How to Tell if a Job Offer Is a Scam

A young women with curly hair and a green sweater sits in front of her computer as she has her hand over her mouth while thinking.

Getting a job offer is exciting, but how do you know the job is legitimate? Employment scams linked to sketchy job offers ensnare an estimated 14 million people each year, according to the Better Business Bureau, resulting in more than $2 billion in losses.

Your new job offer may be a scam if it requires money or personal identifying information up front, seems too good to be true, has you doing suspicious work or pays you with a fake check.

How could this happen to you? Read on.

How Do Employment Scams Work?

Job scams play on your eagerness to work. They may try to get you to hand over money upfront for training or equipment, share personally identifiable information like your Social Security or driver's license number, work in exchange for a fake check (or a check that never arrives) or do illicit work like "reshipping" products purchased with stolen credit card numbers.

Some employment scams are carefully conducted in a way that makes them look real. For instance, fake jobs may be posted side by side with a company's real jobs on job search sites. Scammers may even go as far as faking the identities of real company employees in communications.

But even if something feels off, the temptation of a well-paying job can be hard to resist. Roughly 76% of employment scam victims in the BBB's study said they suspected something was wrong but pursued the job anyway. If your gut tells you a job offer is shady, follow your intuition. When you're evaluating a job offer, consider these steps:

1. Check Your Sources

If you find a job posting that interests you or if a job offer arrives from out of the blue, search the company online and contact them directly to confirm that both the recruiter and the job listing are legitimate. Search the company's name and "scam," then see what comes up.

2. Don't Skip the Interview

Employment scams often make you feel like you're a shoo-in for a job posting, and may even offer you a position with little or no time spent interviewing you to learn your qualifications. Even in a tight job market, however, employers want to know your background and suitability for a job. Use the interview (and how it's conducted) to size up the employer. Beware of recruiters who want to communicate only via messaging apps and those who sound like they're trying to sell you on the job. Emails that come from Gmail or other generic providers and not the company's web domain are another red flag.

3. Take Your Time

It's customary for a job applicant to take 24 hours to think about a job offer. Being pressured to accept a job on the spot isn't a good sign. If the recruiter's tactics are aggressive or make you uncomfortable, that's even worse.

4. Pay Nothing

An employer should not require you to pay for training, equipment, directories or inventory to secure a job. Do not wire funds, provide credit card numbers or share bank account information. If you accept a job but feel uneasy sharing bank information for direct deposits, consider opening a separate bank account just to receive payments from your new job as a precaution.

5. Don't Deposit a Suspicious Check

Your new employer sends you a big check and tells you to deposit it into your personal account, keep part of it for your wages and send the remainder along to another person. The check will bounce, your bank will reverse your deposit and you'll be out the money you sent. Real companies don't pay their employees this way.

6. Remain Skeptical

Is the job description so vague that it seems like anyone would qualify? Are they offering you twice what you'd expect to be paid for this position? If a job seems too good to be true, it might be.

7. Beware of Scammy Job Titles

In the BBB study, 65% of scam job offers were for "warehouse redistribution coordinators" or similar jobs that amounted to reshipping stolen goods. Mystery shopper and other work-from-home positions are also frequent bait in these types of scams.

What to Do if You've Been Scammed

Have you already encountered a job scam? Here are steps you may want to take, depending on how much information or money you've shared.

  • Close your bank account. If your "employer" has your bank account or payment card information, contact your bank immediately. Ask if they can reverse any payments you've made. You may need to close your account to prevent further access.
  • Notify the authorities. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission, the BBB Scam Tracker and/or your local FBI field office or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  • Contact job search sites or social media network support. Report fake job postings or scam employers to any job sites or social media platforms the scammers used to find you. If the scammer was pretending to represent a legitimate company, contact them as well. Going forward, make sure your profile information and resume don't reveal personal information such as your date of birth or full home address.
  • Protect your identity. Study up on what to do if you've been a target of identity theft. Identity thieves may try to open new credit accounts or file fake tax returns in your name. Filing a fraud alert with and considering a security freeze or identity theft protection may help protect you from identity fraud.

Move On to Your Next Real Job

The FBI reports that the average reported loss from an employment scam is $3,000, and that doesn't include the potential damage to credit scores, lost time or stress. Don't overlook warning signs when a new job offer smells like trouble. Though it can be difficult to pass up any opportunity, doing so in this case brings you one step closer to the real thing.

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