Fake jobs have been around for centuries. Even Sherlock Holmes himself encountered them in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League. Real fraudsters are every bit as sophisticated as literary characters, so any job offer you may get should be analyzed carefully to prevent you losing money.
The internet, social networks, cryptocurrencies and, of late, the upsurge in remote working — all of that gives crooks the tools they need to get up to no-good with recruitment fraud. In this article, we’ll list the most common fraud schemes out there and the tell-tale signs to look out for to avoid job scams.
The principal schemes of deception
Scammers often try to mimic legitimate labor market players. Offers may come from job search sites (CareerBuilder, Headhunter, etc.), social networks (LinkedIn), or email. Interviews via Zoom or Teams, filling out forms on an “employer’s site”, a “first day at work” at Slack or Bitrix24 may at first seem convincing – and not unlike an honest job. Sometimes you even get “hired” by big brands! But sooner or later, more than the work hours and work experience will be required from you.
If a job involves using a specific application or tool, you may be required to pay for and take a mandatory training course before you start and be sent a link to it. The “employer” may even give assurances to reimburse that money with your first paycheck, but actually your relationship will end as soon as you complete the “training”. To be convincing, the “training platform” may look independent and unrelated to a particular employer, but it’s all part of the same scheme. The need to invest your own money in training is a huge red flag. An honest employer would warn about required critical skills and supporting certifications before hiring, and simply won’t hire you if you don’t have the right qualifications.
Certifications and preparation for them
A variation of the previous scheme fakes an intermediary hiring for a real, honest job. If the job requires specific certification or a mandatory entrance test, the scammers guarantee employment for a specific job after you take their “training courses”. You pay for the training, and you may even learn something, but you get no help in finding a job and no guarantees afterward. This scheme is especially popular in the U.S.A. for government jobs.
Help finding employment
Another popular scheme is creating a plausible-looking recruitment agency that finds people who really are looking for work and promises to find them the ideal employer in a short period of time — charging a fixed amount of money to do so. They sometimes come back with a specific attractive job and ask to pay for just one little thing — to tell you the name of the hiring company. It doesn’t even make sense to go into the details of the offer. The specifics of the recruitment market are such that it’s always the employer who pays for the search, not the employee. If the “recruiter” is asking an applicant for money, it’s most likely a scam.
Purchasing tools, consumables, etc.
You’re told that you’ve been hired for a job. But in order to do it, you need a specific tool, machine, or just a separate office laptop. You have to buy it from a certain site, and the money will be reimbursed in your first paycheck. Of course, if you fall for this trick, you’ll be getting neither a laptop nor a paycheck.
A more elaborate scheme is possible. Recently on LinkedIn, a marketing specialist told a story about how, after a convincing job recruitment process — with the respective online interviews, an online meeting with an HR professional, and even receiving access to a paid training course at the new job — he was assigned to do market research on the crypto market, which first required buying Bitcoin from a particular online exchange. When he suspected something was amiss, he was told to take a break, and in the meantime, to pick out a work laptop. After seeing a document about paying for the laptop with his own money, the author was finally convinced that he was dealing with scammers.
You may also be offered a simple work-at-home job where you receive goods, check them out, and mail them back. It’s often necessary to remove some of the packaging and various accompanying documents. In this scheme, victims are used as cogs in another scam — the resale of illegally purchased goods paid for with stolen credit cards, for example. At the end of the month, the employee doesn’t get any payment, and the packages stop coming, too. And down the line, the police may show up on your doorstep, because the delivery address is one of the main threads in the investigation of fraudulent purchases.
Resale of goods
You may not be offered a job, but instead participation in a small business! You’ll buy expensive electronics or other popular items at half price, and then you can sell them at full price. It’s really simple here. After the first purchase (with an advance payment, of course) you either get nothing, or you get really cheap knockoffs.
Sometimes the hiring process is simply used to trick you into giving out your personal data, which may then be used in other fraudulent schemes. Here, after an interview, you’re told that you’ve been hired and are sent a standard employment form. It asks for detailed personal information, including your home address, contact information, social security numbers or VAT ID, and bank information to send you your “salary”. After submitting this form, you’ll never see or hear from your “employer” again.
How to spot job scammers
- Honest employers don’t ask workers for money
This is the fundamental and most important rule. No matter what the payment is called — prepayment for equipment, training fees, purchase of certification materials, a registration fee, or security deposit — the requirement to invest your own money is the biggest, clearest sign that you’re being “hired” by fraudsters.
- Honest employers are rather demanding
If you landed a relatively challenging and high-paying job at your first interview, there’s reason to think twice. Extremely tight hiring and onboarding deadlines are also suspicious. And it’s just as strange if a good job doesn’t have significant requirements for the applicant’s seniority, experience, and qualifications.
- Scammers can leech off famous brands
Maybe a recruiting or consulting company is hiring you to work for a large, prestigious company, or even a government department. This does happen, but it’s important to check that the recruiters actually work at the company and that at least one interview involves employees of the company itself.
It’s worth checking out the reputation of the employer and recruiter. You can search the internet for a combination of “recruiter name” + “scammer” or “employer company” + “recruitment fraud” or “recruiting company name” + “reviews”.
It also makes sense to check the jobs section of the brand’s website. Is the job you are offered there?
- Scammers actively use phishing
Our usual anti-phishing tips can help you recognize a situation where a job questionnaire or the job ad itself is posted on a fraudulent site mimicking an official brand site. It’s not uncommon for fake HR employees to correspond from accounts resembling corporate addresses, but which are actually hosted on phishing domains or free e-mail like Gmail.
Of course, it’s hard to constantly be on the alert and check links and addresses, especially when you’re already getting dizzy about this “dream job”. That’s why you should delegate the task of tracking phishing links to a specially tailored tool that will warn you if you’re trying to follow a malicious link, and block it.
- How did the employer find out about you?
The answer to this question is also important, as an attractive and unexpected job offer received when you’re not searching for one is in itself suspicious. If you’re really looking for work and put your resume and contact information on job sites, scammers may be knocking on your door alongside honest employers. Be on your guard.
- Don’t give out personal information in advance
The employment contract is usually signed on your first day at work. If you’re asked for detailed smidgen
personal information in advance, including bank details, you are better off simply not giving it.
- Consult someone you trust
Show the vacancy and the recruiter’s correspondence to someone you trust. They might notice something you’ve missed. A second opinion is always useful — even if there’s just the tiniest smidgen of doubt in your mind.
- Try to double-check your future employer
Perhaps you know someone already working for the employing company. Ask about the company and talk to the people there you’re friendly with. If they don’t know your “recruiter”, or if the company isn’t hiring at all for the position you’re being asked to interview for, you need to double down on your vigilance.
This last piece of advice is extremely important because scammers are constantly improving their techniques. You may come across a convincingly described vacancy on a well-known job-search site, get through three rounds of interviews, and still end up with a scam job. Therefore, vigilance, common sense and checking through personal contacts is the most reliable way to protect yourself from any unpleasant surprises.