Even before the pandemic, employment scams were on the rise, according to data from the Better Business Bureau. The BBB reports that between 2017 and 2019, the prevalence of this type of scam increased from 5.1% to 9.3%. Estimates indicate that 14 million people fall victim to in-person and remote job scams, incurring financial losses of over $2 billion. In addition to losing money, remote job scams compromise your online security and expose you to possible identity theft. Negative outcomes also include emotional and mental suffering that result from engaging in the scam.
In 2018 and 2019 the BBB Risk Index ranked work from home scams as the riskiest type of business-related ruse. The index considers the prevalence of the scam, the likelihood of losing money, and the median amount of money reported as lost. Although data for 2020 is not complete, this trend seems unlikely to change given the dramatic increase in unemployment due to COVID-19 shutdowns and the sizable increase in work from home positions. Together, these conditions amount to a “perfect storm” for scam artists.
What Are Remote Job Scams?
A remote job scam occurs when a scammer lists a fake job position with the intent of stealing money or sensitive personal information. Those unfamiliar with these types of scams (frequently of the “too good to be true” variety) may then unknowingly provide the fraudulent “employer” with this information, putting themselves at risk for identity theft or other cyber crimes.
To avoid falling victim to remote job scams, learning how to spot them is crucial. To help you conduct a scam-free job search, below are 12 strategies to identify (and avoid) a fake WFH (work from home) job.
1. Assume You Might Fall for a Scam
The first and most important strategy is to remain vigilant. Younger users may think they are too technically savvy and sophisticated to fall for an online scam. However, while older adults (45+) lost more money, the BBB study revealed that the 25 – 34 age group is most susceptible to falling for the scams.
- 70% received an official offer letter
- 48% participated in phone interviews
- 32% completed unpaid job duties before uncovering the scam
2. Employer Has No Website or Online Presence
Researching the online profile of an employer is another surefire way to root out a scam. Usually, companies provide a link to their website somewhere within the job listing or at least the name of the organization. If you fail to find a corresponding website during your research, that’s a red flag. And while some small companies won’t have much of an online footprint, they should have something, even if it’s just a drag-and-drop website and a small social media presence. If they don’t, consider why you’d want to work a remote job for a company with no online presence. Sounds obvious when you say it out loud, right?
Pro Tip: Don’t respond to a job ad before verifying the facts and conducting background research into the company advertising the position. A great place to start is the Virtual Vocations Company Database that contains current information on over 25,000 remote-friendly organizations.
3. Look for Signs of Website or Email Spoofing
When you visit the website of a potential employer, review it with a critical eye. As mentioned above, many employment scammers spend countless hours to present the position as authentic. In fact, most people reported that they engaged with an employment scam because it seemed legitimate. One common tactic is to impersonate a legitimate company by using real business names and company information. Even if the job is with a familiar company, look for these signs of a spoofed website:
- Standard branding is missing
- Job ad requires little education, background, or prerequisites
- Link to the website looks similar to the real company but may feature hyphens, numbers, or strange top-level domains (the three letters at the end of a website such as .com, .net., or .org.)
According to the BBB, the most impersonated employer is Amazon followed by Walmart. In fact, 65% of job offers were related to “warehouse redistribution coordinator” or similar positions. Fake positions that include the reshipment of packages often involve stolen merchandise.
In addition to completing background research, you can protect yourself by ensuring that online forms use secure website protocols. Check for URLs that begin with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP.” It doesn’t necessarily mean the business is fake but non-HTTPS websites put personal data at greater risk of a breach.
4. No (Good) Company Reviews
If you have never heard of the company advertising a WFH job, verify it exists before applying. If a legitimate company lists the position, the employer almost always has a review on their products and services somewhere on the internet. As with the Virtual Vocations company database, a third party hosts information regarding important employment policies and practices. Virtual Vocations focuses on the status of remote work, while others such as Glassdoor collect employee reviews and salary information. Other places to search for reviews and information are Google, Bing, and LinkedIn. If you can’t find anything or you find reviews claiming a job or business is a scam, you may have spotted a fake WFH job ad.
