13 Job Scams To Avoid When Applying for Work

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Job Scams
Photo via Envato Elements

Types of Job Scams:

  • Become a secret shopper
  • Pay to interview/train
  • Do remote work with a well-known company
  • Receive training materials to become a manager
  • Print and package items from home
  • Deposit a check and become a freelancer
  • Be your own boss for a small fee
  • Provide a digital signature
  • Provide care for someone's elderly relative
  • Work for a new consultant or marketing firm
  • Do remote billing work for a medical company
  • Take a job at a seasonal store
  • Get recognition with a local talent agency

As you're looking for professional opportunities, you may notice there are numerous ads posted on Craigslist, Indeed, Monster, and other job sites. Unfortunately, not all job postings are created equally. There are numerous job scams out there, and it's good to know what to look out for.

In this post, we discuss work-related scams, where to report them, and how to avoid them.

Become a secret shopper

This one is pretty common. You may get an email or letter in the mail offering an opportunity to become an undercover consumer. Simply provide your information (and money) to become a certified secret shopper, or, better yet, deposit a mystery check at a nearby bank to assess the bank's customer service.

If this sounds fishy to you, that's because it is. Fishy businesses typically have two common denominators at play: outreach and money.

Most businesses don't ask strangers to work for them via letter or email. And no business should ask you to spend or deposit money.

Consider a broke college student who only calls his parents when he needs financial assistance. In this case, he's only making the effort because there is something in it for him. This is how scammers are. They are masters of outreach, because outreach provides a payday.

Pay to interview/train

You may have heard applying for jobs is a numbers game. That's often true. The more jobs you apply for, the more likely you are to land something.

Because of this, many job sites allow you to blanket-apply to several businesses and firms. On these same sites, you are often able to list your resume. While this can be a great opportunity, it also makes you visible to more scammers.

Be wary of anyone who offers you work, then tells you the job requires a paid interview or training. You should never pay for an interview, and most jobs will pay you to be trained. If you get an email that requires you to pay up for an opportunity, trash it.

Do remote work with a well-known company

Imagine a big player like Amazon or Target reaches out to you about a remote job. You'll get to work from home, make your own schedule, and put a well-known name on your resume.

You might think you've hit the jackpot, and all you have to do is pay for the software to make it happen.

While corporate companies are offering more flexible job options, you'll never need to pay for your own software. There are numerous remote, professional opportunities, and because of this, scammers have an easier time making grandiose claims that involve you losing out. So, even if the name looks good, always go with your gut.

Receive training materials to become a manager

If someone offers to take your money or information in exchange for training materials or tests, run the other way. Becoming a manager almost always happens the old-fashioned way—by working your way up or knowing someone.

Training and testing (especially when paying for the materials) is not the path for any aspiring manager. Do yourself a favor and stick to the tried and true methods, or better yet, ask a manager you admire for advice. This will make you look good and save you from losing money.

You may spot a job ad that discusses printing and repackaging items from home. You'll simply need packing supplies and printer, and voilà! You're all set to work from home repackaging items.

Only these jobs are as scammy as they come. Whether it's to access your personal information or to have stolen items repackaged, these jobs are bad news. If you are interested in packaging items for a little extra dough, start your own Etsy, or try selling your old stuff on eBay. These methods really do allow you to be your own boss, and you won't be dealing with stolen items.

Deposit a check and become a freelancer

Again, never deposit a check from a rando! There is no guarantee this check is valid (it almost certainly isn't), and you're setting yourself up to lose money.

Many times, “employers” (aka con artists) request that you deposit a check provided by them. With the check, you are supposed to purchase professional supplies (again, things that would be provided in a real job) and simply send back what money is left.

Sounds simple enough, but typically the checks are bad. This means you'll not only end up sending a scammer real money, but you'll also be forced to pay the bank when the bad check inevitably bounces.

Be your own boss for a small fee

Never shell out money to someone who claims you can be your own boss for a fee. If you do want to be self-employed, there are plenty of opportunities and informational publications out there.

Additionally, if you know some local businesses, you may consider talking to entrepreneurs in your community. These are free options that can help you get your business off the ground.

It's possible you will pay money to become your own boss someday, but if you do, it will be because you're investing in your own ideas and plans. You shouldn't have to pay someone else to make this happen for you.

Provide a digital signature

Many fake jobs will ask you to send in your resume and a signature, or they will ask you to sign their document digitally. This typically includes you sending in your personal information, too. Do yourself a favor and don't send a digital signature unless you've met the person.

Provide care for someone's elderly relative

This scam is not only downright dirty, it's actually pretty common. You may see a job ad for a caregiver, or you may get contacted directly. This scam hits home for many people, which is part of why it works so well.

For many, this feels like a consistent, lucrative opportunity they can feel good about. No one wants their elderly mother to live alone, you might think. I can make sure she's safe and still get paid for it.

Only, this scam doesn't really hold up once the emotional impact fades. Who would actually entrust their elderly relative to a complete stranger, and one who has little to no caregiving experience at that? This scam often includes a conversation via email or text, and before you meet the elderly relative or employer (you never do), the employer sends you a nice, fat check. And all you have to do is—you guessed it—send some money back to them.

This doesn't really hold up, either. Would you send a check to someone you didn't know? Would you hire someone to care for your parent if you'd never met them? Of course not. But these scammers are relying on your emotional response, not your logic. Emotions can determine our actions, so it's good to consider all aspects of a situation before making a decision.

