Is this a scam?

Jul 15, 2015

Did you know that con artists often target job-seekers?

Any job hunt automatically involves a level of inherent vulnerability. You put a certain amount of personal information in a potential employer’s hands - contact information, address, work history - and you have to just trust that they are who they say they are.

It’s disheartening that scammers exploit that vulnerability to take advantage of folks… but with a few tips, you can often safely identify con artists (without becoming prey).

Does it seem too good to be true?

Are they offering you crazy money right off the bat? Are they offering unlimited flexibility, with very few stipulations attached? Does it just seem like a LOT of reward, for very little effort?

Be wary.

Con artists don’t generally lure victims in with mediocre opportunities. Instead, they excite their marks with flashy dream gigs. If a gig seems too good to be true, it may be, ah... just that.

Tread carefully: all that glitters is not gold.

Do their claims come apart with research?

Most scams fall apart with a little sleuthing. Con artists often depend on naiveté or laziness to cover lies.

Have you looked up the possibly-sketchy-client in question? Beware companies and individuals with absolutely no online footprint.

If you can find them online, can you find contact information – and does it line up with the information you’ve been given? Ask for references, if necessary.

Make sure that whomever you’re dealing with is ACTUALLY ASSOCIATED with whatever company they claim to represent. Have you reverse-content-searched them?

I once received a cold call recruiting attempt by a slimy-seeming contact, yet they directed me to a non-profit website that looked surprisingly legit.

Curious, I copied and pasted some of their content, looked for it online – and found that they had stolen a legitimate organization’s ENTIRE WEBSITE.

I alerted the real organization, and reported the scammers… but I can only imagine how many freelancers were fooled.

Join the Union (it's free!)

Become a member

**Trust your instincts. **

If something still feels fishy, try to make direct contact with the prospective client.

Chronic typos in communications, responses that seem formulaic or robotic, and clumsy, out-of-the-blue recruiting efforts should raise your Scam Radar alarm.

Make sure you know exactly who you’re dealing with. If you’re unsure whether or not a gig is genuine, ask to meet in person or speak to someone on the phone. Scam artists don’t like an inquisitive mind.

Are they getting very “personal” – very fast?

Does Captain-Possible-Scam want to hire you very very fast, without much lede-time? Do they have an opportunity opening – but you have to jump on it immediately, or it’s a no-go? Are they pressuring you into making big decisions instantaneously?

Perhaps most tellingly, are they asking for personal information – ESPECIALLY financial information or ID (Social Security numbers, license numbers, copies of documents) upfront?

Are they asking you to pay for any kind of employment service, or demanding that you sign any documents?

Has any kind of implicit threat been communicated (“pay a fee or we can’t process your papers”)?

This is not how the hiring game should work. Even if they were a legitimate business, I'd caution you to stay away from an potential employer pursuing this kind of full-court-press. As it stands, they're more than likely NOT a legitmate business.

**Are they dealing in extremes? **

A BIG red flag is a cold-call that either promises great rewards (the most infamous and obvious being the “a Nigerian princess wants to give you one million dollars, stranger” email) OR terrible consequence (“Your business is about to be deleted from online searches – press 1 now to prevent this!”).

Beware of either of these extremes, especially if they include recognizable brand names that scammers might exploit – Google, Apple, the IRS. Trust me, if Google, Apple, or the IRS legitimately tries to contact you… you’ll know.

The bottom line? Human instincts have evolved over thousands of years to tell a poison berry from a wholesome one, a safe path from a tiger’s hunting grounds – and yes, a scam from the real thing.

If after doing a little investigation, your stomach still feels funny – if you still really suspect you might be being scammed – TRUST that.

Do your research, and ask for references; really double back and check out everything twice. It never hurts to make sure – and you may just be cheating a clever con artist out of their spoils.

Stay in the know: Connect with Freelancers Union on Twitter where we occassionally alert freelancers about common scams.

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.