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How to Avoid 5 Major Types of Online Job Scams

By Susan P. Joyce

Don't expect to get paid if you fall for one of these scams, even if you do some "work" for them. Trust AFTER you verify!

You could face very unpleasant consequences in the loss of your identity, loss of your money, a ruined credit rating, and, if they get your unwitting cooperation in a crime, participation in a felony that could land you in jail. Not trivial.

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Your Best Defense

Until you have verified that the employer and job are legitimate, do NOT use any contact information in the job posting or on the website!

And, don't provide the recruiter/employer or website with any information -- don't register a resume or set up a profile -- unless you know they are legitimate.

  • Independently verify that the employer did post the job on the website in question by tracking down the employer's phone number via Google, Superpages.com, or some other reputable web phone directory, or by simply calling Information.
  • Then, call the employer to verify that they really did send the message, IF the message looks real but is not from an email adddress associated with the employer's domain name.

When you are in doubt about the authenticity of the employer, use your favorite search engine to find out what you can about the employer.

  • If all you find are job postings, that's not usually a good sign.
    Real businesses promote their products and/or services, too. They also have public contact information (address and phone numbers) so customers can find them.
  • Look for the business website which explains what they do and where they do it.
    You need that information to prepare your response, anyway.

When you are in doubt about the authenticity of a website, check the "whois" record for the domain name.

The WhoIs will tell you who owns the domain name. Check a site like DomainTools.com, GoDaddy.com, or NetworkSolutions.com.

  • The domain registration record should show that the domain's owner (the "registrant") is in fact the organization it is supposed to be.
  • The registration record should show legitimate contact information for the website - email, address, and phone number.
  • If the domain registration is "private" with the real ownership details unavailable, proceed with caution!

5 Major Types of Job Search Scams

The scammers are endlessly creative, so this is not everything, by any means.  But these are the major scams I've observed and learned about.

1.  E-mail From an Employer or Recruiter.

Maybe the email claims they found your resume on Monster or CareerBuilder or their company website, etc. The message says they think you might be the perfect candidate for this new opportunity.

You might not remember ever applying (and, if it's a scam, you didn't). You may not remember seeing the employer's name before.

But, they are very interested in hiring you -- now! All you need to do to land the job is send them more personal information for a pre-employment credit check or to complete your application. They want you to provide sensitive information like a copy of your driver's license (which tells them your birthdate), your Social Security Number, and/or your bank account number (for depositing those paychecks).

[MORE: How to Protect Your Privacy in Your Job Search.]

Be very wary of an email from someone you don't know, regardless of the logos and names visible in the email message.

Logos and names can be "borrowed." And, since the From: email address may be "spoofed" with some email software, do not trust that the From: address is genuine. It may not be!

Using a fictional example of a recruiter named Mary Smith, who is a fictional employee of IBM (a real company, but any employer's name could be used, large or small, well-known or not), you would contact her via an email address from the domain name for that employer. So, if she existed, Mary's real email address would be something like MarySmith@IBM.com. If Mary Smith is really a recruiter for IBM, she would not ask you to send your resume to MarySmith@yahoo.com, MarySmith@gmail.com, IBM-recruiting@gmail.com, MarySmithIBMrecruiter@yahoo.com, etc.

A real Mary Smith who was actually a recruiter from IBM would probably ask you to respond to her via her @IBM.com email address or to post your resume on the IBM.com website (more on that below).

2. Bogus Jobs Apparently from Legitimate Employers

The job posting or the website claim to be a real employer, perhaps from a well-known company like Google or Apple or often from an employer not as well known as Google or Apple. But, although the employer name is legitimate, the jobs are NOT legitimate and not even actually for that employer.

In this scam, the real employer doesn't have anything to do with the posting. This scam abuses a legitimate employer's identity. I call it "corporate identity theft." The scammers are pretending to be the real employer advertising bogus jobs that are completely unrelated to the legitimate employer named in the posting or on the site.

3.  Bogus Jobs on Legitimate Job Boards

The job board may be a well-known brand name like Monster or CareerBuilder, Craigslist, or your favorite professional association's "career center." But, while the job board is legitimate, the job may be a scam.

Frankly, I wouldn't trust all of the jobs posted on any website completely, with the exception of USAJOBS.gov, and then I'd double-check to be sure that I was truly viewing a page of USAJOBS.gov by checking the URL in my browser.

[Read Understanding Domain Names, URLs, and Web Addresses for information on how to be sure what domain you're viewing.]

The fact that an employer, or a scammer, must first pay a job board in order to post jobs does NOT guarantee that the job is legitimate. The scammers may make enough money off their scam to cover the cost of the posting. Or they may be scamming the job board, too, by using a stolen credit card to pay for the posting.

These days, the people running websites which have job postings must work hard to make sure that they don't allow fake jobs to be posted on their sites. Unfortunately, not all of the job boards do a great job of vetting employers, and sometimes they are fooled by the scammers, too.

4.  Bogus Job Boards

These can be hard to spot. The website may look very professional, but their only goal is to collect as much personal information from you as possible.

These sites usually require you to "register" before you can see the job postings, but they may allow you to select the "job" you want first and then collect your information. There may - or may not - be any jobs (bogus or legitimate) posted on these sites.

5.  Bogus Employer websites

As with the bogus job boards, these can be hard to spot, too. The website looks great, but the employer doesn't really exist. Jobs are posted for job seekers to apply for.

Usually they only want your personal information and will most likely request your Social Security Number and/or bank account number for "pre-screening."

As in the first website scam, above, I've also seen a website that looks like it's from Google (Google's logo is on the site and the name Google is widely used on the site), but it definitely was not Google because, although Google's name was in the URL, it was in the wrong place in the URL, and the site most definitely was not google.com. [Read Understanding Domain Names, URLs, and Web Addresses for information on how to be sure what domain you're viewing.] And the "jobs" unfortunately weren't with Google either. Just another scammer site.

Bottom Line

DO verify before you trust! Taking the time to run through the steps above will not only save you the time and energy it takes to apply for a job, which is time wasted in this case, but it can also save your bank account, identity, credit rating, and much more that you value highly. Yes, it's a tough job market, and being unemployed is very unpleasant. But being scammed at the same time you are struggling with a job search is additional stress no one needs.


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 1998, NETability purchased Job-Hunt.org, which Susan has edited and published since.  Susan also edits and publishes WorkCoachCafe.com.  Follow Susan on Twitter at@jobhuntorg and on Google+.