How to Spot Job Search Scams and Protect Yourself

Job-opportunity scams have risen with the growing level of unemployment. Below I explain how to spot them by analyzing an actual scam message that hoodwinked some recipients. It turns out that the scam message was sent from a real recruiter’s hacked LinkedIn account, which made this deception more believable (note: if you ever suspect your LinkedIn account has been hacked, get help here).

While reading through the warning signs I highlight in the message, keep in mind the most common types of scams:

  • “Phishing” which involves clicking on a link so you’ll a) fill out a form and submit personal and financial information for identity theft, or b) unknowingly download malicious software onto your computer.
  • Asking for money or for you to buy something. A legitimate employer will never ask you to transfer money from your account for any reason, nor will they ask you to buy anything from a specific site.
  • Misrepresenting a job as legitimate lawful work when in reality your work directly supports a criminal scheme, which could make you an unwitting accessory.

Below I’ve shared excerpts from the scam message, followed by my analysis.

“Your background would be perfect for this role…” Really? Why? We don’t know, because they did not elaborate. This kind of generic “your background is great” compliment should immediately trigger skepticism. Legitimate recruiters will reference something very specific about either your background or about the job as it relates to your background.

“I’m a recruiter from WellKnownCompany…You can reach me at .” A legitimate recruiter will always use the company email address, not a personal email address, so this is an absolute giveaway – it’s a scam.

WellKnownCompany is seeking for a Remote Administrative Assistant…” “is seeking for…” is a huge tip off. They couldn’t get the English right, or it’s a typo. Either way, very suspect.

“Send me your resume…” They wrote earlier in the message that the recipient’s background is perfect for the role, so why do they need a resume? Something doesn’t add up. Look for these illogical or contradictory statements.  Also, when a legitimate employer or recruiter takes the initiative to establish a relationship and messages you for the first time, they ask for a conversation, not just for your resume.

“Upon review of your resume, we’ve decided that you’re perfect for this job! Congratulations, we’d like to make you an offer…” Not even an interview? That does not happen with a legitimate employer. This is truly a scam.

“As part of the application process, we need some background information from you, including your social security number, bank account…” No legitimate recruiter or employer would ever ask for this information in the application process. In fact, even after you’ve accepted an offer and have a start date, don’t provide your social security number or any financial information without being absolutely sure it’s a legitimate offer.

“Click on this link to begin the application process.” Hover over the link before clicking on it and you’ll be able to see the URL. Does it point to the real, established company’s website? If not, don’t click on the link. Even better, skip the link and try to find the posting via going to the website of the company they are supposedly representing, e.g. check out their “careers” page. Or call the company and tell them you’re checking to be sure the message you received was legitimate. Similarly, don’t open any attachments from strangers (and sometimes even friends) without verifying they are legitimate, as attachments can be a source of viruses.

Research the sender: Verify that the sender is legitimate if there’s any doubt, especially when they are asking for personal information. You can start by looking them up on LinkedIn, keeping in mind that someone could be impersonating a LinkedIn member as in this case. Nearly everyone recruiting these days has a substantial LinkedIn presence. Do they have a profile? If not don’t respond. If so, do they show a professional photo and a professional-looking work history with at least 500 connections?

Go beyond just checking out their profile. If it’s a smaller organization, are they shown on the website? Try to message them on LinkedIn (the scammer who hacks into a LinkedIn account usually won’t field LinkedIn messages as it would tip off the real owner) and at their organizational email address. Call the company switchboard and ask for them. Make sure an offer came from an employee using a real company email address. Ask for references from them before submitting any paperwork required post-acceptance.

Avoid Blind Ads

A blind ad is a posting for a job opportunity where the company isn’t named. These ads can make the opportunity sound very tempting, especially in a difficult job market. The problem is that these jobs usually don’t exist. Most of the time, you’ll hear the recruiter say that the job’s been filled but they’ll keep you on file for future opportunities; then they’ll try and sell you on something you really don’t want. So now you’ve wasted your time. At worst (and all too often), you’ll run into one of these scenarios:

  • They will ask you who you’ve been interviewing with. Don’t tell them! This is a sure sign to end the conversation, as you’ve reached an unethical firm. They only ask you this to learn for themselves who has openings so they can submit their other candidates (that is. not you, since you’re already interviewing) for the job. A good search firm will never ask you this question; they might ask you what types of jobs you’ve been interviewing for, but never specifically where.
  • You’ll be getting involved in a scam similar to the one just described.
  • The ad has been posted by your current employer – now they know you’re looking!

The solution: stick with job postings where the company is listed so you can research them. And even better, go beyond job postings, build and leverage your network, and take the active approach to your job search.

One last thought: very occasionally I’ll have a close call with a scam message, and it’s always because I’m distracted, trying to multitask, and clicking on things without my normal caution. Some of these scam emails can look authentic at first glance. So be careful out there!