Don’t Fall For a Job Search Scam

By Joe Stein

We are now deep into the holiday shopping season, and a common topic this time of year is to not fall for any retail scams.  Unfortunately, the world of job searching is not any different, except perhaps that the scamming occurs year-round.  It would be great if everyone (recruiters, employers, etc.) associated with a job search would be legitimate and ethical, but this is sadly not the case in every situation.

There are a number of warning signs regarding whether a job opening is potentially a scam.  Unfortunately, some Job Seekers (in their interest to gain employment) ignore the alerts and move forward at their own risk.  This is exactly the mindset that the scammers are hoping to exploit when dealing with someone looking for work.

Below is a list of some of the flags you may encounter when an opportunity is not quite what it seems.

• Wanting Money to Assist You – This is the #1 flag regarding a phony recruiter or “headhunter” (using the traditional term for someone who finds people employment for a living).  Professional recruiters generally make their commission money from employers and not Job Seekers.  They charge a percentage of your first year’s salary (or in some instances, a flat fee) to the employer in exchange for finding you for the company.  If you are going to work with a person who is going to charge you, then make sure no money is exchanged until AFTER you have been hired and started employment with the employer.

• Wanting Personal Identification Information – This is the #1 flag that you are working with a person who is running a “scam employer” operation.  There is not a need for an employer to secure personal information, such as a Social Security Number, from you prior to making an employment offer (it will be needed for a post-offer background check).  The goal for these type of “scammers” is to, under the guise of recruiting you, secure your personal information in order to conduct an identity theft.

• If They Can’t Be Verified – In today’s internet world, almost no one is invisible to a search.  If you are contacted by a recruiter or an employer and you can’t verify the person by using a search engine like Google or Yahoo, then an alarm should go off.  Furthermore, most employee ratings regarding employers of a larger scale can be found on various sites dedicated to this use.  All of this work can be done in minutes and can serve not only to verify its existence to you, but also give you a sense for how they are thought of by others.  Some scammers will seek to prevent you from doing this type of research by having you sign an iron-clad “non-disclosure agreement” that prohibits you from doing any type of research.  There should not be any reason for a Job Seeker to sign any type of arrangement such as what is described above.  Job boards that are “free” to post on will attract the most scamming postings.  In contrast, a website like actually verifies employers prior to accepting payment for the posting.

• Moving Really Fast – We all know that working with a prospective employer takes time and usually in the eyes of the job searcher…too much time!  So, if you find yourself in a situation where you are feeling pressured to move really fast, then an alarm should go off. 

• He or She Is Not Very Good – I know what you are probably thinking…this describes virtually all recruiters.  Keep in mind, however, that the scammer is not a professional Human Resources person and, therefore, will probably not know the jargon or understand what you are speaking about since their sole interest is securing your money or personal information.  If you are dealing with someone who seems to be clueless regarding your field or industry, it may be time to end the conversation and move on.

• No Real Interviews – As a Job Seeker, you are probably well aware that there is a process of interviews, most likely by both phone and in-person.  Scammers are usually not interested in devoting the time to actually interview the Job Seeker, especially not in-person.

• Trouble Reaching Anyone – This is especially true once you have provided the desired information, because (quite honestly) once this occurs, you will probably not be able to reach them at all.  Typically, a scammer will change his or her phone number and e-mail address once they have scored with a Job Seeker. A real “headhunter” only makes money when you land a job, so they should be very accessible to you.

• Your Resume Was Found – Of course, there are lots of recruiters who use resume databases to discover candidates and will contact them directly.  This is, however, where you will verify the person is legitimate using the internet sources noted above.  One thing to note as you are reviewing any e-mail is the source of the contact.  If done by e-mail, a “scammer” will often have a generic e-mail (such as Gmail, Yahoo, or MSN) rather than a company one.  Job Seekers should be careful when placing a resume on a resume database that has free access.  In contrast, using a tool such as can provide some security to you since employers are pre-screened prior to being allowed access.

As you can easily see, there are lots of potential warning signs to alert you if you are in danger of being scammed.  My goal this week is not to scare you, because the vast majority of recruiters and positions are legitimate. The key for a Job Seeker is to be aware of the warning signs and use common sense.  If the situation is too good to be true or seems suspicious, it probably is going to be and should be avoided.

As always, best of luck in your job search.