How to Tell if that Online Job Offer is Fake

Just when they need financial security the most, job seekers face another challenge—getting ripped off by job scams. 

Scammers will capitalize on any opportunity to fleece a victim, like the holidays with ecommerce scams and tax time with IRS scams. Now, with surging employment figures, scammers have turned to job scams that harvest money and personal information from job seekers.   

In some ways, the tactics bear resemblance to online dating and romance scammers who hide behind a phony profile and tell their victims a story they want to hear, namely that someone loves them. With job scams, they take on the persona of a recruiter and lure their victims with what seems like an outstanding job offer. Of course, there’s no job. It’s a scam. 

These attacks have gained a degree of sophistication that they once lacked. Years prior, scammers relied on spammy emails and texts to share their bogus job offers. Now, they’re using phony profiles on social media platforms to target victims. 

Social media platforms have several mechanisms in place to identity and delete the phony profiles that scammers use for these attacks. Of note, LinkedIn’s latest community report cited the removal of more than 21 million fake accounts in the first half of 2022: 

  • Stopped at registration – 16.4 million accounts. 
  • Restricted proactively before members reported – 5.4 million accounts. 
  • Restricted after members reported – 190 thousand accounts. 

Likewise, Facebook took action on 1.5 billion fake accounts in Q3 of 2022 alone, with more than 99% of them acted on before users reported them. 

Still, some scammers make their way through. 

Job scams continue to rise. Here’s what to look out for. 

As Steve Grobman, our senior vice president and chief technology officer, was quoted in an article for CNET, the continued shift to remote work, along with remote hiring, has also made it easier for online job scams to flourish. And the figures bear that out. 

In 2021, the FTC called out $209 million in reported losses due to job scams. In just the first three quarters of 2022, reported job scam losses had already reached $250 million. While year-end figures have yet to be posted, the final tally for 2022 could end up well over $300 million, a 50% uptick. And the median loss per victim? Right around $2,000 each. 

While the promise of work or a job offer make these scams unique, the scammers behind them want the same old things—your money, along with your personal information so that they can use it to cause yet more harm. The moment any so-called job offer asks for any of those, a red flag should immediately go up. 

It’s possibly a scam if: 

They ask for your Social Security or tax ID number. 

In the hands of a scammer, your SSN or tax ID is the master key to your identity. With it, they can open up bank cards, lines of credit, apply for insurance benefits, collect benefits and tax returns, or even commit crimes, all in your name. Needless to say, scammers will ask for it, perhaps under the guise of background check or for payroll purposes. The only time you should provide your SSN or tax ID is when you know that you have accepted a legitimate job with a legitimate company, and through a secure document signing service, never via email, text, or over the phone. 

They want your banking information. 

Another trick scammers rely on is asking for bank account information so that they can wire payment to you. As with the SSN above, closely guard this information and treat it in exactly the same way. Don’t give it out unless you actually have a legitimate job with a legitimate company. 

They want you to pay before you get paid. 

Some scammers will take a different route. They’ll promise employment, but first you’ll need to pay them for training, onboarding, or equipment before you can start work. Legitimate companies won’t make these kinds of requests. 

Other signs of a job scam—more red flags to look for. 

Aside from the types of information they ask for, the way they ask for your information offers other clues that you might be mixed up in a scam. Look out for the following as well: 

1) The offer is big on promises but short on details. 

You can sniff out many online scams with the “too good to be true” test. Scammers often make big promises during the holidays with low-priced offers for hard-to-get holiday gifts and then simply don’t deliver. It’s the same with job scams. The high pay, the low hours, and even the offer of things like a laptop and other perks, these are signs that a job offer might be a scam. Moreover, when pressed for details about this seemingly fantastic job opportunity, scammers may balk. Or they may come back with incomplete or inconsistent replies because the job doesn’t exist at all. 

2) They communicate only through email or chat. 

Job scammers hide behind their screens. They use the anonymity of the internet to their advantage. Job scammers likewise create phony profiles on networking and social media websites, which means they won’t agree to a video chat or call, which are commonly used in legitimate recruiting today. If your job offer doesn’t involve some sort of face-to-face communication, that’s an indication it may be a scam. 

