Easily Identifying Fraudulent Job Postings

Here in the Office of Alumni Career Management, we work with alumni from all walks of life and in all stages of their careers.  As our nation’s job market continues to move further and further away from its more traditional structure and closer toward the new “gig economy,” many of you have approached us for assistance in taking advantage of some of these opportunities.  While taking on “gigs” or freelance and nontraditional jobs can be an excellent way to build your portfolio and gain some experience in the field(s) for which you’d like to build a career (some people even make it the basis of their whole careers – that’s great!), there is also sometimes a risk that comes along with doing business in this more informal economy.

Before you decide to apply for what sounds like the job of your dreams (or even just a great place to start right now), we encourage you to exercise caution and be diligent about analyzing the validity of the listing. Here are a few quick and easy ways to identify whether or not an opportunity is a legitimate job listing, or if what you’re looking at is a fraudulent posting designed to steal your identity or rope you into spending money on an “opportunity” with little to no prospect of getting a return on your “investment”.

You may be viewing a fraudulent job posting if:

  1. You are asked to provide personal financial information up front, such as your credit card or bank account numbers, your social security number, or other personal financial documentation.


Generally speaking, you will be asked to provide a social security number on an official job application, so that the company can code you for tax purposes and/or perform a background check on you.  However, you should not be asked to provide that information when simply looking at or responding to a job listing.  Additionally, a company should never ask for credit card or other payment information from you at any point.  Once you’ve been hired, a direct deposit form from payroll may be included in your onboarding paperwork that will ask for your bank account number, but you should not be asked for this information prior to an offer of employment being extended.  Also, note that most companies offer an alternative to direct deposit agreements, such as the issuance of paper checks or a paycard onto which your earnings will be deposited.


  1. – The posting appears to be from a reputable company, but the domain name in the contact’s email address does not match that used by representatives of that company.


Be especially wary of job postings where a contact is using a generic domain name (@gmail.com or @live.com, etc) – this almost always indicates that the job posting is fraudulent.  If you see another company’s name in the domain section, take a moment to do a web search for that company.  Occasionally, you may find that this is a recruiter contracted by the company for which you would like to apply, and in that case it may be a reputable job posting.  Bear in mind, though, that most legitimate job postings that utilize a recruiter will indicate that in the job posting itself.



  1. – The job that the employer wants you to perform is different than the job for which you applied.


The most common version of this is a scenario in which the employer says that he or she is out of the country currently, and that there are some tasks that he/she needs you to perform on their behalf.  These tasks almost always involve money, and can include the employer sending you a bogus check to deposit and use for their purposes (only to find that the check bounces after a few days, while your personal funds have been utilized instead to achieve their goals), or asking you to perform certain tasks with your own personal funds and await reimbursement.


  1. – The position requires an initial investment, such as payment by wire service or courier.


Note that this is different from a direct sales opportunity (such as Plexus, LipSense, or Mary Kay), in which you are investing in your own business as part of a larger company.  Those are legitimate opportunities where you have the ability to grow a significant income, though you are responsible for your own growth and it is not a traditional employment setup where you will be receiving a paycheck at pre-determined periods.  Instead, these fraudulent opportunities require some sort of down payment or investment from the company in order to begin working for them, leading to you essentially paying for a paycheck.  If a company asks you to pay to be part of their payroll – especially if they are asking you for payment via Western Union or MoneyGram – run.  This is never a legitimate way for a company to do business.

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