Job scams are on the rise. So, be aware that fraudsters may use phony job offers to lure victims into sharing personally identifiable information (PII), which can be used to commit identity theft or fraud. Even if you’re not looking for work, a scammer posing as a recruiter could target you or a loved one — so read on to learn what to watch out for.

A recent report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) showed that job scams increased during the pandemic.

And while there are plenty of legitimate job openings available, we’re also seeing a rise in fraudulent ones. Sadly, scammers are increasingly using bogus job listings to trick people out of their money and personal information.

In Allstate’s August 2022 “Online Scam Survey,” 17% of the workers interviewed said they’ve been contacted about a suspicious job opportunity this year alone. See our Identity Fraud in Focus quarterly report for the second quarter of 2022 for more on these findings.

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 104,000 consumer complaints about fake job opportunities in 2021 — that’s twice as many as the agency received in 2020 and nearly three times the amount reported in 2019. 

In some cases, falling victim to job scams can lead to money loss. According to the FTC, more than $86 million has been lost to employment scams in the second quarter of 2022 alone — a whopping 64% increase compared to a year ago. 

In other cases, scammers aim to steal personal information, which can lead to identity theft. 

To help combat this growing problem, we’re breaking down the most common employment scams, plus tips on how to spot the red flags.

Common job scams

Job scams can be tricky to spot. Fraudsters may advertise fake positions in the same places that actual employers use to market real jobs. This includes employment sites like Indeed, social media platforms like LinkedIn, newspapers and classified ads, and even television, radio, and billboards.

Sometimes — especially when a resume is uploaded to a job site — scammers may even approach the person who uploaded it directly, asking them to apply for a fake position that they’re qualified for. 

Some job scams are more elaborate than others, but among the most common are: 

  • Work-from-home job scams: Interest in remote work has spiked during the pandemic. Unfortunately, criminals are capitalizing on this trend. The promised remote positions vary — from virtual assistants to sales roles — and are often awarded to applicants after a speedy interview process via video call or text. Once hired, the remote “workers” are asked to share standard payroll information, including their Social Security number and banking information. 

  • Reshipping job scams: Scammers often enlist “quality control managers” or “virtual personal assistants” to receive packages at their homes. The “workers” are then asked to repackage and reship the goods that are delivered to them. Trouble is, those goods were bought using stolen credit cards or counterfeit money orders. In addition to being unknowingly part of a fraudulent scheme, victims who share their PII to apply for these fake roles also put their identity at risk.

  • Headhunter scams: Fraudsters may also reach out to job seekers directly and pose as staffing agents claiming that they’re ready to help them find work. Instead, they steal victims’ money or personal information. If someone claiming to be a headhunter asks you for payment upfront, beware. Legitimate staffing agents receive payment from the employer, not the person searching for a job.

  • Government, postal, and mystery shopper scams: These bogus job listings often require you to invest in fake courses to obtain a specific certification for the role. They also might prompt you to provide PII to undergo a phony background check.

  • Fake check scams: Fraudulent checks are worked into many employment scams. In some scenarios, scammers send a “new hire” a fake check to cover their first paycheck, work-from-home supplies, or tuition for a certification class. Then, they request that the employee send some of the money back via a peer-to-peer payment app — before they’ve had a chance to cash the bogus check. When the check eventually bounces — a process that could take weeks — the victim is out of the money they sent.

Who should watch out for job scams?

Anyone open to new work opportunities could be at risk of falling victim.

That being said, the BBB's 2020 report on job scams found that people between the ages of 25 and 34 are hit the hardest, with women filing 67 percent of the reported complaints. 

Another age group that’s being targeted by job scams? Middle school, high school, and college students. Jamal Mackey, Customer Care Manager at Allstate Identity Protection, has noticed an uptick in scams targeting school-aged children.

In one common scam, fraudsters connect with students digitally — typically on social media — offering money for easy or exciting jobs like sending emails or creating music for video games.

“To a 15-year-old, that is absolutely a job opportunity,” Mackey says.

This can lead to the scammer accessing the teen’s financial account and draining it before anything seems suspicious.

How to spot the red flags of a job scam

Though scammers are savvy, certain red flags can indicate that a job is a scam, like if:

  • The position advertises an unreasonably high salary or other enticing benefits. Steer clear of advertisements for any “get-rich-quick” jobs. The wording on these job postings could be vague (like “earn money fast”) or specific (like “earn thousands of dollars each month working from home”). Also, be wary if the advertised salary seems too high for the role.

  • The interview process is easy — too easy. Say you’re approached by a company that says they found you through LinkedIn. You land a Zoom interview for an exciting job opening that same day and are offered the gig on the spot — all they need now is your contact information, Social Security number, and bank account and routing numbers to get you set up on payroll. Feeling rushed, pressured, or surprised by the speed of an interview process are signs that the job is likely a scam. 

  • Your new “employer” asks you to buy something. Whether that “something” is training equipment, tuition for a certification class, or a computer, a legitimate employer would not require you to pay for these items before or upon taking a job — even if they send you a check to cover the costs (remember that fake checks are often part of the scam).

  • They ask for PII on the job application. Legitimate employers do request your name, address, and contact information on job applications; however, you’ll never need to provide your Social Security number, driver’s license, or bank account information during an interview process. If you’re applying for a job in which a background check is required, such as for a government agency, reach out to the central number of the organization or company to verify that the position you’re applying for is legit before continuing. 

Tips for a safe and successful job search

If you know a friend or family member that’s currently interviewing for a job, pass on these helpful tips:

  • Be wary if the interviews are held via text, instant message, or WhatsApp. The BBB Scam Tracker has received multiple reports of job scams involving downloading a messaging app. While job interviews commonly happen over video calls, job interviews that occur only via instant chat can be a sign that the job is a scam.

  • Pay close attention to the email address of the person you’re communicating with. Is it a personal Gmail or Hotmail account rather than a company-issued email address? That could indicate a scam. 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Job interviews are a two-way street, and a legitimate employer will answer any questions you may have — while a scammer may avoid them.

  • Plug the company’s name and terms like “scam” or “complaint” into a search engine. Job scammers will advertise a fraudulent job posting with either a phony company or a reputable business. A quick Google search could help you see if reports of job scams have been associated with the business recently.

  • Finally, use your gut and trust your instinct. Consult with people you trust and are close to before sharing your PII or banking information with any potential or new employer. 

Feeling rushed, pressured, or manipulated in any way during the process of an interview for a job are all valid reasons to stop communication immediately.

If you're a member and you're ever in doubt, give us a call before you share money or personal information. And if a job scam leads to identity theft, our trained and certified specialists are here to help.