The online job market is infested by scammers trying to steal from you.
Anecdotally, over the last few years, the number of students coming to me as a career consultant with questionable job offers has increased substantially. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Canadians are scammed out of millions of dollars each year.
To get a better idea of how to spot an employment scam, I made myself a simple resumé approximating a typical new graduate with limited experience and started seeking scams.
It was not hard — once I told my network what I was looking for, misfortune filled my inbox. I even had a scam show up unsolicited.
Here is my scam story and how I knew I was being bamboozled.
I got offered jobs I did not apply for
I applied for a wide variety of jobs and few of the offers I received actually matched the companies I applied to. One application magically begat two offers at two different companies.
One of my scammers was posing as a big telecommunications company.
The scam clue here was the email domain I applied to did not match the web address of the real company.
Another common story I hear from students is being offered a scam job after posting their resumé on a job board, such as Indeed.com. Be cautious if you decide to post your resumé online. I would advise against it.
Keep track of where you apply. If you are rapidly applying everywhere, it is more likely you will be tricked by a scam email.
Way too good to be true
I was promised a lot of money and amazing perks for very little effort. These were part-time entry-level jobs requiring little experience. All the hiring managers told me I could work from home.
One company offered me a free MacBook Pro and iPad. Another said I would get 30 days of paid vacation annually and a free trip anywhere in the world for my family and me.
One employer offered $3,000 per month for 10 to 20 hours of work per week. Another offered $3,200 monthly for a flexible 20-hour workweek.
My most lucrative offer was a whopping $1,470 weekly for full-time work as a remote human resources assistant.
My spam filter worked
Some of the scammers’ communications went directly to my Gmail spam folder. Apparently, spam detection works.
While I have heard of legitimate professional communications being accidentally filtered to the junk folder, it is worth some extra consideration if a job offer is detected as spam.
Their websites seemed (sort of) legit
The websites of each of the scams I applied for were polished and professional. They had modern designs and well-written descriptions. On the surface, they seemed legitimate.
When I dug a little deeper, however, a new picture emerged.
A reverse image search of the staff headshots confirmed they were stock photos. I pasted the company description into Google and found it was stolen from a legitimate organization.
In 2019, it is not hard to purchase a real website domain and piece other people’s writing into a free website template. Scammers can easily put on a facade of legitimacy.
They never interviewed me
I never spoke to anyone. We only communicated by email. A primary red flag for scam jobs is that there is no interview.
This does not happen with real jobs. No employer will hire you without talking to you first. They will also typically expect to check your references.
Let’s be real: you could be a terrible hire.
Without an interview, why would an employer trust you? How would they know you are even capable of the job?
Still — I have heard of people being scammed after a Skype interview. An interview does not guarantee legitimacy.
Their grammar and spelling were a little off
While some of our communications were well-written, others were less so. My suspicion is that my scammers had a bank of templates to copy and paste from.
One of my contacts claimed to be in Canada, but they accidentally called Manitoba a state.
The suspiciously named Canadian Work Employment Agency asked me, “Are you agree to work with us?”
Of course, honest people make grammatical errors in emails every day. The strange part here was the inconsistency. My contacts would sometimes send me perfect emails. Other emails gave me the impression they were not communicating with me in their first language.
Odd formatting errors gave me the impression they were pasting partial information from a template.
Phone numbers would go to a robot
When I dialed the business numbers listed by each of my contacts, I was greeted by a generic computer-automated message. The business name was not listed and there was no way to get to a live person.
I never spoke on the phone with any of my supposed employers. These were clearly not real companies. Real companies have real phones.
Bitcoins and Google Play gift cards
Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I prefer to be paid in Canadian dollars. If an employer starts talking about Bitcoins, like mine did, run for the hills.
They asked for my banking details and said they would set up a bitcoin wallet which I would need to fill with money in order to pay for goods and services my customers required. Obviously, they would have emptied that wallet immediately. Don’t worry, I didn’t fall for it.
Another common tactic is to scam you by getting you to purchase Google Play gift cards. A real employer will not do this. Run.
What are they after, anyway?
At the end of the day, scammers are after two things: your money or your identity.
Many will wire you money, say they sent you too much, then ask for some back before the money officially clears. You will send them the requested amount then they will disappear. Their initial cheque will bounce. Now you, because you are an honest person with a real bank account, are out whatever money you sent them.
Another common scam is to ask you to purchase gift cards, to buy a computer program, for example.
They might send you money to reimburse you and ask for the gift card numbers. Next, they will keep the cards, but let their money to you bounce.
Now you are out whatever you spent on gift cards.
The scammers were also after photos of my identification, like my passport and driver’s license.
One scammer stopped talking to me when I refused to send scans of my identification and a selfie of me holding my ID.
Other scams are looking for your Social Insurance Number or your credit card information.
Be diligent — these are not easy to spot
Even as a know-it-all career development professional, I had my doubts along the way.
Despite the enormous red flags, I had the nagging thought, “What if this is real?”
I mean, who doesn’t want a remote job with great perks?
Trust your gut: if something feels off, it probably is. Ask for help from a career development professional or seek other opportunities.
To complete this scam saga, I tattled.
If you find a scam, you can report it online to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or the Competition Bureau.