Workforce Visibility

The Most Common Recruiting and Hiring Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

“Post and pray” isn’t limited to recruiters. For a lot of job seekers out there, finding their next opportunity means casting the widest net possible. For candidates, this philosophy often means applying to hundreds of jobs (often without even checking to see if they’re minimally qualified), contacting everyone in their network for introductions and inquires, and saturating social media in an attempt to look like experts without the experts knowing they’re looking.

Of course, looking for a job isn’t about pure volume – it’s about relevance and research.

But after sometimes months of unrequited advances to employers and recruiters -- particularly for those “active” candidates facing the uphill battle of employer bias and much longer searches -- statistically speaking, it’s not difficult to understand why the “black hole” of no responses, no leads and seemingly no hope creates a sense of urgency often tinged with desperation and despair.

This is one of the primary reasons many job seekers find themselves susceptible to scammers, whose various techniques to target job seekers are becoming more prevalent and more sophisticated, particularly when it comes to online job search scams.  

But with a little bit of background into the methodologies behind the most common scams, job seekers can protect their pocketbook – and their pride.

3 Common Job Search Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

Like faraway princes looking for bridge loans until their fortune can clear escrow, here are some surefire red flags that a promising “dream job” could end up being a fraudulent nightmare.

The Deposit for Training Scam

As many have long known, the number one rule for running a successful con is that the grifter has something to offer that the mark desperately wants or needs (or at least can be convinced into thinking they do).  Con artists most commonly play on greed and desperation as the primary motivators for their respective marks, which makes job ads an ideal avenue for the technological equivalent of three card monte.

Many job postings or help wanted ads promise a guaranteed job waiting for any candidate willing to undergo the necessary training program required by the position or company.  Sounds reasonable – after all, you can’t attest audits without a CPA, nor can you sell financial services without a Series 7 & 63 license.

The way these ads are written, though, make it seem like the costs of this mandatory training can only be offset by candidates helping cover the costs.  These ads make it seem like the training is a logical investment, since it leads to both guaranteed income as well as professional education. This makes the required costs -- most commonly a seemingly nominal amount ranging from $100 to $1,000 -- seem like a slam dunk.

In truth, most of these scams do provide some form of documentation or “training,” generally recycled documentation or repurposed training materials publicly available online for free, such as certification study guides, e-books or other free professional resources readily accessible through any search engine.  

They’ll normally package these together with a little fake branding and basic graphic design – costing them at most a few dollars to produce – and also fulfilling their legal responsibility to provide training materials in exchange for the money they’ve bilked job seekers for already – leaving their marks more or less out of luck.

Most legitimate employment opportunities, in fact, offer paid training or certification if the company or position requires it, and in no case should job seekers pay out of pocket for a career opportunity prior to formally accepting an offer and beginning the on-boarding process. When seeing ads like this, it’s imperative for job seekers to do their research to protect themselves by searching fraud stopper and governmental sites for similar instances of fraud, as well as reporting any suspicious sounding postings as appropriate.

The Direct Deposit Scam

We’ve all seen these stapled to telephone poles and in the classified section of alternative newspapers, but if a six figure income working from home sounds too good to be true, chances are you’re right.  Many candidates, however, sometimes out of nothing more than a passing interest, will do their due diligence on the opportunity.  

In these cases, research can backfire, as most of these scams are predicated on creating a convincing digital identity, from a company careers site and social profiles to an actual applicant tracking system (ATS) and interviews (which are never selective, but further serve to reinforce this elaborate ruse).

Anyone who wants to can easily get through this process to an offer – and everything looks like it’s on the up-and-up, including the HR paperwork required for on-boarding that includes standard documentation like proof of residency and work eligibility as well as direct deposit information, meaning you can start getting your paychecks disbursed during the first pay period.

The ostensible new hire simply completes the paperwork and sends in the mandatory documentation like copies of their driver’s license, social security card and a voided check. Only instead of finding that next job, often times, job seekers find themselves victims of identity theft – pretty easy to do with the information most employers require as part of the onboarding process.

It only takes a few hundred dollars to register, design and create a website and digital profile that looks and feels like a real company, and experienced Internet grifters can make any site seem as legitimate as Google or Amazon.  This is a difficult scam to spot, but it’s relatively easy to preempt.  

As a rule of thumb, if a job seeker has not met a potential employer face-to-face, then they should never surrender their bank account information or copy of a government issued ID (most employers ask for that during orientation or on the first day in conjunction with IRS documentation).  

Also, no legitimate employer will ever ask you to open a dedicated account just for your direct deposit, so if you ever encounter this request, immediately sever contact and report the scammer to the correct authorities to keep other job seekers from falling victim to the same schemes.

The Pay for Nothing Scam

While online scams remain a widely underreported crime, in 2017 alone the FBI reported receiving 262,000 complaints totaling more than $780 million in job-related internet fraud. One of the most common tactics employed in these frauds is phishing: getting a user to click a link, generally from an e-mail or a fake website, to steal personal information from an internet browser or network, including credit card and bank account data.

Job-related phishing generally occurs when a prospective “employer” initiates contact with an offer so compelling, even the most sophisticated candidate will want to take a closer look – think inordinately high salary, prestigious title, the promise of international travel, etc. – but these job descriptions or email blasts often serve as a means to pilfer personal information.

To ensure that this data stays secure, identity theft protection company LifeLock says that the only guarantee of avoiding falling victim to phishing is to not click links from unknown or untrusted senders at all. Think of it as the internet version of abstinence as the best form for birth control. You can also protect yourself further by constantly erasing your browser’s cached information and frequently changing your passwords (as well as making them unique to each site).

 All in all, not getting burned by job search scams comes down to something as simple as common sense. If something seems off about the job description, recruiter or employer, do a little digging. If there’s no record of the company on review sites like Glassdoor or company information sites like Hoover’s, chances are you’re being taken in by a con artist.

 Of course, even if you do dodge a scam, there’s always a little bit of bait and switch involved in the recruiting process, so the best advice is simply to always search for a job with at least a little skepticism.

After all, that’s how recruiters look for candidates, too. 

This post was originally published in February 2020. It was updated in March 2024.

Written by AGS Staff Writers
Allegis Global Solutions (AGS) is a leading provider of talent solutions. We transform the way the world acquires talent in order to deliver immediate and lasting impact. Through decades of industry experience, and with services across 60+ countries, we know what it takes to innovate, consult, design, and implement successful, creative, and data-driven talent solutions across all workforce categories.