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Searching for a Job Online? Watch for Scams

Criminals pose as fraudulent employers, seeking your money and personal info

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After losing a job in her field of veterinary pharmaceutical sales last year, Marci Strouch, 47, of Delray Beach, Florida, did what most other job seekers do these days: She began visiting online job-search websites, where you can apply for positions and connect with employers who are interested in your skills and experience.

It wasn’t long before Strouch received a text message from someone claiming to represent a major medical lab company who asked if she’d be interested in a job there. Although the position was in data entry rather than pharmaceutical sales, “It was really good paying, full benefits, work from home — you know, all those things,” she recalls. She decided to go for it.

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But then things began to get weird. The supposed recruiter asked Strouch if she had Skype, and connected her with a hiring manager to do a job interview right then and there. Taken aback, Strouch responded that she wasn’t camera-ready, so the hiring manager agreed to a text exchange instead. But the manager’s odd syntax — “the English wasn’t even correct,” she says — made her uneasy. She quickly did a Google search on the firm and found a page warning applicants about scammers who used the company name. She took a screenshot and sent it to the hiring manager, who suddenly went silent.

VIDEO: Beware of Job Offer Scams

An all-too-common crime

While job-search websites can be valuable tools, they’re also attractive hunting grounds for scammers who pose as legitimate employers, then draw their victims into various schemes. Their goal: to get job seekers’ personal information or money, or to make them unwitting partners in crime.

In 2022, victims of business and job opportunity scams filed reports with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on losses of $367 million — up almost 76 percent from 2021 — with a median loss of $2,000. They are among the top five most common scams reported to the agency last year (the “Fraudulent Five,” as the FTC puts it).

How fake-employer scams work

While job opportunity scams have been around for many years, they accelerated during the pandemic, when virtual job interviews for remote, work-at-home positions became more common, according to Better Business Bureau (BBB) spokesperson Josh Planos. Without an in-person meeting, it’s easier for scammers to pass themselves off as legitimate employers.

“If you put yourself in the shoes of the scammers, the last thing they would want is for you to meet them in person, or to see them,” Planos says. “What’s the easiest way to avoid that? You stage the interview remotely, where you have a virtual position available.”

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

And because interviewing for a job often requires filling out an application with personal information, “this is a great place to do identity theft,” says Steve Baker, a former FTC official who now publishes the Baker Fraud Report newsletter.

But many fake employers simply focus on taking job seekers’ money. They might require an applicant to spend thousands of dollars purchasing specialized equipment, such as a laptop and software, from a specified online vendor. Sometimes they’ll even send the applicant a check to cover the amount, but, in reality, “It’s a fake check scam,” Baker explains.

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The crooks know that the applicant’s bank will credit the amount to their account for one or two days, which gives the victim the confidence to purchase the supposed equipment. Eventually, the fake employer’s check bounces, and the victim’s money is gone.

Other fake employers hire work-at-home employees to receive, repackage and resend merchandise overseas. What the workers don’t realize is that the goods have been purchased with stolen credit cards, and that they’re helping the thieves cover their tracks.

The criminals “order something from Amazon, and then have it shipped to ‘Fred,’” says Baker, offering a potential scenario where Fred is the new hire. “Fred’s job is to receive the goods, then package them and take a picture to show that he did, and then send them off to someplace like Russia.” Not only is Fred assisting in a crime, Baker adds, “he doesn’t ever get paid.”

A new twist: Résumé-formatting scams

The BBB recently warned consumers about a new twist on the scam that involves criminals reaching out to people on LinkedIn and suggesting that they apply for a certain job. If you send your résumé, the supposed recruiter directs you to a website where you can reformat it so it’s compatible with the company’s applicant-tracking system.

Then, the BBB says, “You visit the website, where you find out you’ll need to submit personal information and make a payment for the service. If you accept, you’ll receive a ‘formatted’ résumé that doesn’t look much different from your original résumé — if you receive anything at all.” It’s all a scam “to get your money and personal details.”

Preventing job-opportunity scams

Job-search websites promise that they’re working hard to chase out scammers., for example, notes on its site, “We have several teams across the globe dedicated to the safety and authenticity of the jobs posted on our platform,” and offers tips for a safe job search.

LinkedIn, the professional networking site that’s become a major player in job searches as well, recommends that job seekers take advantage of the “About this profile” feature added last year that allows them to see when a recruiter’s profile was created and last updated, and whether the recruiter’s email address is verified.

“Even with the number of legitimate remote work opportunities on the rise, online job scams continue to be a concerning part of today’s career marketplace,” says Keith Spencer, a career expert at the job search site FlexJobs. “With this in mind, job seekers should always do their due diligence, especially when looking for work-from-home roles.”

Strouch, who’s working as a bartender while she continues to search for a job in her professional field, says she still gets text messages from people who claim to be employers, but she’s much more wary now. Often, “I just don’t respond anymore,” she says.

How to protect yourself from these scams

  • Check out the potential employer. The FTC recommends doing an online search, using the company’s name plus the words “scam,” “complaint” or “fraud.” If postings from other job seekers start popping up, that’s an immediate red flag. If the recruiter claims to be from a legitimate company, find its actual website and see if there’s a job listing that matches the one the recruiter mentioned. You can also call that company’s human resources department to verify that it has someone on staff with the same name as the recruiter.
  • Watch for red flags. One obvious sign of a scam is a job recruiter who quickly asks you to switch the conversation from the job search platform to an encrypted app that makes tracing him or her more difficult, says Hilary Donnell, head of corporate social responsibility and public affairs for online security company Aura. Typos, misspellings and unusual wording in messages could be hints that you’re dealing with a scammer from another country. (Unfortunately, new technology is making it easier for criminals to appear legitimate.)
  • Don’t pay to work. Legitimate employers don’t make you pay to get a job, according to the FTC.
  • Be careful with personal data. If a recruiter asks right away for your Social Security number or bank account information, that’s another warning sign, the FTC says. Don’t provide any of these personal details until you’re certain a job offer is legitimate.
  • Seek advice before taking a job. Before you accept a new position, discuss the opportunity with someone whose judgment and experience you trust. That person may take note of a warning sign that you’ve missed.

Reporting scams

If you spot or have been victim of a scam, file a police report. Also report it to the FTC at The more information authorities have, the better they can identify patterns, link cases and ultimately catch the criminals.   

You can also report scams to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline, 877-908-3360. It’s a free resource, with trained fraud specialists who can provide support and guidance on what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.