Top Tips for Avoiding Job Search Scams

We know the job market is ugly. We too have friends that are searching desperately for a decent paying job – and not finding one.

Unfortunately it appears the job market isn’t going to change anytime soon. Here’s this bit of gloomy news from the Associated Press:

Growth probably won’t be strong enough to quickly drive down the nation’s unemployment rate, currently at 10.2 percent. Some analysts think it could climb as high as 11 percent by the middle of next year before making a slow descent. It could take at least four years for the unemployment rate to drop back down to more normal levels.

What could be worse than the ugliest job market in years? Criminals are out in force preying on those desperately looking for work – something not easily done in recessions past. The Internet makes job searching much easier, but also makes the criminal’s job easier as well.

With that in mind, we present our best advice – and the best advice of experts across the Internet – on how you can safely find a job online.

Job Search Security Basics

Here are a few tips that should be no-brainers, but we include them just in case you need a re-fresher:

  • Keep Data Private – Never put your Social Security number (SSN), driver’s license number, or date of birth on your resume or any other public document. Duh.
  • Share Data Safely – Never provide your SSN, or any other sensitive info to someone on the phone or via email. Offer to fax the information or provide it in person once you are absolutely sure you have a legitimate offer. (more on that later)
  • Work at Home – Most work at home offers are scams. Do you really believe you can make “up to $10,000 a month in just a few hours a week”?
  • Email Job Offers – Most emails offering employment are spam and should be deleted.
  • Paying for a Job – Never pay anyone anything in order to apply for a job. People offering work pay you money, not the other way around.
  • Ask for Information – Always ask for a phone number and mailing address so you can investigate the company before proceeding.

When Is It Safe to Give Information?

This is the Million Dollar question. When is it safe to provide my information?

Employers will obviously need sensitive information like your SSN once they hire you in order to pay Social Security. You’ll need to fill out a IRS form W4 or a 1099 (if you are a contractor). However, you should never fill out these forms until you have a legitimate offer and are an employee or contractor of the company.

Should You Provide Sensitive Data Before You’re An Employee?

We’ve seen many job application forms that request SSN and/or date of birth. If this is your first interaction with a company I would absolutely leave those fields blank. They will ask for them again down the road if they are interested in pursuing an offer, but I would not provide them before I ever met or spoke with someone at that company.

Many companies run credit and/or background checks on employees before they are hired. In order to do these kinds of checks they have to have your SSN and other personal information. Should you give it?

Only you can decide.

You should always be in control of your personal info and should never allow yourself to be bullied or coerced into providing it. If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason you should refuse or negotiate another method of giving what they need. For example, you might agree to meet at their office in order to assure yourself this is a real opportunity.

How Can I Tell Which Job Opportunities Are Real?

Get the Power of Technology Working For You

Criminals are using technology to try to scam you, so get some of that power on your side of the equation. The Internet has all kinds of information where you can verify the claims of the person on the other end of the phone or email.

Susan Joyce at has some great suggestions for using technology to verify job opportunities:

Using Google Street View to Verify Addresses

Ask your job contact for the physical address of their location and then do some digging with Google Maps.

Google Street View within Google Maps can show you exactly what their location looks like. Maybe it’s a thriving business with a nice logo on the front entrance and happy people on their way to work. On the other hand, maybe it will show an abandoned warehouse or empty lot.

To find out, just enter the address into Google Search and you’ll see something like this:

Click the address link and you’ll progress to this view:

Click the little gold man and drag him to the address shown on the map. Streets covered by blue lines are available to view in Street View.

Here’s what you’ll see in Street View. The Apple campus looks nice. Now all you need to do is go inside and meet Mr. Jobs about that new iTablet position you applied for.

If this is what you see instead, I think I’d stay in the car unless you’re looking to meet with Slim Shady down on 8 Mile.

Reverse Phone lookup

Now that you have an idea of what their physical address looks like, give their phone number a spin in a Reverse Phone Lookup. Most legitimate businesses will have a listing that will also show their physical address. You can verify that the two pieces of data match. See how this is working? Excellent.

You can enter the phone number into Google or try one of these specialized phone search tools:


Public Web Site

Most reputable businesses will have a public web site. Go to the site and verify that the address and phone number match the information you have.

You can also get a little more geeky and peek at what’s called the Whois information behind a web site. This is the information a person has to enter when registering a web domain. It will usually have contact information including phone, email, and a physical address and you can compare that against the data you’ve gathered. If everything lines up you can start to gain confidence that this is a real opportunity.

I like to use to do this, but there are lots of Whois services out there:

Once you’ve verified the phone number and the address, call the number and ask for the person who contacted you.

Author: Richard Patterson

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