Job search scammers may be 'out to get your information': Look for 5 red flags in listings

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Key Points
  • There were 11.3 million job openings in the U.S. in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • While many of these are real opportunities, some may be scammers out to get your money or information, warns Harvard career adviser Gorick Ng.
  • When going through a job listing, look out for grammatical errors, nonprofessional emails as contacts, and requests for money.

There were 6 million unemployed people in the U.S. in March 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job market continues to be balanced in their favor: In February, there were 11.3 million openings, according to BLS.

If you happen to be looking for a job, there are plenty of positions to peruse on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder, FlexJobs, and Monster. But while many employers are searching for talent in earnest, some individuals use job boards for their own nefarious reasons.

"One, they're out to get your information," warns Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and author of "The Unspoken Rules." "Two, they're out to get your money. Three, they're out to exploit you for free labor."

Luckily, there are ways to spot the real job listings from the scams. Here are five red flags to watch out for when looking for your next job.

1. A pay scale where 'you can earn as much as you want'

Some scammers may try to reel you in by inventing a job with parameters that sound pretty incredible, like high pay for very little work. The listing might say something like, "you can earn as much as you want, unlimited," says Toni Frana, career services manager at FlexJobs. Or they might say, "it's free and easy to get started."

A legitimate employer would not usually offer top dollar for a simple job, and most employers include a lengthy list of the tasks involved with doing the role so jobseekers know what they could be getting into.

If it sounds too good to be true, "it likely is too good to be true," says Frana.

2. 'Grammatical mistakes, formatting inconsistencies, and unprofessional language'

When hiring managers or recruiters are putting together a listing, they're usually "very careful about making sure that everything is proofread and grammatically correct and spelled correctly," says Frana. It's the company's opportunity to make a first impression, and they want to reel in quality candidates.

If "you're seeing a lot of grammatical mistakes, formatting inconsistencies, and unprofessional language," says Ng, "it's probably not written by a professional."

3. A Yahoo or Gmail hiring contact

Many companies give their employees a work email from which they can do their work correspondence. The same goes for recruitment companies if they're working on behalf of another company to find talent for a role.

"If the company contact isn't a corporate domain, so if you're seeing a Yahoo or Gmail," says Ng, that should be a red flag. A hiring manager should not be using their personal email to find candidates.

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4. A request to pay for hiring, start-up expenses

"The point of a job is to get paid," says Ng. "If the company is asking you to pay it," it's probably not legitimate.

Among the ways scammers get applicants to pay are by requiring them to buy start-up equipment from the company, to pay for background investigations, or simply by requesting credit card information, according to the FBI.

In 2020, 16,012 people reported being victims of employment scams, losing more than $59 million, according to the organization's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

5. 'Empty job postings' from recruiters

For recruitment companies to start serving clients, they need a pool of candidates to draw names from right away. While Ng wouldn't exactly classify it as a scam, he says some recruitment companies will "post up empty job postings" to attract applicants and start building a file of resumes.

These could be positions for jobs that once were open but are no longer or for jobs that were never available to begin with. "From the jobseeker's perspective," he says, applying for these jobs is "just a massive waste of time."

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If a listing includes a line that states the company posting it is a recruitment company, start googling around to research it. On any legitimate company website, "you can see that it's been updated recently," he says. "They've got a Team page or they've gotten some clear contact information. They've got an About Us page."

The absence of these details could mean the recruiter's posting resume bait or the company doesn't exist at all.

If there's even one red flag, 'it's probably not worth your time'

Regardless of whether it's the company itself listing its job opening or a recruitment company is representing them, the first step before you apply to any job should always be to research whoever is posting it.

Go on sites like Glassdoor or Blind and look up company reviews, check out social media to see what people have said about working there, and find people on LinkedIn who've been there and could shed some light.

"My rule of thumb is if there's even one red flag," says Ng, "it's probably not worth your time."

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