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10 job listing red flags: If you see these warning signs, 'run for the hills,' says labor economist

"Any job that requires you to buy something up front ... should make you run for the hills."

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Millions of people continue to look for work during the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, not everyone posting a job is actually a legitimate employer.

Employment scams regularly rank among the "riskiest" in the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker Risk Report. Its risk calculations factor in how prevalent a scam is, the likelihood of financial loss when people are exposed to the scam, and the median dollar amount of their loss. Employment scams topped the BBB's risk rankings in 2018 and 2019, and in 2020 were second only to online purchase scams as more people shopped online during the pandemic.

And a FlexJobs survey estimates 17% of professionals have been a victim of a job scam.

If you're looking for employment, it can be hard to separate the real opportunities from the nefarious schemes, so FlexJobs compiled a list of signs a posted position might be a scam. Here are 10 of their job listing red flags — all of which, according to Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecuiter, "should make you run for the hills."

1. Immediate request for personal information

While a legitimate job will ask for sensitive personal information once you've been offered and accepted the position, such as your Social Security number when you're filling out your W-9 or your bank information for direct deposit payments, a job asking for this type of personal information early in the interview process should be a red flag.

"If they are telling you that they need your financial information right away before you have an offer in writing, that is a sign of a scam," says Pollak. "That usually comes much later in the process."

2. Upfront payment required

It is very, very rare to have upfront costs to apply for a job. Many job scams, however, will ask the applicant to pay a fee to be able to start working.

A data entry or rebate processor scam might ask an applicant to pay for training, FlexJobs found, while a craft-assembling scam might require workers to pay an enrollment fee and purchase all supplies and materials to start working.

3. High sums for simple work

Jobs purporting to pay hefty sums for simple work should raise eyebrows, warns FlexJobs. If you come across a job that includes easy administrative tasks or low-skill work and promises a high return, Google the average national pay for that job to see what it typically offers. If the position is way off, move along.

For example, data entry and rebate processing positions are sometimes covers for scams. Their national average pay is $13 per hour and $16 per hour, respectively, according to PayScale. One envelope-stuffing scam purported earnings of $550 to $3,000 per week, according to FlexJobs.

4. Rags-to-riches stories

Similarly, job listings that promise rags-to-riches stories, dramatic lifestyle changes overnight, or quick, easy money should all be red flags. Most jobs that pay well require degrees, extensive training, or a lot of experience, and sometimes a combination of all three. These opportunities aren't typically open to just anyone.

Scammers may also claim their product was endorsed by a celebrity.

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5. Grammatical errors

Legitimate companies looking for employees take care with their job postings. They have high standards for writing and make sure job postings are clean and error free. If you're reading a job posting rife with grammatical and spelling errors, keep looking.

6. Fishy recruiter contact details

"Whenever possible, ask to do things by email, not just over the phone," says Pollak. "If you're getting emails from people's Hotmail accounts, that's a big red flag."

Job seekers should expect emails to come from a corporate email address. Any that don't merit further investigation.

Scammers also sometimes mimic company emails. Whenever you're corresponding with a potential employer, take a close look at their email, just as you would to make sure you're not the victim of a phishing scam, to make sure the company's display name doesn't have extra letters or numbers and matches its actual name.

Whenever possible, ask to do things by email, not just over the phone. If you're getting emails from people's Hotmail accounts, that's a big red flag.
Julia Pollak
Labor economist at ZipRecruiter

7. Unverifiable company info

"Whenever you see a job posting," says Pollak, "you should Google the company name, make sure they actually have an office, and check them out on the Better Business Bureau to make sure that this is a legitimate operation."

If you can't verify that the company exists via an online presence including its name, location, web address, and social media, it could very well be a scam.

8. An immediate job offer

If a "recruiter" offers you a job immediately after you've applied, without verifying your experience or asking for references, be wary of the offer.

A typical job interview process includes an application in which you send in your resume and cover letter, an initial screening with a recruiter or HR representative, and interviews with the people who would be your bosses. Some jobs also require a work test of some sort (like a writing or coding test), as well as a reference check in which the employer speaks with previous employers.

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9. No in-person or video interview necessary

Similarly, if throughout the interview process the recruiter only communicates via chat or email and never asks to speak to you face-to-face or sets up video chats with perspective bosses, this should signal the alarm.

Aaron Heaps, a New York-based actor and waiter, told CNBC last year that he was going through a job interview process when he realized he'd never actually spoken with his prospective employer face-to-face. When he asked for a video meeting to go over some questions, he never heard back. He suspects the offer was a scam.

10. Unsolicited job offer

While it's normal for recruiters to reach out unsolicited to gauge your interest in an opening, if a recruiter reaches out with an unsolicited offer, that should be a red flag. There is an interview process every real employer will want to go through to ensure you're a legitimate candidate.

Even if the recruiter is reaching out about an opening alone, tread cautiously. Ask a lot of questions, don't give out your personal information right away, and make sure to do a Google search for both the company the job is purported to be at and the person reaching out.

It could be legitimate, but it's always best to do a thorough check before putting yourself in a vulnerable position.

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