Work for a new consultant or marketing firm

Marketing is a vague term, which means many jobs (and job scams) can fall under the umbrella of marketing. On one hand, there are plenty of people who work in marketing and do very well at their jobs. On the other hand, your Aunt Vivian may list herself a “marketing manager” on Facebook, even though she sells weight-loss shakes twice a year.

I do want to point out that there are legitimate multi-level marketing companies—companies whose representatives are happy. Still, it's possible to be sucked into the wrong multi-level marketing business.

You've probably heard the “you sell to five people, then they sell to five people,” spiel. While that sounds nice, it's been debunked and instead can be a dangerous scheme in which you invest money you'll never see again.

And even if you don't sign up with a multi-level marketing company, it's good to be wary of other marketing schemes, too. Many companies will advertise themselves as marketing firms, only to have you sell door-to-door. This can be dangerous for a professional who thinks they're simply going to an interview, only to be coaxed into selling product to strangers (for free).

Do remote billing work for a medical company

Similar to “be your own boss for a fee,” these medical billing scams claim to provide remote work opportunities. As you might have guessed, this includes paying for the “necessary tools” required for the job.

Unfortunately, this is a common job scam people fall into, especially people who are seeking remote work. Remember, real jobs hand out real money. Employees don't.

Take a job at a seasonal store

Summer jobs and side-hustles can be fun, low-stress ways to make an extra buck. That's why we see fireworks tents and snow cone dispensaries pop up each summer.

These businesses can be legitimate, but it's good to be wary if you do decide to work for a seasonal store. Do you know the person? Do they seem trustworthy? How much did they say they'd pay you? Can you get it in writing?

These are all questions to consider when signing up for pop-up shops. And remember, these stores aren't exclusive to summer. Halloween stores and haunted houses can also be poorly managed, so make sure you do a little research prior to taking the job.

Get recognition with a local talent agency

We've all heard stories of celebrities accidentally getting famous, or being unexpectedly noticed by the right people. Sure, the stories might be true, but they might not be.

Either way, these tales of unexpected fame and fortune sound a lot nicer than the alternative: an actor's depressing laundry list of failed auditions. Believing in someone's lucky day is simply a better story. And it's more fun.

And while believing can fun, it can be dangerous, too. These tales encourage us to entertain our own surprising, Hollywood success, which is why talent agents prey on young hopefuls.

Maybe someone says you've got “the look” they need. Maybe someone asks you to audition. Later, though, you realize you'll have to pay the talent agency just to be considered. Maybe you even realize the agent isn't who you thought they were, and the opportunities aren't opportunities at all.

Why job scams work

Job-hunters often have a difficult time finding work, especially when looking in a new city or competitive field. With all the time, energy, and documentation that goes into applying, looking for a job can feel like in a career in itself.

Unfortunately, scammers know this. They know you're looking for good opportunities and quality pay. What's worse, if you're an educated, tech-savvy youngster, you may be more likely to fall victim to the lies.

But anyone can be targeted, and anyone can buy into a scam. This makes sense, because people who are looking to steal from you have to be creative. They have to offer an opportunity you've never considered before—one that's too good to pass up.

My personal experience with a scammy job

The truth is, none of us are immune. In fact, it wasn't so long ago that I interviewed with what I thought was a marketing agency. The office was in a beautiful, downtown building, and my first interview went perfectly, so naturally I thought, what could go wrong?

But you may remember the pitfalls of “marketing” jobs we discussed earlier. During my second interview, I learned that instead of writing copy or promoting the company, I would instead be selling cosmetics door-to-door. After researching the company, I realized the business often moved from city to city, setting up new “marketing firms,” where they hired hopeful college grads who got stuck peddling product. Then, they would close shop and pack up, only to do it all over again.

I could say I was totally blindsided, but the truth is, I wasn't listening to my gut. For instance, the “HR manager” emailed me from her personal email account, rather than a company email. Red flag, right? You would think so, but I ignored it.

Another example: the “meet the team” page on their website only had first names, no surnames. This made it impossible to research the employees. Another red flag, but once again, I ignored it. There were plenty of signs I willingly overlooked, just because I was desperate to find work.

You can imagine my embarrassment when I realized the company wasn't what it claimed to be. I felt like an idiot for ignoring those red flags. Honestly, though, my story isn't all that uncommon; many of us ignore our instincts because we want opportunities that are too good to be true. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Where to report job scams

If you've been scammed, don't be embarrassed. Your story can help other people from falling for the same lies. The websites above are free services that allow you to report scams and frauds. Each service is a little different, so make sure you read the information listed for each service.

How to avoid job scams in the future

Con artists are clever, but you can be clever, too. Little steps can go a long way in preventing a scam. For instance, be wary of suspicious email addresses, amazing opportunities, poorly translated offers, and people who are asking for personal information.

Real businesses will have real email addresses, real benefits, and real answers. Don't sign documentation before meeting with an employer, and never pay anyone for work. (That's your employer's job.)

Job-hunting can feel pretty desperate sometimes, but don't let those negative thoughts and fears get the best of you. You'll find a job, and even if it isn't “too good to be true,” there are plenty of real opportunities out there that can make you just as happy as any old job scam claims to do.