How to Avoid Job Scams: An Insider‘s Guide

Job searching comes with risks – especially in the digital age. Scammers aggressively target job seekers with fake opportunities designed to steal money and personal information. By 2021, employment scams had risen to the riskiest type of fraud according to the Better Business Bureau. For those urgently needing work, saying "no" takes awareness.

In this guide, we‘ll uncover the cybersecurity expert‘s perspective on modern job scams, signs to watch for, and how to protect yourself during the job hunt. With insights from over a decade fighting online fraud, I‘ll walk you through safely navigating today‘s treacherous employment hoaxes.

A special warning if you work in tech

Cybersecurity pros attract scammers offering fake consulting gigs or IT jobs. Being tech-savvy doesn‘t mean you won‘t get targeted.

Scammers know you likely earn higher incomes and may have access to sensitive systems or insider knowledge, making your personal data extremely valuable on the black market.

Guard your details closely during job searches by:

  • Using dedicated job search email addresses and phone numbers. Don‘t give out your work accounts.

  • Being wary of "too good to be true" offers – scammers exploit egos with big paydays.

  • Avoiding job offers requiring immediate access to work systems. Real employers won‘t rush logins.

  • Not listing every software and tool you know. Scammers can weaponize extensive skills lists.

  • Only using reputable sites like LinkedIn. Scammers lurk on freelancer boards.

  • Never falling for phishing attempts via chat or email by "recruiters."

  • Using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and anti-keylogging software when job hunting on public WiFi.

As tempting as easy flattery and fast money may sound, move cautiously. Your skills make you a prime target.

Employment scams are booming

Job scams are more prevalent today thanks to the internet, financial vulnerabilities from COVID-19, and thriving black markets for stolen personal data.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported 58,843 job scams in 2020 costing $59 million in losses. And that‘s likely only a fraction of the actual count.

The Better Business Bureau warns:

  • 65% of job scams involve reshipping stolen goods.

  • Victims lose an average of $1,000-$3,000 per scam.

  • Younger adults are most targeted, but no one is immune.

But beyond just financial losses, job scams can seriously harm reputations, credit, and legal records if victims get embroiled in money laundering or criminal operations.

Scammers are constantly innovating new ways to exploit desperate job seekers. Staying safe means recognizing the most damaging hoaxes.

5 job scams inflicting biggest losses

While tactics constantly shift, these categories inflicted over 80% of losses in 2020 according to FTC data:

1. Mystery shopping – $30 million

Mystery shopping scams posted an incredible 50% jump from 2020 to 2021 according to AARP studies. Nearly all involve fake checkelement ! Scammers pose as market research companies hiring "secret" shoppers to evaluate services at places like Western Union or MoneyGram.

You get a check for the "assignment" – deposit it, keep a small amount, but wire most of the funds back to cover expenses. Then the check bounces leaving you liable for the total.

Losses per victim averaged $3,064 in 2020.

Red flags: Requests to deposit checks and wire money; fake urgency; requests for bank account access to "pay you;" poor communication quality.

2. Tech support – $10 million

An old scam with new tech twists. Fraudsters advertise technical jobs fixing viruses, software, websites, even robocalls. But there are no real jobs.

Once hired, you get instructions to provide "support" services asking victims to pay for bogus fixes. The scammers pocket most of the proceeds.

Average losses hit $1,050 per victim last year.

Red flags: Vague job descriptions; emphasis on "hiring immediately;" requests for bank access; pressure for quick payments.

3. Overpayment scams – $7 million

A fake employer sends you a check exceeding what they owe by a large amount. They ask you to deposit it then wire back the difference. But the check they sent bounces after a few days, and you‘re on the hook for the total amount.

Losses ranged from $1,500 – $3,000 per victim in 2020.

Red flags: Checks exceed what you earned; request to wire excess funds from deposited check; contact insists this is normal "company procedure."

4. Government grant scams – $6 million

Scammers pretend to be from government offices like the Social Security Administration or other agencies offering special COVID-19 grants or tax rebates – for a small processing fee of course.

After you pay up, you never receive the promised grant funds.

Reported losses reached up to $800 per victim last year.

Red flags: Requests for unusual fees; contact via messaging vs official channels; pressure for fast payment; broken English communications.

5. Online reselling scams – $2 million

Fraudsters advertise get-rich-quick opportunities reselling branded goods sourced wholesale. But the "wholesale" items are just cheap junk, if they arrive at all.

Losses ranged from $500 – $2,000 on average per scam victim.

Red flags: Requires payment for samples or inventory; promises huge earnings; emphasis on recruiting; sells business "opportunity" more than products.

Staying safe requires identifying typical scam tactics used across these common frauds.

6 sneaky ways scammers reel in victims

Skilled scammers work hard to appear trustworthy. Here are the most common tricks they use:

1. Pretending to be real companies

Simple online searches build convincing websites, email addresses, and even fake online reviews to impersonate actual businesses. Especially effective with brands hiring remote workers.

