Scam job listings and fraudulent recruitment efforts abound in email inboxes and on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Zip Recruiter, according to a new report from the Washington Post. Under the guise of fake employment offers and opportunities, internet grifters are angling to take advantage of jobseekers, and collect personal information.
The Post article details the specific experience of Lisa Miner, a dialysis technician who was nearly duped by a fake recruitment email to become an app developer for CVS Health. She received the eager outreach message in the midst of an ongoing job search via common listing sites. After a skills test, the “recruiter” offered Miner the role.
But during onboarding, the Georgia-based technician became suspicious when she was asked to purchase thousands of dollars of work supplies from a particular vendor using a certified check she was sent. Instead of immediately buying the items as instructed, Miner tried to cash the check instead and see what happened. Spoiler alert: it didn’t clear—indicating that a scam was afoot. She reported the incident to the FBI, but hasn’t yet received any response or information, according to the Post.
Fake job postings aren’t a brand new concept. A 2021 ProPublica investigation catalogued a wave of listing scams focused on stealing victims’ identifying information and then applying to unemployment benefits with it, along with other nefarious activities. And the Better Business Bureau, FBI, and Federal Trade Commission have all aimed to warn jobseekers of fraudulent listings at varying points in the past couple years.
Since the start of the pandemic, such scams have been on the rise, according to a 2021 BBB analysis. Between 2018 and 2020, the nonprofit consumer watchdog group reported that internet employment scams rose 27%.
And right now—when years of job market instability, the proliferation of remote work opportunities, and an ever expanding series of high profile layoffs have come together—it’s a particularly vulnerable time to be navigating the job market.
“Job scammers are trying to prey on peoples’ desire to be flexible,” Sinem Buber, lead economist at ZipRecruiter, told the Washington Post. “It’s a peak time because of that.”
Listing sites told the Washington Post that they work to filter out fraudulent job postings and fake employers. Asked about specific methodology for preventing scams, a ZipRecruiter spokesperson directed Gizmodo to a series of blog posts on their website about the issue. In one, the company wrote that uses “proprietary detection software” to vet potential posts. In another, ZipRecruiter instructs job seekers to be vigilant while perusing listings and to look out for exceedingly vague job descriptions, poor reviews, and companies with no or limited online presence outside of the listing.
“We have a dedicated search quality team who goes to extraordinary lengths deploying a variety of techniques to assess the suitability and validity of job listings,” Indeed spokesperson, Spencer Dandes, told Gizmodo in an email. Similarly, a LinkedIn spokesperson emailed Gizmodo to say the company uses “technology and teams of experts to find and remove unsafe jobs and those that don’t meet our standards.”
Yet detection software and quality team or not, some scams are still likely to filter through. “Indeed removes tens of millions of job listings each month that do not meet our quality guidelines,” Dandes said.
To avoid falling into a fraudster’s trap, use the same common sense that keeps you away from other internet scams. Further, the FTC advises that you verify the existence of a job and company before applying (i.e. visit the company website and double-check), peruse social media and review sites like Glassdoor, do not pay money to a prospective employer during the recruitment or onboarding process, and never deposit a check from a stranger.
Some scammers will go through great lengths to look legit, as with the faux-Spirit Airlines fraudsters that ProPublica described. That scam included a carefully constructed external website that was just one letter off from actually spelling Spirit Airlines. So, in a few cases, extra vigilance is likely warranted. Be especially suspicious of any recruiters or postings that require you to upload driver’s license scans or give your social security number early on in the process. When initially applying for a job, employers only need your contact info (along with resume, cover letter, etc...), not more detailed personal information.
And if you do encounter a suspicious posting on a listing site, you can report it. “We encourage job seekers to report any suspicious job advertisements to us,” Indeed’s Dandes wrote. ZipRecruiter suggests the same. The site “encourage[s] reporting of all such activity to us so we can investigate and take prompt remedial action.”
Update 12/22/2022, 1:12 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with comment from LinkedIn.