1. Be skeptical and know the most common job scams. As with anything, if a job description seems too good to be true, it probably isn't an authentic opportunity. Jobs offering a lot of money for very little effort on your part are likely fronts for people who hope to collect information from you. "The most common job scams tend to focus on a few specific types of jobs," Sutton Fell notes. "Those include data entry, stuffing envelopes, rebate or forms processing, wire transfers or money movement, shipping management, craft assembly and pyramid sales schemes." If you see those types of ads, your best bet is to steer clear.
2. Verify job listings before you apply. New job scams often use a real company's name to advertise their scam. They attract job seekers who see job postings for G.E. and Google and don't realize they are fake jobs the company did not post. Sutton Fell suggests: "When you find job listings on outside sites, it's easy to go to the main career page of the company and check their own website's listings to see if the job is really being offered by them. If you can't find it on the company's career page, it might be a scam." You may also want to be skeptical if no company name is listed at all.
3. Learn how to spot scammy behavior. When is the last time a real company contacted you out of the blue and offered you a job? People mining the Internet for information, who prey on job seekers, might conduct job interviews over instant messaging programs and could make a job offer quickly. Another tell-tale sign that you may be caught in a scam is that the hiring manager asks for your decision immediately. "This creates a sense of urgency that if you don't act on it, you may lose the job to someone else," Sutton Fell explains. "Once they've lured you in, they'll ask you for money – either to purchase job supplies like software or training materials, or to start a direct deposit account for your paycheck. You'll almost never see a reputable employer engaging in these practices."
4. Be cautious about where you're job searching online. Most major job boards don't pre-screen job listings before publishing, so don't assume a job is legitimate because it's listed on a major site. Look for sites that do pre-screen their postings. Before applying, research the company and conduct a Google search to learn about its reputation. You may find stories of other people being scammed, which will save you time, money and headaches later.
5. Trust your gut. Job scammers believe that job seekers must be desperate and count on them to be vulnerable. Sutton Fell notes: "Even though you're anxious to get hired, don't let your guard down and leave yourself open to scam artists taking advantage of you." She also points out some key signs of fake job postings: including lots of capital letters, excessive punctuation, including dollar signs and exclamation points. These scams usually don't offer details about the job and may request sensitive information, such as your bank account details and social security number.
"People who run job scams use the heightened emotions inherent in job searching – stress, anxiety, fear, hopelessness – to their advantage because they know people are distracted by their need to find employment," Sutton Fell warns. "Arm yourself with knowledge about common scams, research companies before you apply and trust your instincts to avoid getting involved with people who hope to take advantage of you."
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.