2. Offering easy fortunes

Scams promise outrageously high earnings, flexible hours, even benefits for simple activities like reshipping goods or completing tasks online.

3. Leveraging current events

Job scams exploit hot-button topics like COVID-19 grants, work-from-home jobs, and economic vulnerabilities. Scams spike during recessions.

4. Sending fake checks

Nearly all job scams involve some form of fraudulent check usually sent early on for "training" or "first assignments." Checks clear temporarily then bounce.

5. Asking for fees or bank access

Scammers insist victims pay for things like applications, training, background checks, or equipment. They may ask for bank login details to "pay" you.

6. Demanding personal information

Scams phishing for data will try gathering Social Security numbers, scans of licenses, detailed resumes, and financial account information.

With rampant unemployment and remote work since COVID, job scams now target wider audiences with broader techniques. But telltale signs still exist if you know what to watch for.

9 red flags signaling a job scam

Take caution if potential employers:

  • Guarantee high earnings or easy work
  • Require upfront fees for any reason
  • Send checks then tell you to wire back funds
  • Request bank account access or personal data upfront
  • Communicate via free email or messaging apps
  • Have poor writing full of errors
  • Say you need to act immediately
  • Fail to show up in online searches as real companies
  • Send vague job descriptions and incoherent instructions

Your gut reaction holds important clues too. Slow down if something just feels "off." No real employer should pressure you or evoke skepticism.

8 tips to avoid job scams from a cyber expert

Here‘s my insider advice for safely navigating the modern job hunt:

1. Search extensively first

Spend time uncovering as much verifiable data about potential employers as possible – full business names, addresses, websites, domain ownership, and contact histories.

2. Look for reports of fraud

Check forums like Reddit and review sites like GlassDoor for others reporting scam encounters. Where there‘s smoke, there may be fire.

3. Guard all personal data

Until officially hired, only disclose what is absolutely required. Never give out financial information.

4. Insist on official communication

Demand interactions via company email, phone lines, video conferencing – not personal contacts.

5. Meet before sharing data

Don‘t provide extensive personal details until after interviewing in-person or over secure video chat.

6. Verify before depositing checks

Call the issuing bank from publicly listed numbers to validate sufficient funds. Never wire back portions of checks.

7. Trust your instincts

Don‘t ignore red flags just because you urgently need a job or crave the opportunity. Fraudsters exploit desperation.

8. Report all scams

If scammed, immediately alert the FTC, cybercrime agencies, banks, credit bureaus, and the source of the job posting to warn others.

Remaining diligent safeguards your finances and identity. Slow down, verify thoroughly, and let common sense guide decisions. Your ideal job awaits, just don‘t compromise safety rushing towards it.

What identity theft victims must know

If scammers obtain your personal data, you risk identity theft – one of the hardest frauds to overcome.

Quickly take these steps to limit damages:

  • Monitor your credit and review all statements closely for signs of fraud. Enroll in dark web monitoring to get alerts if your details appear for sale online.

  • Change passwords everywhere and enable two-factor authentication on accounts when possible. Bank accounts and email accounts should be top priorities.

  • Freeze credit reports to block scammers from opening new lines of credit. You can temporarily lift freezes when applying for legitimate loans or services in the future.

  • Watch for repeat attempts as thieves try hitting victims multiple times. Maintain vigilance moving forward and don‘t fall for follow up scams.

  • Repair online reputation damage by flooding search results with positive content. Look for personal branding services to suppress scam reports and preserve your integrity.

Final advice on avoiding job scams

The takeaway is caution. If an opportunity appears risky, don‘t compromise just because you need a job or money.

With unemployment still high after COVID-19 and the economy suffering, job scams are hitting epidemic levels. But there are proven ways to take back control:

  • Research employers extensively – scams don‘t hold up to scrutiny

  • Avoid opportunities involving checks or payments – huge red flag

  • Guard personal information until officially hired

  • Meet employers over secure video before providing info

  • Trust your gut instinct – if it seems like a scam, it probably is!

Stay in control of your job search. Report any scams to help others avoid the same traps. And know there are legitimate openings out there for qualified professionals like yourself!

Luis Masters

Written by Luis Masters

Luis Masters is a highly skilled expert in cybersecurity and data security. He possesses extensive experience and profound knowledge of the latest trends and technologies in these rapidly evolving fields. Masters is particularly renowned for his ability to develop robust security strategies and innovative solutions to protect against sophisticated cyber threats.

His expertise extends to areas such as risk management, network security, and the implementation of effective data protection measures. As a sought-after speaker and author, Masters regularly contributes valuable insights into the evolving landscape of digital security. His work plays a crucial role in helping organizations navigate the complex world of online threats and data privacy.