A businessman in an office making a phone call and peeking out from behind a face mask.

Applying for jobs is a time-consuming and nerve-wracking process, and that’s before you consider how prevalent recruitment scams have become. Let’s take a look at what a recruitment scam is, and how you can protect yourself while seeking employment.

What Is a Recruitment Scam?

Recruitment scams use fake job listings to target job seekers in a bid to defraud job seekers. These fake job listings appear mostly on free-to-post classified websites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Gumtree. You may also see them posted on walls and lampposts since this problem isn’t limited to only the online space.

You could find yourself targeted by fake recruiters directly, either via email or using social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Scams may appear in Facebook groups you are a part of or on neighborhood social networks like Nextdoor, especially in areas where moderation is poor or non-existent.

Scammers may take legitimate job advertisements and copy them word-for-word. They may pass themselves off as a real company to make the job offer all the more enticing. Oftentimes these listings seem too good to be true, for example, positions that pay well above average for the field.

Fake recruiters are also fond of using text messages or even phone calls to snare victims. As is often the case with other text and phone scams, if someone is offering you something completely out of the blue then you should be immediately suspicious.

What Do Recruitment Scammers Want?

Recruitment scammers are after two things: your personal information and your money. These things aren’t mutually inclusive, and scammers are always coming up with new ways to differentiate their scam from others you may have heard of.

Personal information like your full name, your date of birth, your address, phone numbers, or more revealing information like social security or scans of identifying documents like driver’s licenses and passports can be used to commit identity fraud. In the worst-case scenario, you may find scammers attempting to take out loans or credit cards in your name.

Even if you don’t reveal enough information to put your credit history at risk, scammers will also sell your personal information to other parties. This can then be used to spam you with nuisance emails, phone calls, or texts. You could also find yourself exposed to further scams (like the tech support phone scam) since fraudsters commonly trade lists of numbers among themselves.

Money is the other goal, which usually requires that the scam progresses to a stage where you are “accepted” for the fake position. But there’s a catch! To process your application or get you started, a fee of $50 (or $200, or more) is required. You’ll be told to transfer money via a service like Western Union, or you’ll be guided to a fake web page to make your payment.

Scammers are always looking for new ways to trick their targets, so don’t be surprised if you encounter a scam that attempts to phish you (for example, stealing your email or banking login) instead. Some scammers may even attempt to “conference” with you, which involves remotely controlling your computer.

How to Spot a Recruitment Scam

You can take the usual precautions to spot similar scams if you’re concerned about a potential job listing or offer. The golden rule is that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

One of the biggest red flags is being contacted out of the blue, either via phone or email. You can always search the web for the phone number, or ask the “recruiter” for a number that you can call them back on to verify who they are. Legitimate businesses will have no issue in doing this.

If you’re not mentioned by name, for example being called “sir” or “madam” then you should question exactly why you’re being approached in the first place. Scammers like to cast a wide net since they only need a small number of people to fall for the scam to justify their time.

Woman holding a smartphone that shows an incoming call from an unknown number.

Check any email correspondence you receive to ensure it’s from a recognizable company domain. The same is true for any web links you are sent. Shortened links obscure this information so make sure to check your browser’s address bar to see what the true website address is.

Beware careful if the application is suspiciously easy or you’re offered the job outright without providing much information about yourself (particularly career-related information). Ask for the recruiter to send you more information about the position and then check through it.

Even basic things like poor grammar and spelling in a job listing can give the game away. Legitimate employers spend a lot of money to attract skilled employees, but even entry-level positions should be able to clear this bar.

RELATED: PSA: If a Company Is Calling You Unsolicited, It's Probably a Scam

How to Avoid Recruitment Scams When Applying for Jobs

The best way to protect yourself is to take care when applying for positions. Apply via company websites directly (after double-checking that the website is indeed legitimate) or use job search engines like Indeed or ZipRecruiter. There are many similar services, some will be local and others will pool jobs in a specific specialty or career choice.

These services charge employers to post a job listing. For most scammers, this fee is enough of a deterrent but it’s by no means a guarantee. Job search engines claim to do their due diligence but some scammers may slip through the cracks. As a point of comparison, Apple claims to vet every app that gets uploaded to its storefronts but the company has had its fair share of scams over the years.

Avoid providing any personal information over email. Most employers will either request this information in person at an interview or during onboarding, or they will have a web form set up on their website. Services like Google Forms and Jotform are also open to abuse. Check any email addresses or URLs you are sent carefully.

Don’t send money to any employers or recruitment agencies. This is a big red flag, even if the job application appears legitimate. Some employers may require you to purchase a uniform or similar, but you shouldn’t do this until your contract has been signed and you have met face to face.

If you’re being asked to send personal information and you still haven’t had any real contact, consider asking for face-to-face interaction or even just a phone call from a fixed line. Legitimate employers will understand your concerns around scams.

Good Luck Out There

Searching for a job can be tough, and scammers needlessly complicate this. You can prevent disappointment by following a few basic tips and using the best job search engines.

Remember: nobody is immune from these sorts of scams. In 2019 fake job recruiters even tried to catfish a How-To Geek writer.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He has covered a wide range of topics including Apple, security, productivity tips, gaming and more for publications like How-To Geek, Zapier, and MakeUseOf.
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