How to tell if a job ad is a scam

How to tell if a job ad is a scam

Being out of work can be incredibly stressful. Bills start to pile up, morale goes down, unemployment eventually runs out and you need to get back to work as fast as possible. That’s when your situation is at its most desperate, making you vulnerable to scam artists who prey on those looking for honest work.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a world with so many scammers, but we aren’t completely at their mercy. Most scam job ads have a few telltale signs showing that you need to steer absolutely clear, which I describe in further detail below. Committing these to memory should help you from being scammed by a fake job and potentially losing time or money in the process.

If you have to pay them to start working

A basic truth of legitimate jobs is that they pay you for your time and services. When a company flips this and attempts to have you give them money in order to become an employee, that should be a huge red flag that you’re getting taken advantage of.

Having prospective ‘employees’ pay for the privilege of working is a pretty classic sign of a Multi Level Marketing (“MLM”) scam or pyramid scheme. MLMs will offer you the chance to ‘start your own business’ and ‘be your own boss’ if you sell their products. These are appealing because they are giving you a business in a box, which seems easy and too good to be true. All you have to do is purchase their starter inventory to sell!

Once you’ve bought their products, however, it can be tough to recoup that investment. Product can either go out of style or expire in the time it takes to find legitimate customers. You’re then stuck with a lot of products that no one wants, and are told to recruit more people to make that money back. You’ll be promised commission for every person that you recruit who buys inventory and makes sales. Great, problem solved right?

Wrong. This sort of MLM works great when you’re at the very top of it and have hundreds of thousands of people below you. If you’re being pitched MLMs online or by dozens of friends you’re at the bottom and are unlikely to make a real profit.

Another way that scam artists try and con people into giving them money is by insisting on some kind of purchased resume review, background check, or credit check as an employment requirement. Before paying for any kind of background/credit check, be sure to brush up on your state’s laws as some states prohibit companies making employees pay for these sort of checks as a condition of employment.

If you get a hit searching for ‘company name + scam’ on Google

Before you agree to work for any company, type ‘company name + scam’ into Google and see what pops up. If the company is legitimate, you should mostly see various web pages with the company name that are unrelated to scams. If you see a ton of complaints on consumer review websites, that would be a company to stay away from.

A word of caution when performing the Google scam check: be wary of conflicting results. It’s not uncommon for a scam company to purchase the domain name plus the word scam as an effort to delegitimize real complaints. If the company’s official site plus any company-sponsored sites are all claiming not to be scams but real user reports claim they are, I would search elsewhere for a job.

If the pay seems way too good for the position offered

Companies will sometimes post ads that are overpaying the market rate for an entry level job. That job posting might look like this:

Now hiring for rockstar entry-level administrative assistant to work from home 30 hours a week. Full training offered, great benefits, earn up to $45 an hour! No cold calling or sales required!

This looks like a pretty classic bait and switch ad. This company is preying on someone who doesn’t have a lot of job skills by posting an ad for a really easy-looking job with great benefits and pay. If you look closely though, there are several red flags.

Red flag #1 – The pay. No entry-level administrative assistant job will pay $45 an hour. There’s something else you’ll have to do.

Red flag #2 – How the pay is phrased. Notice that the job says you can earn UP TO $45 an hour. This means the pay is not guaranteed at that amount.

Red flag #3 – The job ad claims no cold calling or sales. When a company says this, it almost always means that there is indeed some sort of commission-based cold-calling sales or telemarketing required.

If the job requirements and duties are unusually vague

Job ads will sometimes replace the job description with weirdly grand promises. The job ad can look like this:

Be your own boss and set your own hours!! Are you tired of working for someone else? Do you want to spend more time with your family? Only looking for seriously motivated rockstars who want to make tons of money on their own time being in full control of their life!!!! Call now!

This is unbelievably suspicious. This ad is promising the potential employee a lot of amazing sounding things, but isn’t offering any real detail. Ask yourself, why doesn’t this job want to tell me what the duties are up front? If this job has piles of money to give out, why are there no requirements listed? Why are they so desperate for me to sign up with them?

If they ask for credit card information for any reason

If a company is asking for information like credit card information, bank passwords, or PayPal account details as a condition of employment then they are likely going to be a scam. The most common reason that someone would want your financial details is to steal your identity to make themselves richer.

Occasionally there will be legitimate jobs that you need to purchase something for. For example, some jobs might require you to buy a uniform, or you might need to buy transcription software that a company uses. Notice that when a company is legitimate those purchases are made directly by you after an offer is already in place. Companies that have your best interests at heart shouldn’t need your credit card number and will trust you to make any necessary purchases on your own.

If they want you to cash a check and send them money from it

This is a pretty common scam. A fake company will hire an employee as some sort of personal assistant, courier, or accountant. They will then send that person a check and instruct them to deposit it in their own account, wire the company some of it, and keep the rest. When the check doesn’t clear the employee is on the hook for the whole amount and the scammer is long gone.

If there is an unprofessional email address listed

Be wary of companies that email you from accounts like ‘beatrice23123@gmail.com’ as opposed to ‘beatrice.smith@companyname.com’. Really good scammers will go through the trouble of setting up a legitimate looking email but lazier scammers won’t bother. Most, if not all, real jobs will email you from a proper company address that you can corroborate with the company contact page. An unprofessional appearance often correlates with unprofessional business practices.

If the job ad is posted repeatedly

If there’s an opening for a really great job that pays well then it makes sense that the job would be filled quickly. It is true that companies can often take a long time to find a good fit, or might be keeping the job posting up as a formality to hire a worker outside the company. When a job ad is repeated daily or weekly over the course of several months, that posting is a red flag for a scam. Ask yourself, why can this company not fill the amazing job it’s offering?

If the company has no internet presence

A company not having any sort of website you can check is a huge red flag. I can’t remember the last legitimate company I have worked for that didn’t have some sort of official website. It’s true that some companies just have social pages instead of actual websites but it is exceedingly rare.

It’s important not to be fooled by a Facebook page or a LinkedIn presence. Anyone can set those up in a matter of minutes to give a scam an official looking appearance. What you’re looking for is consistent postings over a long period of time, a good BBB rating, and positive reviews from customers and former employees.

If they offer you the job without an interview

Even if everything in the job ad looks great, if they offer you the job with no interview, something is wrong. A great company to work for will want to vet their employees before hiring to make sure of cultural fit and qualifications. A company who will bring you in with no idea of who you are or what you can do is a place to stay away from.


Is there an office issue YOU know how to resolve that other office workers might benefit from? Write for our blog and get published online. The best part? You get PAID. Learn more now and submit a topic!