5. Check With the Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau is a leader in tracking, researching, and informing the public about employment scams and other claims of fraudulent business activities. The Scam Tracker is a great resource to reference when applying for remote jobs. In addition to monitoring scams, the BBB also verifies businesses and assigns letter grade scores based on customer feedback, complaints, and reviews. If a business has a favorable rating on the BBB site, you can trust that it is a real business.
Pro Tip: Check out Virtual Vocations on the BBB website for an example of a reputable business profile.
6. Personal Information Is Asked for Upfront
Hackers, scammers, and criminals across the internet are all vying to collect personal data for illegal or illicit purposes, such as theft, identity theft, and to spoof all your friends. The bad news on top of that? They’re good at it—constantly coming up with new and creative ways to suck you in. In fact, 34% of people who reported employment scams provided the scammers a copy of their driver’s license, and 26% supplied their Social Security or Social Insurance numbers.
For this reason, jobseekers should remain skeptical of requests to provide sensitive personal data before onboarding. Make sure to verify the company’s authenticity and even then, don’t provide your information before being hired. Even for required background checks, you can often limit disclosure to the last four digits of your Social Security number.
7. Email Address Without a Clear Company Name
Most reputable companies have email addresses that feature some version of the company name after the @ symbol. Be wary if asked to send an application to a personal email address or one with long strings of numbers. Even if the platform is legitimate such as Gmail or Yahoo, you should not submit a job application to an email address that is not an official email domain address.
8. Job Opening Conveys Great Urgency
Watch out for offers made too quickly or that want you to rush. A job ad that puts pressure on you to commit on a short timeline should raise a red flag. Scammers frequently set tight time limits on your application requesting you to “act quickly.” They may also try to induce a sense of confusion. This tactic seeks to prevent you from conducting your usual due diligence before responding to the ad.
9. Poor Quality Job Ad
One of the major giveaways of a job posting scam is the quality of the job description and requirements. If you find multiple spelling and grammatical errors, the posting is most likely a fake. In addition, look for details regarding the scope of the position, responsibilities, and daily activities. Job ads should also include realistic education, experience, and skill requirements.
If requirements are sparse and responsibilities vague, that’s another sign of a possible scam. To appeal to as many people as possible, scammers write job requirements broad enough to enable anyone to qualify. So, if the requirements seem lax for the position, make sure to conduct additional verification before applying.
10. Any Monetary Transaction
One popular tactic used by scammers is the fake check scam. In this scam, the scammer sends a check to the target and asks them to deposit it and transfer the funds to another account (sometimes framed as an “overpayment”). The bank then returns the check due to insufficient funds, leaving the victim responsible for repaying the money. Of those who reported falling prey to remote job scams, 36% said they received a fake check. So, if a potential or new employer makes this request of you, you should report it and end contact immediately.
A similar scam is to ask you to pay for something with the promise of securing a position. Examples of what you may be asked to pay for include coaching, training, certifications, or directories.
11. Contact Initiated by the Scammer
One thing many fake WFH job opportunities have in common is that the target is contacted initially by the scammer. This is the case in 80% of employment scams reported to the BBB Scam Tracker. The most frequent methods scammers used to engage with their targets were email and text.
12. Trust Your Instincts
When searching for WFH jobs, intuition and gut feelings are integral. Everything may seem normal in a job listing. But if something feels off, you are wise to pay attention. Ask questions about anything that concerns you. A legitimate employer appreciates your interest. However, if the job poster can’t or won’t answer reasonable questions about the company, the job may be a scam.
If You Are Victimized, Report the Scam!
Remote work scams are almost certainly underreported. Many people feel embarrassed or perhaps don’t know how to report abuses. But you still have a responsibility to warn and protect other remote jobseekers so they don’t meet the same fate. When you come across a fake posting, notify the job search site and report it to the BBB. By doing so, you can do your part to remove fake posts and limit the damage imposed by these criminals.
How To Find Remote Jobs That Aren’t Scams
Don’t let the possibility of being scammed keep you from looking for a remote job. One of the best ways to avoid a job scam is to subscribe to a respected virtual job resource. Virtual Vocations can eliminate any stress associated with sorting through remote job scams. Each and every job posting published to our remote job database is individually vetted by our trained, experienced staff. By implementing the strategies above and relying on Virtual Vocations you too can find your remote dream job.
Do you have any tips on how to spot remote job scams? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your advice or suggestions. We’d love to hear from you!
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