see if the job listing is posted — and double-check any links you receive to make sure they don't route to a phishing website, Gavin suggests.

Exercise caution if a recruiter is not using a corporate email address, Augustine says. You may find third-party recruiters who use a Gmail account, but internal recruiters typically have a company email address, she notes.

Also, watch out for communications from email addresses with misspellings or "spoofed" company names that are similar but slightly different from the actual business name, according to Indeed's guidelines for a safe job search.

If you're still unsure whether a company is legitimate, Augustine suggests searching the company's name along with the word "scam" on Google. That search may turn up a history of dishonest activity if it's an illicit enterprise that has struck before.

'Take your time' and don't get discouraged

The stress and urgency of job-hunting can encourage the most sensible people to let their guard down and rush into a sham deal. But it's important to slow down when someone reaches out with an opportunity, Gavin says.

"Take your time ... If it's a legitimate opportunity, it's not going to disappear in an hour. They're not going to find candidates, interview them, offer them, negotiate them and sign them in an hour," she says. "It is in your best interests and it also costs you nothing to take the time to verify that it's a real person working on behalf of a real organization."

Augustine recommends keeping track of all the positions you apply for. Some scammers will try to convince you that you already applied for their role and capitalize on your disorganization to trick you into their hiring scheme.

Despite rampant risks online, Gavin advises her clients not to let fear win out.

"You can decide that you're not going to let fear of scams keep you from leveraging LinkedIn, because it is the most important recruiting tool on the internet right now," she says.

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How to avoid scams while job-hunting online, according to career experts (2024)
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