Here's how to spot a job scam as job openings increase

Dori Zinn
·5 min read

As the economy opens up and job openings swell, more options await job seekers after the pandemic disrupted the job market for more than a year.

Scammers, too, may find more opportunities to swindle — meaning you should protect yourself when applying for new jobs.

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It’s not always easy to spot a job scam. Many scammers list job openings the same way real companies do, through online job sites and social media postings. So you’ll need to be extra cautious about how to make sure you’re applying for a real job and not a fake.

“Job scams typically involve people pretending to be recruiters or employers offering high-paying jobs for little work,” said Andrew Seaman, senior news editor for job searches and careers at LinkedIn. “These can include mystery shoppers, work from home, or personal assistant scams.”

Here’s what to know.

SAN RAFAEL, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 02: A pedestrian walks by a now hiring sign at Ross Dress For Less store on April 02, 2021 in San Rafael, California. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate dropped to 6 percent. Leisure and hospitality jobs led the way with 280,000 new jobs followed by restaurants with 176,000 jobs and construction with 110,000 new positions. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A pedestrian walks by a now hiring sign at Ross Dress For Less store on April 02, 2021 in San Rafael, California. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate dropped to 6 percent. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

How to spot a job scam

Before hunting for one, you’ll need to know what job scams look like.

Work-from-home scams

Even as the pandemic has made work-from-home more common, not all job postings touting this arrangement are real. Scammers will post these job openings, claiming you can earn thousands of dollars every month without doing much work at all.

Look out for wording like “be your own boss,” “start your own business,” or “set your own schedule,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. Be mindful of jobs where you get products sent to your home to reship or resell. This means you’ll receive a package at your home, strip the original packaging, repackage the products and ship them out. Sometimes these products are bought with stolen credit cards. Sometimes they’re high-priced goods resold overseas.

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If you’ve been doing this for a short time and ask about a paycheck, you might get told that you’ll receive one after a month of work. But a check never comes. Then when you try to reach out again, numbers and websites are wiped from existence. If you’ve passed along any personal or financial information, you might soon be a victim of identity theft.

Caregivers and personal assistant scams

You might find job postings for nannies, caregivers, or personal assistants that require in-person tasks. These postings might look like they come from someone you know or through a community organization that looks familiar (but might be close enough in name and entirely different).

The scammer may send you a check telling you to deposit the money and then give a portion of it to someone else. But the check is fake and it could take upwards of a week for your bank to discover this.

A man wearing a face mask walks past a sign
A man wearing a face mask walks past a sign "Now Hiring" in front of a store amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 14, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. - Another 3 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Department of Labor. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Other scams

  • Mystery shopper: If you’re looking for a side-hustle, or a job to do in addition to your full-time day job, a mystery shopper might sound ideal. Look out for “companies” that require you to become certified (and pay for that on your own) or request you to pay for anything upfront. Those are scams.

  • Job placement: There are plenty of legitimate staffing agencies, headhunters, and staff placement firms. But scammers post fake job openings and charge fees to job seekers. It’s normal to see hiring companies pay a fee to staffing agencies to find qualified candidates, but you should never pay for placement as a job seeker.

  • Government jobs: If you see a government or postal job requiring a fee to apply, it’s a scam. Legitimate government jobs are available at USAJobs.gov or USA.gov — all real and for free.

Job scam warning signs

Before you complete an application or hand over personal information, make sure you’re applying for a real job first.

“Legitimate employers do not require payment as part of the recruiting process, and they rarely request highly sensitive personal information early on in the process,” Seaman says. “Don’t send money transfers, gift cards, checks, or wire funds as a condition of the application process. Never share your Social Security number, national identification number, or other highly sensitive personal data.”

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Be mindful of salary information. If the job posting lists a very high salary for the position, that might be a red flag. Also watch out for misspellings and unprofessional emails. If you can’t find publicly available contact information for a company or someone only reaches out to you on social media, that’s concerning.

Seaman also suggested watching out for jobs that require little to no interviews and checking out the job poster even before you inquire about the post.

“Question why the process only requires one interview, and consider reaching out to the company directly by direct message, phone, or email to confirm your status in the process,” he said. “You can use a search engine to fact check by plugging in available contact information from the sender, including name, company, phone number, and email address.”

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