According to a report from collaborative software provider Slack, over 16 million workers have gone remote since March 27, 2020. In the months following, that number may have nearly doubled. And while many remote workers are still with the same company, other people are still searching for work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With 40 million unemployment claims and an unemployment rate of over 13%, the American job market is difficult to crack—especially for those looking to work remotely. Sadly, some unethical people and fraudulent companies have seized the opportunity to spout remote work scams. If you’re currently looking for work online, use these tips to help you spot COVID-19 remote work scams, as well as what to do if you fall victim to one.
How Fraudulent Workers Are Scamming Job Boards and Applicants
Remote work scammers are a cunning bunch. Any time these unsavory individuals can find an avenue to make a few bucks or gain valuable personal information, they’ll jump at the opportunity. So how do they do it? Use these ideas to keep a keen eye out for remote work scams.
The Devil Is in the Details (or Grammar)
Many scammers aren’t based in the United States, so their grasp of English grammar may be poor. Misspellings, syntax, and improper verb conjugation are all obvious signs of a remote work scam. In addition, many of these fake companies will overuse keywords, meaning that you’re likely to see “work-from-home” or “work-at-home” repeatedly throughout the job description. Scammers do this not only to entice aspiring remote workers, but also to bring their search results to the top of the search results pages.
Pro Tip: If you see misspellings, grammatical errors, and “work-from-home” repeatedly, the listing may be a fraud.
Immediate Hires and Unlimited Earning Potential
Another telltale sign of a scam artist is the phrasing used in the job description. While some companies may need urgent hires, you should tread lightly if you’re unfamiliar with the company name. Plus, the phrase “unlimited earning potential” is a surefire indication that the job is probably a fraud. Few jobs have unlimited earning potential, especially ones that also claim to want to hire you without a proper interview or exchange.
Pro Tip: Job postings that list phrases such as “immediate hires needed” or “unlimited earning potential” fall under the category of too good to be true. As the old adage goes, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
Strange Communication Methods or Emails
Scammers have sophisticated methods to obtain your email address and other sensitive information. While you shouldn’t give your email out willy-nilly, you also shouldn’t post your information to social media or other forums. When you do, hackers and spammers can plunder this information, then either use it themselves or sell it to others.
Once they have your email, you may receive some unsolicited job offers. Oftentimes, these emails feature the same over-the-top promises and poor grammar mentioned above. In many instances, these scammers will also use an email address that’s similar to a reputable company. They may also want to hold interviews via chat instead of via video to conceal their identity.
Pro Tip: Don’t believe any unsolicited job emails that you receive. If you feel that one may be legitimate, check out the email and go to the website to determine if it’s real. Also, remember that no legitimate employer will interview you through a chat room or instant messaging as opposed to a video or phone interview.
Upfront Costs and Information or Free Work
Most people are wise enough not to give away bank account information or send money to a “company” or “hiring agent.” However, scammers have the art of deception down to a science. They may provide professional emails that seem 100% legitimate. In addition, they may want you to fill out fake “background checks” or “direct deposit information,” which end up providing them with sensitive information such as your address, birth date, and even your Social Security number.
Pro Tip: Don’t ever pay a fee to apply for a job nor give away sensitive information before you find out if the job is legitimate. In the same vein, don’t give away work for free. Even some companies that aren’t total scams will ask you to complete work that they may or may not use, even if you don’t give approval. Some sites will make you take an assessment on their website for certain jobs. But even these aren’t common. Even if you’re desperate for remote work, don’t fall for remote work scams that can ruin your name, bank account, or reputation. Let your personality, skill set, and portfolio do the work for you.
What You Should Do If You’re the Victim of a Remote Work Scam
Before discussing what to do if you’re a victim of a remote work scam, remember to always trust your gut instinct. If something feels off, your intuition is probably spot on. Unfortunately for some, the damage may already be done. In that case, you’re probably embarrassed and scared about identity theft or your financial well-being. While these circumstances are far less than ideal, you can take a few steps to ensure you minimize the after-effects and ensure that the same remote work scams don’t happen to your fellow aspiring telecommuters.
Alert the Job Site
As soon as you suspect a fraudulent job listing or a scammer, your first step is to alert the job board. Many job boards have a support email that will remove the listing after an investigation. If you happen to find a scam or questionable job listing on Virtual Vocations, send an email to email@example.com and explain the issue in as much detail as possible.
Report Fake or Phishing Websites to Authorities
While you can’t report a fake or phishing website directly to Google or Bing, you can send reports to the FTC, the IC3, and the BBB (listed below). You may also want to file a report with regional fraud offices in your area. If a monetary transaction takes place, file a police report immediately. A slim chance may exist for you to recoup your money. At the very least, you’ve done everything in your power to reduce the chance for others to fall for similar scams.
Send a Report to the Federal Trade Commission
Tasked with protecting American consumers and jobseekers, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, has a process that allows you to file a complaint. By filing a complaint, you can make sure that the company shows up on the radar of federal law enforcement agencies. Simply fill out the online form, and the FTC will file the complaint and investigate it. This may help you from falling victim to identity theft, as well as others.
File a Report With the Internet Crime Complaint Center
In partnership with the FBI, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) allows concerned consumers to file a report. By logging onto the IC3 website, you can file a complaint as a victim or as a third party. Either way, you’ll have to provide some information, including:
- Whether you gave money to the scammer
- The nature of your victimization/what was said or done
- Your name and contact information
- Any information on the scammer (email, wire transfer information, etc.)
After receiving this information, IC3 develops leads on scams and notifies local, state, federal, and international authorities about fraudulent or illegal activity.
Contact the Better Business Bureau
Most scam businesses don’t have an account with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). But if you’re a bit lucky, you can find the company name and any other complaints from the past. Much like filing a report with IC3 and the FTC, you’ll need some basic information on the incident. This may include where the business is located, the nature of the victimization, and any other information about the scam artist. Once filed, the BBB will give the company up to 30 days to respond based on two requests. The BBB offers no guarantees of finding out the guilty culprit or being able to assist. But you can give people yet another way to avoid the same scenario.
Post Warnings to Company Review Websites
Many job boards and company review websites allow you to post an anonymous review of a company. While some might abuse this out of retribution (firing or disagreement with management), you can use this to warn other job seekers. By logging onto websites such as Glassdoor, you can give a review of the company and how you were victimized. Again, many of these scammers probably aren’t on Glassdoor. But if you find them, a quick review can save others money, time, and mental anguish.
Now that you have the knowledge to identify remote work scams during COVID-19, you should remain wary of the process. Unfortunately, many large-scale job boards don’t have the resources to screen every employer or job listing. But that’s when you should turn to Virtual Vocations. With over 20,000 vetted job opportunities, you don’t have to worry about becoming the victim of a scam. Plus, you just might find that perfect remote job you’ve been searching for.
Do you have any ways to identify remote work scams? Have you fallen victim to a remote work scam? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to share your advice and story. We’d love to hear from you!
iStock Image: artoleshko
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