For years, I had my own personal struggles with obtaining and maintaining a job. As a single mother, balancing your child and work can be a constant juggling act, especially when you have a special needs child. So many times I’ve had to leave a job because my son got kicked out of a school or daycare due to their inability to handle the behavioral issues associated with his disability. Or I struggled to find someone to let him sleep on their couch so I could work nights. Finally, after years of struggling, we had reached the point where I could seek employment once more.
But one by one, I found myself facing roadblocks in my pursuit of a job. Never before had I thought I could ever feel so worthless as when I was informed at a local employment agency that I was far too qualified for any of the positions that come across their desks. Or despite my degree in Nuclear Engineering, the only types of engineering jobs a head hunter could offer to find for me was as a secretary. It’s utterly demoralizing to think you are not good enough for a position or to spend countless hours “dumbing” down your resume because your skill set is intimidating.
However, I discovered a new low in the process: job scams.
The search for employment can being an exhausting effort both mentally and physically. Regardless if you lack the skills needed for a given position or are viewed as overqualified, the emotional burden can weigh heavily with every rejected or unanswered application. Regardless if you spend hours scouring through the want ads in the local newspaper or online, finding a job is a job within itself. Yet, with today’s increasing number of scams and scammers, even something as vital as looking for a job can put you at financial risk.
No one ever likes the idea of being scammed, especially when all they desire is a means to provide for their family. I had never heard of job scams. Having a job as a scam, yes, but to actually take advantage of those who are seeking out a job?
A Facebook friend of mine directed me to a website that she had had success in finding a decent customer service job: oDesk.com. Now, I’ve done at home jobs before and was fairly successful on another site, though what drew me to oDesk was the fact it was free. Other sites, like Arise.com require you to pay for training from the clients you are hoping to get a contract through. Once your training is finished and you’ve started working, they begin charging a monthly fee out of your income. However, on oDesk, it is the clients who are charged a 10% fee.
I instantly began looking for writing jobs, but after my last writing gig, I was hesitant about taking on a contract that would only pay me $1 for a 500 word article, when I use to make $22.50. A few days on the site, I received an invitation for an interview. Despite my hesitation, I was desperate for a job and the last thing I wanted to procure was a job working at one of the local McDonald’s. I was excited by the job offer, actually, I was completely blinded. Here it was, a full-time position I was qualified for with a good pay rate, benefits, the works. But then the check came..
No, I’m not talking about a my paycheck. Two days after my initial interview, a check for $1980 was delivered for the purpose of paying a vendor to ship me the office equipment and software I needed to begin working. The scam of it all is that once the funds are available in your account and you pay for the equipment and/or software, they get the money and you never see anything for it. I was lucky enough to have recognized the scam before it got to this stage, however it’s known that several people do fall for this. Now, not only has your self esteem been damaged by the scam, but four to five weeks down the line, the bank will discover the check is a fraud and you are responsible for paying back every penny of it.
So how can you tell if a job offer is scam?
Interviewing via instant messenger. This is probably the red flag that should have caught my attention from the beginning, but sometimes when you’re excited about possibly finding a job, things go unnoticed or you ignore that gut feeling that’s screaming at you. There are companies that do phone interviews and even some that will do a skype interview with candidates. However, if a company insists on using instant messenger as a means of conducting your interview, ask for a phone number to call their HR to schedule an appointment.
Investigate the company. A reputable company is going to call your references and may even do a background check and drug screening on you. So why not do some digging of your own? In my case, the scam were actually using the name of a very reputable global marketing/research/consulting firm that had a very good rating. So I ran into a dead end on this, however, not all scam use the names of good companies.
Free email. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a free email account. Most of us have one. However, for large companies, the idea that they don’t have a professional business email address is a bit absurd. I have worked for a company that only allowed our business emails to be sent among those within the company, but I had an email address with them. If an employer is requiring you to send an email to a free email server, be wary. There still are a lot of small businesses that use free email accounts to conduct business through. However, if their site has a link to an official business email and they don’t, it’s probably a scam.
Be careful with your personal information. The scam I dealt with only asked for my address and phone number (which is still a bit scary in itself). However, some will go as far as to demand your bank account information and social security number. NEVER give out this information unless you’ve had a formal interview.
Never send money. No employer is going to ask you for money. NEVER send your future employer check, money order or any form of payment. Working is so they can pay you, not you pay them. Also, if a mysterious check is sent to you as “start up funds” and you have yet to sign a contract or even fill out your tax forms, demand to speak to HR. Most likely, they are hoping to scam you into cashing a bad check and then getting the money back from you, while leaving you with the responsibility of covering the costs. Do not cash that check.
Looking for a job is tough and when you are applying for positions online, you never know who is going to be on the other side. Learn to protect yourself and how to safely look for jobs, because otherwise you might find yourself in the throes of a scam when all you want is to make a living.