The best protection against job search scams is education.
Searching and applying for jobs is drastically different now, compared to two decades ago. It's certainly a lot easier too, scrolling through Google search results, job boards, or LinkedIn from your own home or on the move, often submitting an application in one click.
However, like all online activity, job hunting today carries certain risks that you need to be aware of, and take precautions against, to stay safe. While there are some tell-tale signs of job scams, as technology has become more sophisticated, scammers have too. This makes fake jobs harder to spot, and, with your increasing online presence, it makes you more vulnerable too.
According to a 2020 Employment Scams Report, the Better Business Bureau estimates that 14 million people are exposed to employment scams each year. If you want to avoid becoming another unfortunate statistic, here is our detailed guide to understanding employment fraud and fake job scams, complete with internet safety tips to keep your personal details protected.
What is a job scam?
A job scam is a fraud that targets the employment industry. The scams often appear as fake job vacancies and fake job offers. Effectively, a job that doesn't exist. More often than not, fake jobs are posted by scammers because they want to obtain valuable personal information, typically to gain money or steal identities.
These phantom job ads are rarely smartly designed, although scammers have leveraged new ways to reach people. Often, fake job adverts pull on emotional heartstrings by pitching more money for fewer working hours or easy work. This makes fake vacancies easy to fall for, especially if they look legitimate to an unsuspicious person scrolling on their device.
How to spot a fake job advert or offer
The harsh reality is that job scams exist. What's worse, according to a CV-Library and Safer Jobs study, 72% of job seekers say they don't know how to tell if a job posted online is a scam or legitimate. Here are a few things to look out for, to discover if a job vacancy or offer is fake:
1. You've been cold contacted
Fraudulent scams have been a common occurrence in the work-from-home job market for over 10 years. As you can imagine, during the height of the pandemic they increased rapidly, with many fraudsters sending cold-contact phishing emails and WhatsApp messages, pretending to be companies offering at-home employment. These scams are still prevalent today. As a result, you must be vigilant when cold-contacted about a vacancy.
However, if you have uploaded your CV to a job site there is a high chance that recruiters and hiring managers will call you over the coming weeks to say that you're a great fit for an available role. Plus, if you have an active LinkedIn profile, a headhunter may message you about a potential opportunity. In a new twist to job scams, some fake recruiters on LinkedIn are asking their victims to download other encrypted messaging apps for interviews in a bid to capture personal information.
This all makes navigating the field of genuine and fake jobs difficult.
Whether you receive a call, email, or text, understand what the message is and capture important details such as the recruiter's full name, the company or recruitment firm's name, the website, email address, and phone number. Then conduct your own research to verify the caller or sender and the company, to see if they are legitimate.
2. You can't find an online presence
Every professional company has an online presence. Always conduct a thorough online search before you apply for a job, to check its legitimacy. If the job listing is a scam, you're unlikely to find a company website (or one with a Meet the Team page with real people) or active social media profiles.
During your research, you may even be lucky enough to find online forums from those who have been scammed or share the same concerns as you, warning others about the potentially fraudulent company and fake job ad.
3. The pay is unrealistic
If the salary is too good to be true, the chances are it is. If you're actively searching for a role, you should have a decent idea of the average salary for your industry and level of experience and be able to identify if the pay is realistic.
Frequently, job scams are pitched along the lines of “You could make £72,000 a year”. However, fake job ads fail to mention that you may have to work on commission or that you would have no fixed salary. Therefore, “could” is an important modifier here.
In short, if the job posting is enticing you with the salary alone, be wary. Whilst a professional job posting may mention a salary, it's unlikely to be the prime focus of the advert.
4. The schedule is too flexible
As the world abruptly adjusted to flexible working patterns, job scammers also hopped on to this trend. Many career opportunities today provide flexible working patterns, such as a four-day work week or adjustable start times. However, if a job appears a little too flexible, such as a two-day week, it could be a fake posting. Especially if it's combined with unusually high pay.
5. They make you a job offer immediately
It's not impossible to land a job offer after a handful of conversations, but it's incredibly rare. At the very least, you should expect a formal interview.
Interviews are an essential part of the hiring process and legitimate companies will have a formalised procedure. Be cautious of any vacancy that offers you the position without an interview, as it's likely to be a fake job.
6. The job advert is vague and poorly written
Legitimate job adverts are carefully written, proofread and signed off before they are posted online. If a job description lacks detail and is littered with typos, you could be reading a job scam.
Poor grammar, glitchy structure, and clunky language choices are also job scam warning signs as they indicate that an advert may have been translated and spun online into something (almost) recognisable.
That said, job descriptions are written by humans, so forgive the occasional spelling error. If the mistakes are repeated, that's when you should be wary of a potentially fake job.
