The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the highest unemployment rate (14.8% in April 2020) since the Great Recession. Millions were out of jobs and struggled to make ends meet. As states eased restrictions and began to reopen, the economy has geared up to return to the pre-pandemic normal. More than a year has passed since then, and the unemployment rate has come down to 5.4%, close to February 2020’s rate of 3.5% before the pandemic outbreak (Unemployment Rates During the COVID-19 Pandemic). Meanwhile, more professionals than ever, drawn to positions that allow long-term work-from-home options and flexible schedules, are considering a career change. As job seekers search for opportunities to return to the workforce or transition into positions with more flexibility, some are plotting their fraudulent schemes to take advantage of the most vulnerable and desperate.
While looking for remote positions on Indeed, I have come across a couple of employment scams myself. From their job postings to the actual “interview,” these positions all seem to share a common feature–they sound too good to be true. Nonetheless, most people wouldn’t be able to discern their lack of legitimacy because they seem to have it all–the recruiting professional who reaches out to you courteously, the interviewer with well-prepared PowerPoint slides, and the company website and office. All of these help create a false impression. In addition, I was under the impression that job boards like Indeed would screen positions before posting them on its site. Obviously, they have fallen short of that expectation.
Considering that my husband will wrap up his graduate career and we will move to Maryland in the near future, I have been on the hunt for jobs in Baltimore with temporary remote work options. In addition to technical writer and editor’s positions, I have also applied to positions in the financial sector due to my interest in finance and investment. I was hopeful but was not really counting on hearing back from any of them. So I felt over the moon when I got called up about a couple financial advisor positions, until I went through the drill and found out it was a complete sham. To alert you to these alleged ideal jobs and steer you away from them, I’ve identified their five most salient characteristics. Watch out for them when you look for your next career opportunity!
The job promises a quick way to wealth
A job scam’s most distinguishing feature is it promises an exceedingly simple path to wealth and success. If you notice in the job description that the pay is unusually high, it may be a warning sign. Especially, when the employer promises a big paycheck indiscriminately regardless of education, experience, training, and input. For instance, if a job ad states the employer will pay an annual salary of $100,000 for an entry-level role, you should dig into the company and position just to be on the safe side.
Some positions hint at the possibility of getting rich fast, even though they don’t reveal how much you will be paid in the job ad. To the right is a message I received from a fraudster since I participated in their webinar. It seems to suggest that what you will matters more than what you can. Throughout the webinar, the host bragged about his 6-digit salary and emphasized how easy it was to get licensed, with occasional jabs at the vaccine mandate implemented by some companies. Undoubtedly, some professions are more lucrative than others; but it takes education, training, skill, or effort, if not a combination of them to excel at any role. There is no sure way to wealth, but pay is certainly commensurate with experience.
Unable to verify company’s online presence
After hearing back from a potential employer, always do a Google search to ensure the company is legit. If no information is available online about this employer, you should take it as an alarming sign because it is very unusual for any company of a decent size not to have a social media presence these days. Medium- and small-sized companies, in particular, rely heavily on search engines to create new business opportunities and partnerships. Even LLCs run by individuals, such as local farms (e.g., Way Fruit Farm) and specialty stores, often maintain an online presence to keep existing and prospective customers posted about updates and events.
When you manage to locate a company’s website or identity pages on various social media platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter), take a close look. The company’s website or other publicities can reveal a whole lot about its business–its business model, missions, products, culture, etc., all of which are useful information to discern if the employer is legitimate. If the website looks sketchy (a blank page without company history or contact information) or poorly-maintained (sloppy writing and disorganized layout), you should give a second thought about the position you have just applied for. Do NOT skip this step during your interview prep! Even when an employer is well-known and established, it does not hurt to research about it prior to the interview. Candidates with a good grasp of company information often stand out because they come across more serious and invested in the position. Your research also helps ensure the company’s values align with yours and affirm that you are happy with your first impression.
Be aware that some job ads claim to hold certain affiliation with a large corporation, even though such ties are questionable or non-existing. After submitting my applications to a bunch of places, I was contacted by a bogus company, which was making use of a different company’s name. As usual, I did my homework before my scheduled interview by looking up the company by its purported name, GME Enterprises. I found a company with the exact name–a management consulting firm based in Chevy Chase Maryland, which led me to believe that this company is totally legit. During the interview, I expressed my interest in relocating to Maryland in an effort to explain how my current location in Pennsylvania would no longer be a concern once I move, pointing out that the company is based in Maryland according to what I have discovered on its presumed website. The primary interviewer, however, immediately denied his affiliation with the Maryland consulting firm. “They have accidentally put up the wrong information” was the best he could think of in his defense. At this point, I was already skeptical about the position. He continued to explain that his company is in fact a subsidiary of another major corporation–Primerica, which has also acquired Lincoln Financial Group and Quicken Loans. Curious and wary, I did a quick search on my laptop with the Zoom interview in the background; it was easy enough to debunk his lie–there are no direct supervisory connections barring business transactions.
It is difficult to discern anything suspicious prior to the interview when someone creates a job ad using an existing company’s name even though they have no affiliations with said company. But doing your homework can still help because it provides you valuable information, with which you can vet the company and determine its legitimacy. If you forget to gather information ahead of time, or research on the spot is not an option, be sure to do your homework afterwards. When in doubt, always look for answers!
