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According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), job scams were the riskiest scams facing consumers in 2019.

The BBB assesses scam risk along three dimensions: how prevalent a scam is, how likely consumers are to lose money to a scam, and the average amount of money lost to a scam. Along those lines, the BBB found that job scams account for 9.3 percent of the scams encountered by consumers, result in monetary loss 17.7 percent of the time, and result in an average loss of $1500.

Job scams can take many forms, but in general, scammers are pursuing one of three aims:

  1. They are trying to gain access to a job seeker’s bank account, so they can withdraw money from it.
  2. They are trying to get a job seeker’s social security number and other personal information, which they will use to commit identity theft.
  3. They are trying to pull a fake check scam, in which they send the job seeker a fake check and ask for money back once the check has been deposited.

Even the best of us can have the wool pulled over our eyes by a sophisticated con artist — especially during times of desperation. And unemployment can definitely leave you feeling desperate.

Still, there are a number of warning signs you should look out for to protect yourself against a job scam:

1. Requests for Financial Information

Once you’ve been hired, you’ll need to provide your bank account details to set up direct deposit, but your personal financial information should never enter the equation unless you’ve gone through the entire hiring process and accepted a formal job offer.

“If an interviewer asks for things like your bank account routing number or credit card information, you should immediately recognize it as a red flag,” safety and security expert Elle Aldridge wrote in a 2014 Recruiter Today article. Her advice is still sound today: “Do not provide this information, because the request could be an attempt to steal your identity and commit fraud. Once you are employed, your employer may ask for your bank account routing number for direct deposit of paychecks, but there is no reason that an interviewer should need this information while you are applying for a job.”

2. Requests for Payment or Requests to Deposit a Check and Return Some of the Money

Some job scammers are particularly bold: They’ll directly ask for payment. Usually, they justify this as payment for some sort of process related to the job, like a background check or a recruiter’s fee. However, reputable employers will always shoulder the entire cost of the hiring process.

“If an employer is asking you to pay an upfront cost for any reason, you should be extremely suspicious,” Aldridge wrote. “You should also be wary of any job-placement firm that requests money. Most legitimate placement services require employers to pay a fee, but employees should not be asked to pay anything.”

On a related note, scammers trying the fake check scam might send you a check, ostensibly to help you buy supplies for the job. In this scam, the check will be for more money than you actually need, and the scammer will ask you to return the unused portion. Such a request guarantees you’re dealing with a scammer. Instead of sending a check, a reputable employer would either send you the supplies directly or reimburse you for a specific expenditure.

3. Requests for Sensitive Personal Information

This is a tricky one. Many legitimate employers will ask you to furnish your social security number at some point in the hiring process, but many scammers take advantage of this fact to commit identity theft.

One good rule of thumb here is that, the earlier you’re asked to divulge this information, the more likely it is you’re being scammed. Writing your social security number on tax paperwork after accepting a job? That’s safe. Sharing your social security number on your initial application before you’ve even spoken to someone? That’s a possible red flag.

4. Suspicious Email Addresses

As Aldridge put it, “Hiring managers should send you emails from their business addresses, not from a personal account like Gmail.” So, if someone is claiming to be a hiring manager at Amazon but not emailing you from an “@amazon.com,” email address that’s a massive red flag.

Scammers sometimes try to get around this by using addresses like “[legitimate company name]@gmail.com.” Remember: Reputable companies — especially major enterprises — will by and large have their own email address domains.

5. It’s Too Good to Be True

Does the job ad promise an exorbitant salary for a comparably slight amount of work? Then it’s almost guaranteed to be a scam. Con artists often try to lure people in by promising opportunities that seem too good to be true — and that’s exactly what they are.

Protecting Yourself From Job Scams

By looking out for these red flags, you should be able to avoid a lot of potential scams. However, you may sometimes end up in situations where you’re not entirely sure whether you’re dealing with a legitimate opportunity or a grift. Especially sophisticated scammers can set traps that look remarkably like the real thing.

If you’re not sure whether an opportunity is real, one of the easiest ways to confirm it is to contact the company directly. Don’t use the email address provided in the job ad. Try to find an alternative means of contact, like a phone number or HR email address. You want to confirm the veracity of the job opportunity with someone else at the company who is not the same person you’ve been in contact with already. If you can’t find an alternative means of communication — or if the same person responds to all your inquiries regardless of channel — that’s a red flag in and of itself.

Another good idea is to conduct some research on the company, especially if it’s one you’ve never heard of. Google the organization. What comes up? Does it have a professional website, replete with authentic customer testimonies? Can you find legitimate Glassdoor reviews from previous employees? It’s 2020 — if you can’t find much information about a company online, that’s a massive red flag.

Job scams are an unfortunate reality, and in their haste to find work, many job seekers fall victim to these cons. However, with a little vigilance, you can protect yourself against the grifters.

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