7. The emails and messages are unprofessional
Many emails from job scammers are poorly written too. Rogue punctuation, random capitalisation, and spelling errors are classic signs of something strange afoot.
Contact information in fake job offer emails can often appear strange too. Always check for legitimate email signatures with a website, a non-premium phone number, logo, or social media links.
Watch out for two types of email addresses that are often associated with fake job offers. The first type is a personal email address, such as email@example.com. The second is an email address that looks like it's been randomly generated, such as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recruiters and HR managers will always contact you through legitimate company email addresses in a professional manner, so be wary of anything that suggests otherwise.
8. They ask you for money or confidential information
Job scammers often ask for bank account information, National Insurance numbers, and other personal information, as the fake advert can be part of a wider operation targeting identity fraud or money laundering.
Legitimate companies will never ask you to pay for something, nor will they ask for your personal bank account details or for you to deposit cheques as part of the application process. Genuine businesses will never ask about protected characteristics either, such as your date of birth, nor will they ask for your address or National Insurance number until you have a signed contract.
Some jobs, like those that involve working with children, require a security check. This background check used to be called a CRB check, but, in 2012, was renamed DBS check. If a job ad mentions a CRB check or an alternatively named background check, the chances are it's a job scam. Be especially cautious if the advert asks for extortionate rates for this review.
Double check gov.uk to see if you require a DBS for a certain role or have any further concerns.
9. Something doesn't feel right
Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. Whilst researching a company is your best defence, in today's age, scammers are pretty clever. If something doesn't add up, it's always best to play it safe.
Is it safe to apply for jobs online?
It is safe to apply for jobs online. Many job sites, such as Indeed, Reed, and CV-Library, work proactively to help keep predatory content out of search results and provide tools to help job hunters to protect their personal information and financial wellbeing.
Recruitment platforms often have automated and manual tools and teams dedicated to the safety and authenticity of the jobs advertised, to maintain the highest level of security and privacy.
How can I search and apply for jobs online safely?
Do not be discouraged from searching for jobs online. There are ways to protect yourself and keep your privacy secure from scammers. In addition to keeping an eye out for the red flags associated with job adverts and offers, practise these online safety tips too.
1. Be careful who you share your CV with
Applying for jobs can feel like a numbers game; the more applications you send, the more responses you'll receive. While this is partly true, being selective about the jobs you're applying for will do more than increase your chances of an interview. It will also ensure your privacy during your job search.
2. Limit sharing of personal information
In addition to uploading your CV to job sites and agencies, you may be requested to fill in some personal details when you register. Common details include your full name, your email address, your city of residence, the sector you're looking to work in, your ideal job title, your employment status, and other details you'd typically find on a CV.
You will never be asked to provide any protected characteristics, such as your date of birth, your address, bank details, or any other sensitive information.
3. Log your job applications
Looking for a new job is a process with many stages, from shortlisting potential opportunities and submitting your CV, to waiting for an interview and preparing tasks. It's likely you'll have many job applications on the go at once, all at different stages. As a result, it would be wise to start a tracker, to not only log all applications and where they are in the process but also where you've registered your information and who you've spoken with.
This way, once you land a new role, you'll be able to remove your information from job sites and agencies easily and you'll stand a stronger chance of being able to verify potential cold callers.
4. Lock down social media
Many employers use social media to find and screen candidates for job opportunities, as the profiles can reveal a lot about a person. It's wise to increase the privacy settings of your social media profiles to the maximum, so they are limited to your name and a profile picture. If you're not sure what your settings are, Google yourself and see what social media presence appears.
Increasing the privacy of your social media profiles will also help to protect you from scammers that may know you're looking for work too.
How to report a fake job or recruitment scam
If you suspect you have been targeted, or have fallen victim to a job scam, there are a number of ways to report it. One option is to report it via the JobsAware portal. JobsAware is a brand of SAFERJobs, a not-for-profit organisation partnering with government organisations and the Metropolitan Police, that informs people how to avoid and report job scams, along with unfair working practices.
In addition, you can report a job scam through Citizens Advice, via their Scams Action Service. If you've parted with money as part of a suspected job scam, you should contact the police and they will take the matter further.
You can also find out more information about job scams on Cifas, a not-for-profit fraud prevention membership organisation, that manages a database of fraudulent crime.
The threat of job scams is scary, but if you arm yourself with this knowledge and keep the red flags in mind as you conduct your job search, spotting a job scam will become easier. There are plenty of legitimate jobs out there, but if at any point you're unsure, it may be best to steer clear.
If you want to make sure you have the right level of personal information listed on your CV, submit your CV for a free review and give yourself the confidence to tackle the job market head on and in a safe manner.