Record hiring. Mass layoffs. 2023 has been a mixed bag so far for job seekers and career changers. Overall Job growth has been strong but growth among the top higher-paying “white collar” jobs is mediocre at best. Inflation is high, news of layoffs (especially in the technology sector) abound, and the stock market is stagnant.

In a tight job market and challenging economy everything bad about the job search is amplified. This means that job seekers need to be especially aware of the “bad guys” that lurk in just about every facet of the job search from reputable online sites, to questionable ad postings, to so-called recruiters calling you with a too-good-to-be-true offer. Scam artists love to play off  people’s fears about being unemployed and often look to capitalize by presenting job offers that are not only frivolous, but can end up costing the unemployed seeker hundreds and possible even thousands of dollars.

For people who haven’t been in the job market for years, it’s tough to tell what’s now a normal part of the job search and what could expose you to potential identity theft and other scams. Here are four all-too-common job search scams job seekers need to be aware of and steer clear of:

1-      Work from home jobs…but not all of them

Work form home (WFH) and hybrid positions have become the norm since early 2020. However, good jobs are hard to find and even harder to land—period. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Really pay attention to how the ad is written. Watch out for language such as “Earn $100,000 Working From Home” or “An Athlete’s Dream!” The other warning sign is that the pay is usually great and the company is based overseas. Scammers also try to make their emails sound believable by listing “job requirements.” Usually these requirements are so ridiculously simple that almost everyone qualifies: “Must be 18 years old”, “Must be a US citizen”, “Must have access to the internet.” It’s job seeker beware, so always Google the company and do your research if your Spidey Sense tingles and tells you something is off with the posting, interview, or job offer.

2-      Recruiters that ask you to provide confidential information early in the process

Sometimes it may not be a work at home position but another alleged legitimate position you’ve been selected for. The key warning sign here is that things seem to move too fast. Perhaps you’ve been awarded the job after a very brief phone interview or no real interview at all. Some of these prospective employers ask for your bank-account information so they can pay you electronically — and then they use the information to steal your money or identity.

Other scammers will tell you to go to a website and fill out a credit report form or provide confidential information so they can “put you on the company insurance.” Identity theft scams try to get you to provide your Social Security number and birth date and other personal information.

3-      You are asked to pay for something upfront

Of course it would be nice to earn hundreds or thousands of dollars a week from your home with very little work. The catch: You need to pay an upfront fee to get started with this tremendous opportunity. That’s a big red flag. In many cases, people pay the fees and end up with no job. Also, don’t send money for work at home directories, software, or start-up kits.

4-      They “found you” or you were “recommended”

Scammers troll job boards looking for victims. Warning sign: If the email doesn’t include the company’s address and phone, it’s a good bet that it’s a scam. It’s also a good bet that it’s a scam if the interviewer makes an excuse for using a personal email address by saying “the company’s servers are down”, or “the company is experiencing too many problems with spam” or “the company hasn’t yet set up its email system.” Sometimes high-cost placement companies will troll job boards looking for local people to come in for an interview. Upon arriving, the location and business are legitimate but the interview turns into a sales pitch whereby the job seeker is pressured to sign up for their placement program to the tune of $10,000-$20,000. Many of our clients do get legitimate messages from recruiters via LinkedIn so this can often be the exception. Similar to researching a company on Google if something seems “off,” researching a reputable recruiter and/or their placement firm should be easy via Google, Glassdoor, or LinkedIn.

Fight Back!

But you can fight back! Here are some tips for avoiding the job search scam:

  • Always research the organization and person you are interviewing with. Use a general Google search (Google search: “company name + scam”), LinkedIn, and Glassdoor).
  • Call the employer’s HR Department to confirm an opening and/or send an InMail to the HR Manager via LinkedIn.
  • Get a second opinion buy running the ad or situation by a trusted business professional or career advisor.
  • Ask to talk to current employees to ensure the job will be a good fit for you and the employer.
  • Use your “gut” and instinct and if something seems off or too good to be true, it probably is, and you should remove yourself from consideration.
  • If you feel you’ve been scammed or have doubts about the legitimacy of a particular web site or offer, please contact the local authorities. Each municipality has a cyber-crime unit dedicated to bringing down scammers and criminals who prey on the unemployed.

Researching the company is your best defense, but some scammers are very clever. If you start to feel that things aren’t right, trust your intuition. Ask questions and pay close attention to the answers. Slow the process down and don’t be pressured into making a commitment or giving out personal information. Do more research. If it turns out to be a scam, report it to the authorities and post your story online to warn others about the scam.