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How Can You Tell if a Job Offer is a Scam?

Andrew Tavin, CFEI
Andrew Tavin is a personal finance writer who covered budgeting with expertise in building credit and saving for OppU. His work has been cited by Wikipedia, Crunchbase, and Hacker News, and he is a Certified Financial Education Instructor through the National Financial Educators Council.
Read time: 6 min
Updated on November 30, 2022
man with glasses holding a piece of paper while working on his laptop
Job offers that sound too good to be true or that require you to put money down up front are probably not legit.

The kind of job you have has a huge impact on the quality of your life—especially if the kind of job you currently have is no job at all. That’s why a job offer can be so amazing. If it’s a good offer, it may not just represent better pay or benefits. It could mean a whole new future doing something you’re more passionate about.

But where there is excitement, there is often less skepticism. And that leaves an opening for scammers to step in. How do you know if an exciting new job offer is real, or just an attempt to steal your information and money?

We spoke to the experts to find out what to look out for and how to protect yourself from these ersatz employers.

If that offer sounds too good to be true ...

The better a job offer sounds, the more you should be skeptical.

“When evaluating job offers—trust your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, it might be,” warned employment attorney Richard Celler.

Richard Pummell, Human Resources Lead at DevelopIntelligence, echoed Celler’s warning: “The first test should always be, ‘does this seem too good to be true’—in which case it is. The second one is, ‘Will I have to spend money in order to make money?’ In those cases, there is rarely any money to be made—but your payment will never be recovered.”

And he wasn’t the only one who told us to watch out for those upfront payments…

Scammers always ask for money up front. 

Sure, they say you have to spend money to make money, but as with any sudden “investment opportunity,” you’ll need to do your due diligence. And since this “investment opportunity” is supposedly a job offer, your due diligence will probably be saying "no." They’re supposed to be the ones paying you, after all.

“To identify fake job offers, I look at a few things,” explained personal finance writer Dustyn Ferguson. “If they request any sort of money to get hired, I immediately turn away from that company. If they want money to get hired, it's either a scam or an MLM, neither of which are very good.”

(To learn more about the risks posed by Multi-Level Marketing companies, or MLMs, check out our blog post, Multi-Level Marketing Scams: How a MLM “Job” Could End Up Costing You Thousands.)

“Don't pay for anything!” warned Lauren McAdams, career adviser and hiring manager at Resume Companion. “Job scammers prey on your insecurities to convince you to purchase a product or service that is allegedly a requirement for securing the job.

"Commonly, this takes the form of asking you to purchase a credit report or training sessions to better your chances. Since reputable companies will never demand you to pay for anything like that, as soon as your would-be employer asks, it should immediately trigger a red flag.”

A good scam is all in the timing.

Sometimes an employer needs a position filled immediately. Maybe they had a previous employee leave unexpectedly. But if you’re being pushed to make an immediate decision, you should take that as a sign to increase your skepticism.

“Usually, employers will give you two weeks to transition between jobs,” explained Amanda Raimondi, lifestyle expert and writer for Kiwi Searches. “This way you can give your old boss notice of you leaving. If your new employer demands that you start working there immediately, something is off.”

Check for spelling and grammatical errors.

You probably agonize over the emails you send to potential employers, looking them over carefully to be certain there aren’t any spelling or grammar errors. It’s a bad sign if a potential employer isn’t taking the same consideration.

“An easily identifiable trait that casts suspicion on a job offer is if the email correspondence between you and your would-be employer includes spelling and grammatical errors,” explained McAdams.

“Remember, a reputable company wants to project an air of professionalism with their conduct and can hire someone who can write emails that reflect that goal. So, if you receive an email with multiple mistakes, take a closer look at the employer immediately.”

Some scammers are just REALLY bad bosses.

If your employment status is more vulnerable, you’ll have to be especially careful.

"A particularly nasty scam some employers use is hiring the undocumented for a project and then calling in immigration to get them deported prior to their payday,” Celler told us. “It's an example of how ruthless some employers can be! Be vigilant, know your rights, and use your voice in the workplace."

Ferguson told us about a somewhat less insidious scam: “Another big scam that I've seen recently is jobs that involve you doing admin work, such as cashing checks. These are hard to identify as they are usually done by a single person claiming to be self-employed and thus, unable to look up. They might even pay you."

"But rest assured if the only activity you are doing is cashing checks from a job offer found to do admin work online, it's probably a scam. If you have any doubts, request a video interview with the company before you start doing anything. Every time I've requested one from a suspicious person, they go silent.”

And speaking of investigating your doubts ...

A little investigation goes a long way.

In the modern age, it should be relatively easy to do some background research on a company. And that can make all the difference.

“Reputable employers will have a good digital footprint and will engage in appropriate communication,” Pummel assured us. “Look for names and contact information of individuals who may be involved in any offer of employment, and then research them via LinkedIn to see if they exist.

"Check to see if the company has a presence on Glassdoor, and if so, what are employees saying about their experience (which often includes interview feedback as well as employment details).

Performing a ‘Google’ search on the type of employment (ie: stuffing envelopes at home) and the name of the organization requesting the assistance will often yield results showing that this is indeed a scam.”

Holly Reisem Hanna, Publisher and Founder of the award-winning career website The Work at Home Woman, offered similar advice:

“As a job seeker, you should be keeping track of the jobs that you apply for, this way when an unsolicited job offer comes through—you can verify if you applied for the position or not. While there are legit recruiters that headhunt for job candidates, these typically will be for highly-skilled professions like engineering, nursing, IT, and other tech positions. If you're receiving an email from a recruiter for a non-skilled entry-level position, it's more than likely a scam.

"Other red flags to watch out for are high-pay for entry-level work, verbiage like ‘start work today’ and ‘no training needed,’ and poor grammar and spelling are also indicative of scams. Be sure to take your time and research the hiring company extensively, look on Glassdoor for company reviews, look at the owners of the company, and search for contact information. People that are promoting scams don't want to be found and often hide behind fake emails addresses, P.O. boxes, and non-working phone numbers.”

The job search is tough enough without having to worry about scammers, and doing your due diligence is well worth not losing too much time or money.

Article contributors
Richard Celler

Attorney Richard Celler (@CellerLegalPA) is a Million Dollar Advocate, Super Lawyer, and the founder of Richard Celler Legal, P.A. a leading employment law firm specializing in the employment context.  He has over 18 years of experience representing employees and was the former managing partner of one of the largest plaintiff-side employment law divisions in the United States.

Dustyn Ferguson

Dustyn Ferguson (@dustyndream) is the personal finance aficionado behind Dime Will Tell. He often blogs about his experiences and shares his secrets when it comes to making and saving more money to achieve financial success.

Holly Hanna

Holly Reisem Hanna (@Holly_Hanna) is the publisher and founder of the award-winning website, The Work at Home Woman which helps women find remote careers and businesses that feed their souls. The content is not only motivational, but it provides straightforward and actionable steps that can be put into practice. If you are looking to work-from-home, this is the blog for you.

Lauren Mcadams

Lauren McAdams is a career adviser and hiring manager at Resume Companion (@ResumeCompanion).

Richard Pummell

Richard Pummell has over 25 years experience in the HR/HR Tech space working in a variety of industries. His experience includes working with Fortune 500 companies and high-growth start-ups where he has held responsibility for organizational strategies related to people, process and technology.

Amanda Raimondi

Amanda Raimondi is a financial expert and writer for Kiwi Searches (@kiwisearches).

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