5 Ways to Find a Scam in an Online Job Ad

If the job seems to good to be true, it probably is.

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Lindsay Olson
It might surprise you, but online job boards are targets for scams and spam. For job seekers desperate for a job—any job—it can be easy to be fooled, especially when the gig seems too good to be true.

Here are five things to keep an eye out for when you're applying for jobs on online job boards.

1. The job isn't what it says it is. If you apply for, let's say, a job in PR, and get invited for an interview, you might find the old bait-and-switch scam: the job is in fact, going door-to-door selling vacuums. If the job is truly terrible, a devious employer might sugarcoat or completely change the job description in the hopes of luring you in. Once you're there, he knows it might be hard for you to walk away from an on-the-spot job offer.

2. They ask for money. Never, ever, ever should an employer ask you to pay him. There's no such thing as an application fee for a job. There are many "work from home" opportunities, such as stuffing envelopes, that ask for a starter fee. But always use the rule of thumb: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

3. They want your personal info. The only time you might be required to give information so sensitive as your social security number is when you've been hired and are filling out your tax documents. You should never need to hand over personal information via email. Many scammers buy fake job ads with stolen credit card numbers, then ask applicants to send them personal information, which lets them steal more identities and more credit card numbers. Don't fall victim.

4. They want you to cash a check. Another popular scam is when an alleged employer promises to send you a check to pay for something, and asks you to send a check back for the change. The problem is: they send you a fake check. So by the time the check bounces, you may already have sent the funds, which, you can be assured, they will cash.

5. The link in the ad takes you somewhere else. Sometimes job ads are simply meant to drive you to another website. So while you think you're clicking on information for a job you're interested in, you might be taken to another job board (that wants you to pay to subscribe) or other website.

How to Battle the Scam

Always research a company before applying, especially if you have your suspicions about the ad. See what other people say about the company online, and see if the business even has a website. If it doesn't, it could be a red flag.

Watch out for ads that ask you to send your resume to a free email address. These are not typically serious job advertisements.

Make sure it makes sense. A serious job poster isn't likely to spend money posting an open position for an administrative assistant for a manufacturing company on a job board for Web designers. Especially when you are looking for jobs through aggregators, check the source site and make sure it makes sense the company would post there.

Look at the grammar and length of the post. Many job scammers capitalize the job titles to make their ad stand out. If it's full of errors or provides short, general information and still sounds too good to be true, it's possibly a scam.

Never give out your personal information. Don't send out your social security number, and never send money or bank account information. Push for an interview; anyone who will hire you over email is probably hiding something.

Trust your gut. You want and need a job, but don't let that sway you into making a bad decision you could regret for years to come. Do your due diligence to make sure the job is legitimate and if your instincts tell you otherwise, pass it up. There's no such thing as a "get rich quick" job, so if a job ad promises to do just that, walk away.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.