Common Job Scams and How to Protect Yourself

Published October 16, 2023

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It’s hard to believe that in this challenging economy, there are scammers out there willing to prey on desperate job seekers, but the truth is, employment scams are more prevalent than ever. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 14 million people are exposed to employment scams every year, with over $2 billion in direct losses annually. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission reports that—in just the first quarter of 2022—unsuspecting job seekers lost $68 million due to fake business and phony job opportunities. It’s a heartbreaking statistic; and with the soaring cost of living and money so tight for so many Americans, desperation has only added to a market already saturated with scammers.  

So, if you are in the market for a new job, it’s wise to brush up on your red flag-detection skills. You probably already know to watch out for unsolicited offers and jobs that sound just a little “too good to be true”, but can you spot an imposter? Do you know how to avoid “paying” for the job you were hoping would make things better? Sadly, scammers have grown more sophisticated in their schemes and are armed with new ways to steal your money, personal information, time, or even creative talents.

Here are some common job scams to watch out for:

Work-from-home jobs. During and after the pandemic, there was a huge surge in work-from-home job scams. Scammers are taking advantage of the popularity of remote work by advertising easy positions that persuade job seekers to pay a fee or purchase items to make the work possible. Oftentimes, it starts with a registration fee and a promise of commission when you sell products or get other individuals to sign on. This is an old trick known as a pyramid scheme or multilevel marketing (MLM) business model.

Envelope stuffing. There are lots of work from home scams these days, but the envelope stuffing scam has been around for a long time. With this scam, fraudsters offer to pay a certain sum (often $3 to $10)  for each envelope stuffed after you pay a registration fee, processing fee, or shipping and handling costs for the materials. The trouble is, once you send your money, you get a letter telling you to get other people (like your friends and relatives) to buy the same envelope-stuffing "opportunity" or another product. The only way to earn your money back is to get people other people involved in the same solicitation. The job promoters rarely pay anyone.

Equipment or product purchases. If the organization that offers to hire you requires you to shell out cash for equipment or products to do your job, that is a red flag. Even if the company does not seem like an MLM firm. Oftentimes, the fraudster will claim that you will be reimbursed when you get your first paycheck, but once they receive payment, they cease all communication. It is not uncommon for companies to require employees to use company-approved equipment, but most legitimate employers will not ask employees to pay out-of-pocket for those materials (even temporarily).

High-paying data entry jobs. Fake data entry jobs are at the top of the list for scammer job schemes. To lure their prey, they advertise high-paying “no-prior-experience-required” jobs (often remote) that pay 50-100k (or more) for less than full-time work. The pay is so high because the work is so boring (as the argument often goes). All you have to do is complete a short training program or share your bank information for direct deposit and you’ll be on your way to easy money! Sadly, in most cases, these jobs are not real. If you see a high-paying data entry job, investigate the company. Google the name plus the words, “scam”, “fraud”, “review”, or “complaint” before responding to any communications or posts.

Mystery shopper jobs. For some of us, getting paid to shop sounds like a dream come true—and scammers know it. Take a look at the classified ads (yes, they still exist) or Craigslist and you’re likely to see a listing that says, “get paid to shop” or “flexible schedule and high salary for shopping online or in-person”. Mystery shopper jobs do exist. Retailers and restaurants hire people to go into their businesses posing as regular customers to gain knowledge about the customer experience. In legitimate cases, the “secret shoppers” are then reimbursed for their purchases and paid a little extra for their time. However, if a company asks you to pay for anything upfront—even if it is certification or training—it is likely a scam. Don’t pay for a list of mystery shopper jobs and watch for listings that promise high salaries for such work. Mystery shopping gigs are typically part-time jobs that won’t pay enough to make a livable wage.

Interviews via online messaging services. In our tech-driven society, it is not uncommon for interviews to be conducted virtually. Unfortunately, scammers have taken advantage of this trend. Chat and online messaging scams involve getting job seekers to divulge personal information over the chat platform under the guise of interviewing for a job. These bad actors pose as employers who wish to interview you over a virtual platform (such as Skype, FaceTime, Yahoo Messenger, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, or even by text message). During the interview, they ask you to provide a social security number, credit card number, account PIN, or other sensitive information. Once you give them the information, the “employer” on the other ends the call and any hope of a job offer dissolves.

Career Advancement Counseling or Grants. This common scam targets both job seekers and people who are already employed. It promises a better career after (paid) guidance, certification, or education. Victims of career advancement grant scams typically receive an email or social media message asking you to apply online for a grant (supposedly from the government) that can be deposited in your account or used to pay for your education if you are approved.

Test Project Scams. Looking for good-paying, creative-driven work is tough—especially if you are a freelancer trying to make ends meet by working gig-to-gig. To make matters worse, there are a lot of job scams aimed at getting writers, designers, marketers, and other creative-driven job seekers to work for free. Here’s how it often goes: You submit a resume or proposal in response to a job posting, the “client” or “employer” responds and says they like your work but want you to do a “test project” before offering a job. You complete the test project, submit it, and never hear from the employer again. Or you do hear back are told the company went with a different person for the job. Unfortunately, it’s a common scheme aimed at gathering high-quality work from freelancers without having to pay them a penny.

Shipping schemes. Shipping schemes are especially dangerous because targets of the scam could unwittingly commit crimes if they get involved. With this scam, you are promised a paycheck or reimbursement for repackaging or forwarding items to customers outside the United States. Those who fall victim are rarely compensated (often after paying out-of-pocket for shipping) and could face criminal charges for their actions.

Resale gigs. Savvy shoppers can make a sizable income on resale side hustles with websites like eBay, Poshmark, and TheRealReal, but it takes a lot of work. First, you have to acquire the goods and list them. Then, you have to manage those listings, respond to questions, and then package and ship your sold goods in a timely manner. Depending on the scale, it can become a full-time job. Scammers target cash-hungry victims by offering to make this process easier. They’ll provide the inventory, they say—all you have to do is list and sell it. Sadly, after you agree to purchase their “deeply-discounted” luxury goods, designer clothes, and tech accessories, they take off with your money and never send the items.

The Bottom Line


If you receive a job offer or see a listing that seems too good to be true, walk away. Keep an eye out for red flags in job listings (like fees, training you must pay for, and unsolicited or unprofessional communication). Think twice before submitting any personal information—like your social security number, credit card numbers, or banking information. And, in general, it’s wise to be wary of job postings that boast high-paying opportunities, but don’t require much (if any) training or experience.

If You Already Paid a Scammer

If you’ve been the victim of a job scam, know that you’re not alone. Nonetheless, it’s best to act fast to protect your personal information and finances. By following these tips, you can keep your money and your personal data secure:
  • No matter the amount, report it to the Federal Trade Commission and your financial institution. You may not get your money back, but you could help prevent the scammers from targeting other victims. Also, contact the company you used to submit payment to the scammers—even if you used a mobile payment app, wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency.
  • Monitor your credit for changes and consider doing a temporary credit freeze to prevent the scammers from opening new accounts in your name.
  • Change your passwords if you suspect the scammers may have access to your banking, shopping, or social media accounts.
  • If the scam occurred within the state of Oregon, you could also report the incident to the State of Oregon Attorney General by contacting their consumer hotline at 877.877.9392.

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