3) And the communications seem a little … off. 

Scammers now have an additional tool reel in their victims—AI chatbots like Chat GPT, which can generate email correspondence, chats, LinkedIn profiles, and other content in seconds so they can bilk victims on a huge scale. However, AI has its limits. Right now, it tends to use shorter sentences in a way that seems like it’s simply spitting out information. There’s little story or substance to the content it creates. That may be a sign of a scam. Likewise, even without AI, you may spot a recruiter using technical or job-related terms in an unusual ways, as if they’re unfamiliar with the work they’re hiring for. That’s another potential sign. 

4) Things move too quickly. 

Scammers love a quick conversion. Yet job seekers today know that interview processes are typically long and involved, often relying on several rounds of interviews and loops. If a job offer comes along without the usual rigor and the recruiter is asking for personal information practically right away, that’s another near-certain sign of a scam. 

5) You get a job offers on Facebook or other social media sites not associated with job searches. 

This is another red flag. Legitimate businesses stick to platforms associated with networking for business purposes, typically not networking for families, friends, and interests. Why do scammers use sites like Facebook anyway? They’re a gold mine of information. By trolling public profiles, they have access to years of posts and armloads of personal information on thousands of people, which they can use to target their attacks. This is another good reason to set your social media profiles on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and other friend-oriented sites to private so that scammers of all kinds, not just job scammers, can’t use your information against you. 

Further ways you can protect yourself from job scams. 

As a job hunter you know, getting the right job requires some research. You look up the company, dig into their history—the work they do, how long they’ve been at it, where their locations are, and maybe even read some reviews provided by current or former employees. When it comes to job offers that come out of the blue, it calls for taking that research a step further.  

After all, is that business really a business, or is it really a scam? 

In the U.S., you have several resources that can help you answer that question. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers a searchable listing of businesses in the U.S., along with a brief profile, a rating, and even a list of complaints (and company responses) waged against them. Spending some time here can quickly shed light on the legitimacy of a company.  

Also in the U.S., you can visit the website of your state’s Secretary of State and search for the business in question, where you can find when it was founded, if it’s still active, or if it exists at all. For businesses based in a state other than your own, you can visit that state’s Secretary of State website for information. For a state-by-state list of Secretaries of State, you can visit the Secretary of State Corporate Search page here. 

For a listing of businesses with international locations, organizations like S&P Global Ratings and the Dun and Bradstreet Corporation can provide background information, which may require signing up for an account. 

Lastly, protect yourself and your devices.  

Given the way rely so heavily on the internet to get things done and simply enjoy our day, comprehensive online protection software that looks out for your identity, privacy, and devices is a must. Specific to job scams, it can help you in several ways, these being just a few: 

  • Scammers still use links to malicious sites to trick people into providing their personal information. Web protection, included in our plans, can steer you clear of those links.  
  • Moreover, scammers gather your contact information and other details so they can target you through data broker sites, fueled by thousands of data points on billions of people. McAfee’s Personal Data Cleanup scans some of the riskiest data broker sites, shows you which ones are selling your personal info, and, depending on your plan, can help you remove it. 
  • Scammers may use any of your personal info that’s already out there on the dark web. McAfee’s Identity Monitoring scans the dark web for your personal info, including email, government IDs, credit card and bank account info, and more. It helps keep your personal info safe, with early alerts if your data is found on the dark web, an average of 10 months ahead of similar services.​

You have what it takes to avoid job search scams. 

Job searches are loaded with emotion—excitement and hopefulness, sometimes urgency and frustration as well. Scammers will always lean into these emotions and hope to catch you off your guard. If there’s a common thread across all kinds of online scams, that’s it. Emotion. 

A combination of a cool head and some precautionary measures that protect you and your devices can make for a much safer job-hunting experience, and a safer, more private life online too. 

Editor’s Note: 

Job scams are a crime. If you think that you or someone you know has fallen victim to one, report it to your authorities and appropriate government agencies. In the case of identity theft or loss of personal information, our knowledge base article on identity theft offers suggestions for the specific steps you can take in specific countries, along with helpful links for local authorities that you can turn to for reporting and assistance.

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