How to Protect Yourself from Job Scams

Make sure you know how to steer clear of fraud when searching for a job.

Laura Adams, MBA
4-minute read
Episode #139

Even though the economy shows signs of modest improvement, the job market could limp along in the U.S. for several years to come. Unfortunately, when the unemployment rate rises, so does the occurrence of scams that target unwitting job seekers. Yes, hunting for a job is even more complicated now as opportunistic scammers try to rip you off to make a fast buck! In this episode I’ll give you some pointers about how to recognize and protect yourself from job scams.

Why Job Seekers are Vulnerable to Job Scams

Let’s face it. Looking for a job can make you very emotional. Months of being without work and experiencing one rejection after another could make anyone desperate. If you’ve been searching for a job for a long time, you’ll do almost anything to get your life back on track and improve your financial situation. It’s just human nature to be hopeful about an opportunity that sounds perfect. You’re simply more vulnerable to being duped by a scam when you’re stressed out and worried about your future.

Resumes are Revealing

The tool you use to promote yourself when you’re job hunting--your resume--is also a tool identity thieves can use to harm you. Think about all the personal information you might put on your resume: your name, address, telephone numbers, birth date, e-mail address, and lots more. Of course you should never list your social security number or driver’s license number on a resume. Here’s a quick tip: Consider eliminating unnecessary personal information from your resume such as your home address. Instead, include your desired work location, such as “the Miami area”. You can also create a unique e-mail address that’s just for your job search activity.

Watch Out for Online Job Scams

One of the reasons that job hunting scams are becoming common is because a majority of employment searches are done online. Many job “opportunities” are simply bait put out by identity thieves. Crooks post phony jobs to lure you in and steal your personal information. I did two podcasts earlier this year about how to avoid identity theft. If you didn’t hear them, I urge you to listen to shows 121 and 122.

Know When You Shouldn’t Give Out Your Personal Information

Be wary of getting hired quickly online or over the phone, and then being asked to go to a website to complete the hiring process by submitting your social security number, bank account info, and driver’s license number. That’s a criminal’s dream--you’re spoon-feeding them all your top secret personal information. Once a scammer has your data, they can rip you off by opening a credit card account in your name or even taking out a car loan in your name, for example.

Only give out your personal info once you’ve met someone from the company in person or have had several phone calls with a representative who you can verify is a company employee. If you doubt the legitimacy of a company, ask them for references. Speak to their vendors, employees, or customers to verify their claims and make sure they’re genuine. If you think a company is trying to con you, report them to the Federal Trade Commission by going to ftc.gov and downloading a complaint form.

The Mystery Shopper Scam and Other Common Job Scams

One type of fraudulent job offer gets you involved in criminal activity as a middle-man. You might be asked to receive, store, and re-mail merchandise purchased with stolen credit card numbers. Or you could be hired to “process” payments from clients through your personal bank account to your employer. In that scam, you receive a fake check to deposit, are asked to wire money immediately to the “employer”, and then the bad check payable to you bounces! Another bogus job involves being hired to go mystery shopping. You receive a fake check for something like $3,800 and are instructed to immediately go shopping at a store that issues money orders, such as Wal-Mart. You’re supposed to buy a $3,000 money order, mail it to the employer, and keep the $800 difference for your troubles. You end up losing three grand plus bank fees when the bogus check bounces.

How to Protect Yourself from Job Scams

The best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of fraud during a job search is to question everything. Ask yourself why is the pay so good for this job or why doesn’t this job require an interview? Trust your gut--don’t rationalize something that clearly seems out of place or too good to be true. Here are six tips to stay safe on the job hunt:

Tip #1: Never pay money up front to a potential employer. Be extremely wary of jobs that require a fee for any reason, such as to:

  • review your resume

  • pay for the cost of a background check

  • pay for the cost of a test

  • pay for your job training

Tip #2: Research all potential employers online. Do a Google search by entering their name with the word “complaint” after it.

Tip #3: Don’t pay a headhunter or a job placement agency. Reputable firms are paid by their clients--the companies who need to fill open positions. Even if you’re promised a refund if they don’t get you a job, find another firm that doesn’t demand money up-front.

Tip #4: Be suspicious of employment “guarantees”. Stay away from employment services that promise you a job or guarantee that they’ll place you within a short period of time.

Tip #5: Research any placement agency that contacts you directly. Many headhunting firms are legitimate and fantastic resources for finding a great job. But some may post fictitious jobs just to lure you into a scam.

Tip #6: Stay away from high-pressure sales pitches. If an employer or agency tries to rush you into an opportunity, remember that you never need to “act fast” to land a good job.

If you’re unemployed, please don’t make your situation worse by letting down your guard and becoming the victim of a financial scam.  To help on your taxes, check out this episode I did on tax tips for job seekers.


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Woman Searching for Job image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a trusted and frequent source for the national media. Her book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show.