Communications appear unprofessional
Not too long ago, I accidentally fell for a few made-up positions. It was foolish of me to hold hopes for these opportunities, but fortunately I was able to realize they were fake upon seeing the first signs of their deceiving nature. In retrospect, these scams almost invariably run into one similar issue–their communications are very unprofessional:
- Lacking a bona fide enterprise affiliation, almost all of these companies reach out to their job candidates by text messages.
- Grammatical errors and inconsistent content abound in their outbound messages.
Scammers often resort to text messages rather than emails when contacting a potential candidate because texts don’t blow off their cover right away. Often times, scammers, eager to gain goodwill and trust, tend to brag and create an inflated image of their business. Customarily, employees with big companies are given access to their individual enterprise account. Because their affiliation with a billion-dollar business does not exist, scammers have to use either a commercial email account or other methods of communication. Since commercial email services have become so intelligent to identify and filter spams these days, scammers probably avoid using a commercial email account for fear of looking suspicious and alarming the recipient.
Pay attention to messages received, and messages that are grammatically flawed and inconsistent raise a red flag. For example, the text messages on the right were reminders that I got from a “company” on the same day, the one above in the morning and the one below in the evening. In the morning message, the Regional Manager was supposed to be the interviewer. However, in a matter of a few hours, she was replaced by RVP. Also, notice the Zoom links are different too. Though the messages share the resemblance of many business communications, their lack of accuracy and inconsistency, two of the most valued features in workplace communication, is indicative of a suspicious nature.
The interview lacks its proper formality
A job interview is a conversation between a job applicant and one or more representatives of an employer, conducted to assess whether the applicant’s cumulative experiences and skills will allow them to perform duties on the job once hired. It is carried out in various ways including over-the-phone, online, and in-person, depending on the stage of the hiring process and the employer’s screening procedures. Interviews are no joke. Anybody who has been through one can attest to that. The interviewee is eager to impress and scrambles to respond to interviewer’s probing questions with tact. Likewise, the interviewer is no less serious about the interview, during which they will have to discern the validity and legitimacy of what the interviewee has stated about their skill level and past experiences within a limited time. Because interviews have such high stakes, the interviewer follows specific conventions and rules to recruit talents. Though variation between companies does exist, rarely do recruiters veer off of the typical recruiting protocol.
Commonly, if a company is interested in you after reviewing your job application, its HR recruiters will reach out to touch base, followed by a formal interview if the conversation goes smoothly. If you receive an email with an unsolicited job offer, promising either immediate employment or a ridiculous salary regardless of prior experience, it is most likely a job scam. If you don’t recall submitting an application to a company, you’d better not to respond to its solicitation. Some scammers will even post fake job ads through well-known job boards (e.g., Indeed, ZipRecruiter) to convince a job seeker to interview.
Additionally, job scammers rarely conform to the standard interview procedures. Their “interviews” are more like a business pitch, and they will use every minute to adulate and impress. In comparison, during a regular interview, interviewers will carefully vet you to determine your ability to perform duties on the job and your compatibility with the position, the team, and the company at large. Yes, it feels like an interrogation! You may be quizzed about a particular concept in your area of expertise. You may be given with a finance problem to solve. Or, you may be asked to provide examples from your past experiences to illustrate how you would handle an imaginary scenario. The questions depend on the actual role you will be performing; but what these questions share in common is they are devices to screen job candidates and to help reach a decision about their abilities, compatibility, and trustworthiness. Interviewers won’t waste any time to give you compliments!
The company requires payment from you
Another alarming sign that you have fallen prey to a job scam is when the employer starts to sell you something, though they often proclaim otherwise, “I am not selling you anything.” Or, when the employer tries to pry into your personal information such as Social Security number. Obviously, job scammers solicit such information tactfully, and it does not come across as a fraud. Both job scams I have dealt with alleged to hand me an opportunity to be a licensed life insurance agent. In their words, I was only asked to “pay for my education.” I was also told that I would receive a rebate, which is worth more than the amount paid towards my licensing education once I successfully obtain my license. Very appealing, except that it is everything but true. Legitimate financial firms do expect their employees to be certified, but the firms usually shoulder the cost. If they do hold certain qualifications for the candidate to meet, they usually describe them explicitly in the job ad.
When the conversation has proceeded to the stage where a payment or pertinent personal information is requested, these scammers often rush you to make up your mind. They come up with different strategies to get you to commit here and now, depending on what they believe you care about. They may emphasize again how great of an opportunity this is, they may heap praise on you, they may remind you of your potential competitors, or they may paint an ideal future for you. Don’t act on impulse when you feel rushed. No legit companies ask job applicants to pay for the prospects of having a job.
Job scams are on the rise, study reveals
A recent Better Business Bureau (BBB) study found that job scams increased exponentially during the pandemic. Considering how many have been impacted by COVID in terms of layoffs and furloughs, I am not surprised that job scams have been on the rise. What really caught me off guard is this fraud most commonly victimized people ages 25-34! Could it be because young professionals are most likely to look for an entry-level position? Or they are more desperate once out of a job because they have little to fall back on? Or they have less experience when it comes to searching for a job because they are just entering the workforce? I don’t have a conclusive answer.
In this post, I have pointed to five features in a typical job scam. In my next article, I plan to summarize findings from the BBB study to better inform you about this worsening problem and seek to address why a younger population is most susceptible to job-related fraud. Stay tuned!