How to Identify Scams When Looking for a Job

By Roberto Angulo

Part of Getting Your First Job For Dummies Cheat Sheet

As you search for your first job, you may encounter an opportunity that sounds too good to be true or just doesn’t sit well with you. The Internet is full of scams, and unfortunately, you may encounter a few of these fraudulent schemes during your search. Here are a few signs that will help you identify potential fraud:

  • The company has no website or the website is “under construction.” Almost every business has a website, and any employer, no matter how new, should have one. Unless you know the employer is legitimate, be cautious of any organization that doesn’t have a website or that has a site “under construction.” If the employer has the time and energy to start hiring, it should also have the time to create an online presence.
  • The company’s website looks fake. The employer may have a website, but it looks fake. It may be nice looking and professionally designed, but it uses a lot of stock photography of professional-looking people smiling, shaking hands, and sitting in meetings. If you get a bad feeling about the employer even after you go to their website, your suspicions may be right.
  • The employer’s message is vague. What is the organization’s mission and what do they do? This shouldn’t be hard to gather from looking at the employer’s website or looking at their materials. For example, if a company’s website says something along the lines of “We help business evolve to the next level” or “We help you achieve your potential,” be wary. This doesn’t tell you anything about what the company does or how they do it.
  • There is no company email address. It’s common for recruiters to use a Gmail address. Many startups do this, too, as they’re getting off the ground. A Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! email address on its own is not a bad sign. But combined with one or more other signs, it should give you pause.
  • You’re asked to pay. You don’t need to pay to apply for a job. Be very careful if someone asks you to send money, to pay to apply for a job, or to pay for an introductory course or a welcome kit as part of the application process. This is not a job. Instead, you’re being taken advantage of. You have talent, know-how, and energy that you’ll bring to a potential employer. They should be paying you — not the other way around. Never send money to a potential employer. This is a big red flag.
  • The job is commission only. Commission-only jobs are not uncommon. Employers often hire salespeople to work as contractors on a pure commission basis. If you’re good at sales, you may end up making good money through commissions. But by paying only commission, the employer is putting all the risk on you and they’re taking no risk themselves. If you end up doing well, you can do well. On the other hand, if you don’t sell anything, you will have wasted your time, energy, and potentially cash if you need to pay for gas to drive from one place to another. Before you take a commission-only job, do your research and find out how other individuals typically perform in this role. If you can talk to other people who’ve done the job, that’s even better.
  • The company address doesn’t match the phone’s location. This isn’t always a bad thing. More and more employers allow people to work from home, and the employer’s address may not match the area code of the person with whom you’re in contact. However, if you notice this and you have doubts already based on other red flags, you may want to think twice about pursuing the opportunity.
  • The phone numbers are always different. Another common flag is when the recruiter calls you from a different number each time or uses an anonymous caller ID.
  • Your gut says no. You need to trust your instincts. If an opportunity just doesn’t sit well with you, trust your gut. The right opportunity will eventually come.

Any of these signs on their own don’t necessarily mean that the opportunity in question is a scam. But a few of these combined do point to potential fraud. Ultimately, your best defense is your gut instinct. If an opportunity just doesn’t look legitimate, you’re better off passing it up and moving on.