How to Tell If a Job Email Is a Scam

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Scammers can be quite sophisticated in their tactics. That makes it hard to know if an email message regarding a job is a scam or a legitimate employment-related email message. Fortunately, there are some tip-offs when it comes to fake jobs—for instance, many job scams will send you an email saying that you got the job before ever meeting with you in person.

If that sounds unlikely, it's because it is—it's hard to imagine many scenarios where a company would offer a job without an interview. 

Occasionally, the "employer" will speak to you briefly on the phone, but most of your contact with the "company" will be via email. The "company" typically will ask you to forward or wire money from a personal account to another account. 

No legitimate employer will ever ask you to transfer money or pay to get hired. If the company asks you to forward or wire money it's a major red flag, and you should stop all communication.

Types of Email Job Scams

Some job scams do not even use job search websites. Instead, they send emails directly to individual email addresses. You may receive an email offering you a job; the email is often from a Yahoo, AOL, Gmail, or Hotmail account, although scammers occasionally use a fake company domain name.

Legitimate hiring managers do not use a personal email address. If the email comes from a company domain, check that it matches the actual company domain—that is, if you get an email from maya.burns@companyabc.com, confirm that "companyabc.com" is the company's real website. 

Once again, these unsolicited job offers are not legitimate; no company will offer you a job without even knowing who you are. 

Other email scams use a technique called "spoofing." They send you an email containing a link to a posting that appears to come from a legitimate job search site, but it is in fact fraudulent.

How to Tell if a Job Email is a Scam

Recently, I received a typical work at home job scam via email. Here are some of the red flags that helped me know it was a scam—not a legitimate job offer: 

An out-of-the-blue email and false claims: The unsolicited job posting email message came with a job site logo and said I received it because my resume was on that job site (it's not). I hadn't applied for the job or posted my resume.

The reply email: The reply address was a Gmail email address and the message wasn't addressed to me. When I hit reply, I discovered it had been sent to an email address I have never used for job searching. The message said to reply to the email to get more information and an application.

Small errors: Finally, the message wasn't addressed to me. Like anyone else, hiring managers can make mistakes. Still, if you notice a lot of typos, or small errors (like the email being addressed to the wrong person, or not mentioning your name), that's a sign that something fishy is going on. 

The job offer required processing payments: This is a type of money laundering job scam

If you get an unexpected email about a job, try searching for the company online. (Try searching "company name" + "scam.") You can also check out the company with the Better Business Bureau.

When I searched online for the company name from the scam email I received, the top results were all on scam warning sites.

Never respond to job offers that ask you to wire money, cash checks, submit your credit card information, pay for a credit report, or do any other transactions that require a fee to get hired. When you're asked to pay for a job or share personal financial account details, it's a classic sign of a job scam.

Job Email Scam Example

Here's an example of a scam email sent to a job seeker.

Dear First Name,

[Company Name] company was established in 20XX by an international team of financial and marketing experts. We specialize in delivering positive business results through solving currency exchange problems as well as online payments and transactions, their tools being innovative solutions, high performance and e-commerce optimization techniques.

We offer a "work at home" part-time position "Regional Manager". This includes processing payments between our partners' clients and our company, ensure all personal data relating to customers is maintained, accurate and kept discreet, identifying opportunities to improve service delivery.

Position Type: Permanent. Working hours: 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM weekdays. Variable overtime is also required Occupation Type: part-time (1-5 hours a day occupation). Salary: $40 per hour.

Professional qualities and skills: Scrupulous and diligent; Computer literate; Good organizational and administrative skills; Payment procedures prior experience would be an asset; Ability to work independently.

Please REPLY to this email to receive further information and application forms.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Hugley, HR Manager, [Company Name]

Steps to Take After Receiving an Unsolicited Email About a Job 

If you receive an email like the one above, you can take the following steps to help understand if it is legitimate or a scam: 

  1. Read carefully for typos and errors. Plus, if there is a logo in the email, check if it looks professional and matches the company's logo online. 
  2. Research the company. Do a quick online search. Does the company have a website and presence online? Try searching for the company on the Better Business Bureau website, and searching the company name along with the word "scam."
  3. Be skeptical if the job boasts flexible hours or the opportunity to work from home. Not all remote work jobs are scams, but many of them are. 
  4. Gauge the salary. If the rate seems far higher than what you'd expect for the role, that's another red flag. 
  5. Be careful. If you decide the offer seems legit, and do reply to an email, be thoughtful about what information you share. Do not share financial information or pay the company. Treat requests for personal information (your mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your social security number) with much skepticism and do not share this information. 

Article Sources

  1. Federal Trade Commission. "Job Scams." Accessed Aug. 14, 2020.