Are You Being Worked? How to Detect Online Job Scams

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If you’re a recent college graduate or are otherwise new to the workforce (or even if you’ve had jobs before), you could fall victim to an online job scam if you’re not careful. Particularly during challenging economic times when jobs are scarce and your bills are quickly piling up, desperation might set in and cause you to let down your guard.

Before responding to what looks like a lucrative job or business opportunity, take time to learn more about the company, especially if you’ve never heard of it. If you don’t do due diligence, you could be duped out of hundreds or thousands of dollars, or you could be handing over your bank or credit-card details to criminals. Additionally, if you fall for an online job scam, you could find yourself in legal trouble.

Online Job Scam Examples
Job scams can come to you via email, ads, or even on legitimate job posting sites. Scammers may see your resume posted on a job site and contact you as well.

Are you being asked to put up money in order to get the job or business opportunity? If so, that’s typically a telltale sign the offer is bogus.

For example, some scammers advertise online (and in newspapers) for available jobs with the U.S. Postal Service. If you call the provided phone number, you’re asked to pay a fee, often about $25, for a ‘test-prep kit’ or application, as a requirement of being considered for a job. In reality, the money goes to the scammer, not the U.S. Postal Service (which never asks for money for test-prep kits, by the way).

Many scams take the form of part-time work-from-home jobs. Some typical examples include jobs in which you’re paid to stuff envelopes; perform at-home assembly work; handle medical billing and claims processing; and track late or lost UPS and FedEx packages in order to help the shippers’ customers obtain refunds. In each case, the would-be employee is asked for money up front.

Some job scams—otherwise known as ‘payment-forwarding’ scams—can even get you into legal trouble. Your ‘job’ may be to forward or wire money from a bank or PayPal account or via Western Union to another account, often overseas. For compensation, you’re instructed to keep a percentage of the money transferred, which can be nominal or even several thousand dollars.

How to Spot Job Scams
In addition to being asked for money, here are other signs that the job is probably a scam.

• You’re being offered high pay for a little amount of work, or work that doesn’t require experience or specific skills.

• You’re offered a job without having applied for it or having contacted the company.

• You’re asked to give the company or recruiter your credit card or banking information.

• You’re asked to pay for a credit report as part of the application process.

• The ad is for ‘previously undisclosed’ federal government jobs.

• The job offer comes to you in email from a non-business address.

• The job interview is conducted via text message or IM.

• The ad or email offer contains misspellings or improper grammar.

• The email is sent to you outside normal business hours.

• The email, ad, or job posting makes big claims, such as “Make money while you sleep!”

What to Do About Job Scams
Before you proceed, thoroughly research the company. You might start with a Google search that includes the company name plus the words ‘scam’ or ‘rip off.’ If a name is associated with the job offer, try to find that person on LinkedIn, or simply Google the name to see what comes up.

Ask lots of questions. Suggest a face-to-face interview or, at least, a video chat session via Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts. Never provide any banking, credit card, or other financial account information or your Social Security number. Ask for something in writing, such as a Statement of Work (SOW) or employment contract. If any documentation is sent, review it carefully.

Above all, trust your gut instincts. If a job offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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