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4 Ways to Outsmart Fake Job Listings

A scary business man with a mask on in front of a city scape

Searching for a job can be a humbling experience, and nothing can leave you more vulnerable than falling victim to a fake job listing. Like other online scams, fake job listings seem to be increasing, and some are becoming so sophisticated that they’re difficult to flag. Adding to the problem is that legitimate businesses have started posting and even interviewing for imaginary “dream jobs” just to test the quality of talent available or to feed their candidate pools for less desirable positions (read more about that practice here).

What’s a job seeker to do? You can start by putting into practice the following four steps.

1. Do not pay to play.

This is perhaps the most obvious clue that a job is fake, but so many job seekers fall victim to it that it’s worth pointing out. You should never be expected to pay for a job opportunity or be required to provide information like your bank account number before getting the job. The FTC cautions that scammers will often ask for money or access to credits cards or bank information to cover fees for certification, training materials or other expenses. Some unscrupulous staffing agencies will also ask for an upfront “investment” in career counseling, resume writing and other services in exchange for a job placement guarantee. Don’t fall for it. Reputable staffing firms will help you find a job without asking you for money in return.

2. Trust your gut.

Let’s say this together: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Job listings that offer big pay for little work or no experience are rarely real. Vague descriptions with puffed-up language like “get in on the ground floor” are usually dead ends, too. Many job scams also include no interview necessary or a simple interview over instant message (The Balance points out Yahoo! Messenger is used a lot for fake jobs). If you find yourself thinking, “Huh, that seems super easy,” when reviewing the requirements…beware.

3. Do a little research.

A simple web search can usually tell you all you need to know about a company before you take the bait. If nothing comes up or, of course, if complaints of scams turn up, you can assume the job is fake. These days, all legitimate companies have at least some sort of online presence. And pay attention to details. Copy and paste the exact email or website domain provided into a web search and see what comes up. “” is not the same as “” You can also copy and paste full paragraphs from an email solicitation into a web search and see if the results show it as a scam.

Don’t assume that since you recognize the organization’s name that the person you heard from is legitimately representing them. This can be especially true for recruiters and headhunters with whom you’re unfamiliar. Fake recruiters are common on LinkedIn, for instance, so when one approaches you, be sure to research them and their company carefully. Once you’re set up with a reputable staffing firm, you can rest assured the client companies where you will be sent to work are legitimate, too (but do report anything suspicious to your recruiter).

4. Cross-check the facts.

If you’re still suspicious after your initial web search, investigate more. For federal jobs, the FTC recommends checking for the listing on before responding. Search for the company on Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and other social sites to see what people are saying about them (this goes for staffing firms just as much as other employers). Finally, don’t be shy about calling the company directly to ask if a position like the one you’ve seen is open or, if you have the name of someone involved in listing the job, ask if that person is an employee.

If you’re working with a staffing firm, you can ask your recruiter if they know anything about the position or hiring company (and if you’re not, it can be a good excuse to start working with one to help you navigate these types of traps). The recruiter at the staffing firm may also be aware of any candidate pipelining schemes or similar fake job practices that the hiring company may have conducted in the past.


Whether you came across a job with strings attached on Craigslist, received a call, email or LinkedIn message from an unknown recruiter, or spotted a too-good-to-be-true opportunity elsewhere, take a step back and be skeptical. For a job to be worth your time and effort, it should first pass this scrutiny test with flying colors.


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