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6 Red Flags When Applying for Jobs Online

There’s never been a better time to use the internet as your primary job-search tool. Recruiters and employers are turning to online job boards and social media platforms to attract candidates. If you’ve applied for a job recently, chances are you did so online.

It seems like a win-win, doesn’t it? Employers and recruiters can reach a seemingly limitless number of people at very little cost, and job-seekers can post resumes, link to online portfolios, and dazzle potential hiring managers with their LinkedIn profiles.

A third group has come along to taint the online job market: scammers. When they’re not pretending to be African princes with assets to transfer, or angry FBI officials intent on terrifying you into revealing personal information, scammers are luring unsuspecting job-seekers using fake but enticing job postings. Unlike the emails from that Nigerian prince, though, these scams aren’t always easy to spot, and can fool even the most tech-savvy among us. In fact, a 2015 study found that 20% of millennials had fallen for at least one internet career scam.

The consequences of falling for a fake job offer can range from hurt pride, to a considerably lighter bank account, to identity theft. In the worst cases, you can even be charged if the scammers convince you to participate in illegal activity. If you’re shaking your head, thinking, “I’d never fall for anything that dangerous,” consider that there are roughly 60 fake “opportunities” posted for every legitimate one. No matter how confident you feel, it’s best to be on your guard.

Recognizing job scams online requires observational and research skills. In this article, we’ll present just a few red flags to watch for before hitting “apply.”

“We found your resume, and…”

You have an impressive resume, so you’ve posted it to every available space. Your hope is that an employer will come across it and be impressed enough to contact you directly. Just days after uploading your resume to every job board you can find, the email arrives. The employer or recruiter found your resume on Indeed, or Monster, or Career Builder, and thinks you’d be a perfect fit for a specific position. One brief employment application form to fill out, and you’re on your way.

We understand: it’s exciting to receive a job offer, especially when you didn’t even have to apply, but this is the very reason you should exercise extreme caution. Scammers sift through posted resumes looking for victims, and will send emails to everyone they can, hoping someone will bite.

March is Fraud Prevention Month #FPM2017. Image: Computer wielding fishing rod reels in woman's wallet.

Don’t let fraud get in the way of your online job search. #FPM2017

“Work from the comfort of your home!”

Wouldn’t that be perfect? Who wouldn’t love working from home?

It turns out that work-from-home opportunities are incredibly popular, which is exactly why you should be immediately skeptical. Not every remote job offer is illegitimate, but scammers find it easiest to work with these types of jobs, because there is less accountability. If you never have to walk into a physical office, meet with your interviewer, and take a look around, the chances are greater that you’ll overlook sketchy details.

“No experience necessary! Make $40.00/hr!”

You’ve found a goldmine. This job seems perfect. Right? Right?

The aim, as we’ve said, is to lure victims, so naturally scammers will use language designed to cloud judgment and create feelings of good fortune.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said it best: “If it looks too good to be true, it is.”

“We want to hire you—now!”

The tone of the ad or email suggests you’re nearly out of time. If you don’t pounce, your dream job will slip away! Act now!

Don’t mistake a scammer’s pushy attitude for eagerness. A real hiring manager or recruiter won’t use aggressive communication. Scammers build a sense of urgency, then use it as a hook. If potential victims feel excited and rushed, they’re more likely to make a rash decision.

“Contact our hr manger at johnsmith@gmail.com!”

Okay, so there’s a spelling error, but who doesn’t make the odd mistake now and then? The email address looks a bit odd, but maybe their servers are down?

Actually, you should never ignore spelling and grammatical errors, especially if they occur more than once or are particularly glaring. A lack of proper proofreading usually signals a lack of professionalism, as does the use of a Gmail address. No reputable company is going to use an email address from Gmail, Hotmail, or other free domains. If the ad or offer doesn’t look as though it’s been made by a professional, pass right by.

“Just fill out the attached form…”

Hmm…they want a social insurance number, a copy of a driver’s license, and banking info…seems reasonable.

Maybe not. Employers do need some sensitive information from you once they hire you, including your social insurance number, but revealing any of that information before you’ve even had an interview is a sure sign that you’re being scammed (and, no, a quick interview over instant message does not count). Scammers take advantage of people’s desperation for a job, and use it to manipulate them into giving up information they’d normally be very guarded about revealing. Next thing you know, they’ll be asking you to transfer bitcoin from your personal account to another overseas, and that never ends well.


These red flags are only the beginning. Many scammers are very sophisticated, to the point where they upload polished-looking websites of their own, or copy someone else’s in order to pose as a reputable employer or recruiter. They may spoof email addresses, impersonate real people, and use any number of other tactics to appear more trustworthy. This is where research comes in: if a job offer or advertisement seems suspicious, but there is nothing glaringly wrong, do your homework. Contact the company through various channels to verify that the job and the person you’re communicating with actually exist. Use a search engine to find out whether anyone else has been scammed by the same person or company. Investigate all suspicious details before proceeding. It may seem like an excessive amount of effort, but no effort is too great when it comes to protecting your identity, money, and reputation.

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