Looking for Jobs Online? Doing a Local Job Search? How to Tell if a Job is a Scam (and How to Report a Job Scam)

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The Internet is a wonderful place to do a job search. You can do a local job search just by searching for “jobs in my area”, or search for jobs anywhere (such as for all USA jobs or even international job opportunities) using one of the job search engines such as “Monster Jobs”, or by frequenting job websites or job posting boards. You can use a country-specific job finder, such as the HRDC Canada Job Bank (it should really be HRSDC, as it stand for “Human Resources and Skills Development Canada”), or a system-specific job site, such as www.usajobs.gov, which lists all U.S. Federal jobs. You can even just type “I need a job” into Google, followed by your location, and come up with a job listing of job openings, complete with job descriptions, in your area.

The problem is that job search websites and job listings that list jobs online can’t always tell if what appears to be a great job opportunity is actually a scam. There are many job scams on Internet job boards, such as the Yahoo job scam and the Craigslist job scam, and specific job scams such as the home job placement scam (in fact, while it’s possible to find a legitimate no fee work at home job, and other paid internet jobs, it’s very hard to tell the legitimate work at home jobs from the scams). Then there are the not-quite-scam jobs, such as the so-called “Primerica job scams”. So, how to tell if a job is a scam? Here’s how.

The very first thing to look at is whether you are required to pay a fee in order to apply for the job, or to get additional information. If at any point in the process – from the moment you read the job listing through the point where they are supposedly going to offer you a job – they tell you that you must pay a fee in advance, run the other way. No matter how legitimate it sounds, if someone is asking you to pay to apply for a job, it’s almost certainly a scam, and even if it isn’t a complete scam, the odds are that the “job” is going to end up costing you more than you will ever earn (see about the Primerica job ‘scams’ below). These fees can be disguised as many “requirements”, from having to pay for the ’employer’ or recruiter to check your credit report or do a background check, to having to pay for “training” or a deposit until they see if you “work out”. Again, in any and all cases, the moment you have to pay anything, don’t do it, and walk away. While it’s true that legitimate employers may want to do a background check or a credit check, legitimate employers also pay the cost of those and never ask an applicant to do so.

There are some “pay up front” job opportunities (and we use the term loosely) that fall into the grey area of “is it a scam or isn’t it?” A prime example of this is the so-called Primerica job scam. Primerica is an insurance and financial services firm which is run like a multi-level marketing company. They require that you give them about $200 up front, in exchange for which you get the opportunity to sell their services to people you know. They do in fact use at least part of the $200 to get you set up, and you can earn money if you are very good at selling their services to all of your friends and family, so in that sense it is not truly a scam. On the other hand, very few people can really be successful under this kind of scheme, and of course Primerica knows that, so are they a scam or aren’t they?

A more subtle scam doesn’t necessarily ask the job-seeker for money, but for another resource which can then be traded for money: your personal information. This is a bit tougher to spot, because something as seemingly innocent as your email address can be sold for hard cash by a scammer, yet legitimate employers also need to know how to contact you and so will legitimately ask for your email address. For this reason, we recommend that you create a unique email address in Gmail or another free service provider, specifically for your job search, so that if it gets compromised, you can just close the account. And, of course, never ever give any financially-related information, such as a credit card number or banking information, to a prospective employer – legitimate employers will never ask for this information.

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The one exception to the above may be your social security number. Most legitimate employers will not ask for your SSN unless they have already hired you, at which point they need it for your tax paperwork. Still, some prospective employers now insist on a credit check, and they may ask for your SSN for that reason. Personally, we would walk away from any employer that demands that – particularly in this economic climate, when plenty of honest, responsible people may have a less-than-stellar credit report right now, so we don’t consider checking an applicant’s credit rating to be fair or right.

Still, some employers may insist on running a credit check, and so will ask for your social security number, and if you find yourself unsure of whether to provide this information for a job that you really want, how can you be sure that the employer is legitimate, and that it’s not a scam?

In this situation, the best thing to do is to only consider providing this information if the company is local to you, and if you have physically been at the company’s offices. Then, check with your local Chamber of Commerce to confirm that the company is legitimate, and has been established for at least a few years. Also check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if there have been any complaints leveled against the company, related to job scamming. (Of course, if it’s a company with which you are familiar because it’s been around your hometown for years, then you have less to worry about.)


Perhaps the hardest place to separate the wheat from the chaff (the legitimate jobs from the scams) is on the job boards such as the Yahoo job listings and the Craigslist job listings. That is because it’s much easier to post scams on these sites, where anybody can create a posting.

Craigslist offers some great advice about how to tell if a job listing may be a scam:

SCAM ALERT – affiliate scammers are posting bogus ads promising (nonexistent!) employment, paid research trials, or other compensation, but then notifying repliers that they’ll need to jump through a hoop first, directing them to:

– background checking services
– credit checking or reporting sites
– sites where you are instructed to enter your resume or other personal information
– sites where you are asked to sign up for a “free” trial offer
– sites offering training or education
– sites offering a “system” for making money
– survey or focus group sites
– sites designed to deliver malware or misuse your identifying information

all in hopes of earning affiliate marketing commissions or otherwise profiting at the expense of persons seeking employment.

Lots of variations on this scam, but each generally involves dangling (nonexistent!) compensation, and then directing you to a website where you are asked to sign up for something, use your credit card, or input personal information such as your email address.

Another great resource for information about online jobs and job scams is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC advises that “If you’re looking for a job, you may see ads for firms that promise results. Many of these firms may be legitimate and helpful, but others may misrepresent their services, promote out-dated or fictitious job offerings, or charge high fees in advance for services that may not lead to a job. ”

The FTC suggests that, among other things, you: “Reject any company that promises to get you a job… Be skeptical of any employment-service firm that charges first, even if it guarantees refunds… Get a copy of the firm’s contract and read it carefully before you pay any money…” and “Stay away from high-pressure sales pitches that require you to pay now or risk losing out on an opportunity.”

Finally, if you do detect a scam, please report it to the site on which you found the scam listed, and also report a job scam to the FTC here.

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