While students are working hard to ensure that they land an ideal opportunity, they must be aware that the perfect job may not be so perfect. Entities and individuals may pose as legitimate employers as part of a scam to elicit personal information or to otherwise defraud their victims. Career centers and students alike must be vigilant in detecting fraudulent employers and should identify steps to verify the legitimacy of an employer.
Important: If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, contact your career center and campus police. If needed, contact your local police as well as any other relevant parties who may help to address your specific situation.
CAREER CENTERS: CREATE GUIDELINES FOR FLAGGING SUSPICIOUS EMPLOYERS
Career centers can minimize fraud through a combination of employer screening and student education. Each office should develop procedures to monitor employer engagement, including processes for flagging and removing suspicious job postings.
Because it may be impossible for career centers to detect all instances of fraud, career centers need to educate students about typical fraudulent practices and should serve as a resource for students who question a particular posting or employer. Career centers can also educate students by adding fraudulent employer alerts and red flags in their job portal announcements, newsletters, and website. Lastly, career centers can create simple methods for students to report suspicious employers, such as providing an online form students can submit through the center’s website.
Here are some examples of guidelines* for verifying the legitimacy of an employer:
- Check your career management system for an employer reliability profile or trust score/rating, if applicable.
- See if an employer’s email address matches the organization’s domain address.
- Tip: Copy and paste the email handle, e.g., kpmg.com from firstname.lastname@example.org, to Google search to ensure validity. The organization’s website should appear in the search. If it does not, double check the “Contact Us” section on the website to see if the email domain matches what was submitted. If the website does not match the email handle, the account should be further reviewed. Example: If KPMG were hiring, the handle would be email@example.com, not firstname.lastname@example.org).
- If an employer uses a personal email address (@gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @sbcglobal.net, @me.com, and such), ensure that 1) the email address matches what is found on the organization’s website, and 2) all other contact and profile evaluation information is credible and verified. Contacts can be associated back to the organization via its website or LinkedIn.
- The organization should have a verifiable address and the address provided has an association with the organization’s name. Example: Oracle’s LA office should not show up as a single-family home on Google Maps.
- For start-up companies that do not have a working website or similar information that can used for verification purposes, you may request the company provide the business filing documentation submitted to the state in which the business is located.
- If you become aware of scammers emailing students directly about fraudulent jobs, immediately alert your IT department, campus police, and any other relevant campus partners. The more you can report, the better your institution’s automated scanners will be at detecting and blocking these unsolicited emails.
- If you become aware of fraudulent employer activity, quickly alert affected students and notify technology partners. With technology systems being so interconnected, it is possible that the fraudulent job has been posted at other schools.
- Check with colleagues and/or relevant entities (such as professional associations, Chambers of Commerce) to determine if they are aware of or have had dealings with a suspicious employer.
STUDENTS: RED FLAGS TO CONSIDER
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FROM THE FBI
Fraudulent employers are phishing for the unsuspecting, including you. Be aware of what you share and post online. If you feel uncomfortable or are not sure about certain organizations or individuals claiming to represent an employer, talk to your career center.
What are some “red flags” students should be aware of to avoid fraudulent employers when using online job and internship sites?
Requests for financial/personal information are red flags. Here are some examples:
- You must provide your credit card or bank account numbers or other personal financial documentation. Do NOT give out any financial information at any point during your job-search process.
- You are asked to provide your social security and driver’s license information in the initial application. Personal information should never be asked during the initial application process.
- The representative tells you that the organization does not have an office set up in your area and will need you to help get the office up and running. This scam often includes a request for your banking information, supposedly to help the employer make transactions.
- The position requires an initial investment, such as a payment by wire service or courier.
- You are offered a large payment or reward in exchange for allowing the use of your bank account, often for depositing checks or transferring money.
- You receive an unexpectedly large check to deposit into your bank account.
- Remember: Never process ANY financial transactions. For example, some organizations offer opportunities to “make quick money.” They will offer a “one-day only special.” Their intent is to defraud you by sending or wiring money to your bank account. They will ask you to cash the check or send the monies to other accounts. Once your bank or financial institution processes the scammer’s check or financial request, you may be informed the monies are invalid or “not real.” In the meantime, you are held responsible for the funds the bank has sent at your direction to other accounts.
An unusual salary is a red flag. Some typical examples include:
- The position indicates a "first-year compensation" that is in high excess to the average compensation for that position type.
- The salary range listed is very wide, e.g., "employees can earn from $40K - $80K the first year."
- The position initially appears as a traditional job. Upon further research, it sounds more like an independent contractor opportunity.
Websites and emails can signal a problem. For example:
- The posting appears to be from a reputable, familiar organization—often a Fortune 500. Yet, the email handle in the contact's email address does not match the domain used by representatives of the organization; this is typically easy to determine from the organization's website. Another way to validate is to check the open positions on the organization's website by checking their careers/jobs webpage.
- The contact email address contains the domain @live.com or an @ that is not affiliated with the organization. Examples: @gmail, @yahoo, @hotmail. If this is the case, then verify that the email address matches what is found on the organization’s website.
- You receive unsolicited email that is not specifically directed to you. Spammers/scammers can obtain student emails fairly easily. If the unsolicited email references a referral from your career center, contact your career center to verify the employer.
- You are directed to a very basic website. Does the organization's website have an index that tells you what the site is about; or does it contain information only about the job in which you are interested? Scammers often create basic webpages that seem legitimate at first glance.
Other red flags include:
- The employer is hard to find. Scammers will try to keep themselves well hidden. Watch for anonymity. If it is difficult to find an address, actual contact, organization name, or similar information, this is cause to proceed with caution.
- The employer contacts you by phone, but there is no way to call the representative back, i.e., the number is not available.
- The employer responds to you immediately after you submit your resume. Typically, resumes sent to an employer are reviewed by multiple individuals or not viewed until the posting has closed. Note: This does not include an auto-response you may receive from the employer once you have sent your resume.
- The interview is conducted online or over the phone, and an offer is given almost immediately.
- The posting includes many spelling and grammatical errors.
- The posting neglects to mention the responsibilities of the job. Instead, the description focuses on the amount of money to be made.
- When you Google the organization name and the results include spam reports about the organization. Another source for scam reports is www.ripoffreport.com.
- Google the employer's phone number, fax number, and/or email address. If it does not appear connected to an actual business organization, this is a red flag. You can use the Better Business Bureau, Hoovers, and Anywho to verify organizations.
- You can also use social media to research each employer, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. Research the organization on websites such as Glassdoor.com for feedback and complaints.
Bottom line: If you have any questions or suspicions, contact your career center or campus police before pursuing any opportunity. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
* Note: The recommendations contained herein do not constitute legal advice and are not an exhaustive list. You are encouraged to speak to your legal counsel to discuss these issues more fully. A career center should also include a disclaimer that states that it does not ensure the viability of any employer and that it does not guarantee that all employers are reviewed. Career centers may also need to consider institution-specific circumstances or policies.
Reviewed and updated by the 2022 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee.