If you’re looking for a new job, you’ve probably started your search online. Online job applications are convenient to fill out and easy to track, but unfortunately, it’s also easy for bad actors to scam job applicants. So far this year, job applicants have lost a little over $14 million to false job advertisements, text notifications, and other scams. That $14 million only makes up 30% of reported scams. While you might not lose money, you can certainly lose valuable time in your job search by pursuing fake opportunities. 

Learn how to conduct a safe online job search so you can find your next great opportunity without risking your money, time, and personal information. 

Identifying legitimate job opportunities 

Websites like LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed are frequently used by legitimate businesses to post job listings. You may think that because a listing is on one of these sites, you’re safe to apply. A little additional research can help you separate real job opportunities from scams. 

Here are some tips for identifying a legitimate job posting: 

1. Research the company or organization. Make sure the company really exists. A quick Google search should show their website, operating hours, and other basic information.

Check the company’s website and online presence. Is their website legitimate .com or .org? Do they post regularly and in detail? A good hacker can throw together a simple webpage for their fake business. The more professional the website looks, the safer your application is. 

2. Read reviews and testimonials. By checking client or customer reviews, you can rest assured that you’re applying to a real business that serves real people. The more reviews a company has, the better. 

3. Verify the job posting. Hover over the posting on LinkedIn or Indeed and pay attention to the URL. Is there another different company name buried in the web address of the posting? If so, don’t click.

Analyze the job description and requirements. You’ve done the research to determine the salary to expect from your new role. You know what skills are required. If the job listing seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

3. Cross-reference with other legitimate job sites. Companies with skilled recruiters often post the same job listing across multiple portals to make sure they have access to the best talent. If a job listing is only on one website and you can’t find it on a more common job search site like LinkedIn, it’s more likely to be a scam. 

4. Contact the company directly. Call the business and if you get directed to a menu, find recruiting or the front desk. Try to talk to a real person. Scammers might put a number on the fake site to draw more people in, but they may not answer. If someone answers and asks you for your credit card information to hold an application spot, hang up and report the number to the Better Business Bureau. You shouldn’t have to pay to apply. 

5. Seek additional information about the position. If you have connections at LinkedIn who work for the company, reach out to them to see if they have any insider information. You’ll be able to verify the posting and might get a referral out of it. If you send an email to the job poster, be aware that some of these scams take your email and sell it to other scammers. A phone call is generally safer because you can control the amount of information you share. 

6. Confirm the legitimacy of the job posting. If you read a posting with a lot of spelling errors or the application portal URL looks fishy, follow your instincts. If you’re uncertain, following these other steps can help you confirm whether the posting is real and trustworthy before you apply.

Avoiding job scams 

To keep your online job search safe, it’s important to know what and how to avoid job scams. Scammers rely on a few common strategies to steal your personal information, money, or both. Here are the common online job scams to be aware of: 

Fake job postings

These postings have unrealistic salary offers and may promise quick employment. Scammers trick you into filling out a profile with your email address, phone number, and other information. They can then use that information and sign you up for their website or service, or they’ll sell the information to other companies. You may suddenly be flooded with spam calls or emails after filling out a profile for one of these fake job applications. 

Asking for money

Some scammers use these postings to try and trick you into paying an application fee. If you see a job posting that mentions a fee, take a pause. Most companies don’t make you pay to apply. Contact the company if you can to verify the application process and alert them that someone is falsely using their company name. 

Legitimate employers don’t ask you to pay for anything during the job application process, and scammers are counting on you not knowing that. Advance fee scams are rampant. The scammer asks for upfront payments or processing fees in order to consider you for the job. Don’t pay for a potential job opportunity. Searching for a job can be a full-time, unpaid endeavor on its own – you shouldn’t also lose money on it. 

Work-from-home scams

With more companies offering remote or hybrid options, it can be difficult to know which opportunities are real. If the posting promises a lot of money for minimal effort or if the job description isn’t very clear, those are red flags. 

If you apply and get a request to pay for your training materials or starter kits, don’t respond with any payment information. Legitimate businesses budget for training and onboarding equipment at home and will usually provide that for you. Scammers may take your payment and never send you that headset or monitor stand. 

Phishing emails

If you’ve worked at a corporation before, then you’ve probably gotten some training on identifying phishing emails. Scammers use phishing to send you fake emails or direct you to counterfeit websites that look like job portals, requiring you to set up a profile and hand over all your personal information. 

Be wary of unsolicited emails from “recruiters,” and pay attention to the email itself. Does the email address match the actual company website? If you hover over the link, does the URL take you somewhere else? Any email that requests information from you out of the blue should be examined carefully before you reply. 

Asking for personal information

Avoid giving out your Social Security number or bank account information during the application process. Your employer won’t need that type of information until you’re actually hired, and HR will help set up your direct deposit and tax forms.

Recognizing common red flags 

If you see a posting for a high-paying job with few qualifications, applicants beware. High salaries, unheard-of benefits, and not requiring a college degree or years of experience in the industry aren’t realistic for that type of job.  

Be aware of postings with generic or vague job descriptions. Legitimate recruiters know what they’re doing – they’ll provide details on the company, job requirements, and responsibilities to attract the right candidate. If the posting doesn’t have this basic information but does have a lot of dollar sign emojis, move on.

Poorly written or unprofessional communication is another red flag. A typo or two is okay, but if you’re receiving communication about a job and the email is filled with misspellings or sentences that don’t make sense, that’s a different story.

Scammers also like to use urgency or pressure tactics. Any text, email, or LinkedIn message that requires an immediate response might be trying to get you to skip this careful additional research. Legitimate employers have a schedule to hire someone, and while they may occasionally need an urgent backfill for a position, they won’t harass you about your application. They’ll be upfront about the timeline if you make it to the interview stage. 

If you’re communicating mostly via email, watch out for suspicious email addresses or web domains. Scammers like to use generic, unofficial email domains. They may include the company name but misspell it slightly. Verify that the email address is correct before you correspond. 

Protecting personal information during the application process 

If a scammer gets your personal information, they can sell it to other scammers or telemarketers. The most important part of a safe online job search is keeping your personal information secure. 

Use secure job portals or reputable websites 

Universities and other companies have job portals where they post the application. You can create a profile and apply to multiple openings all in one spot. Make sure the website is legitimate and has good security measures. A good job portal will have SSL encryption and a privacy policy. You’ll need to create a password. Set up two-step verification whenever you can to make sure you’re the only one logging into the portal.

Be mindful of sharing personal details 

Your initial application should include your resume and basic contact information. Some websites have you attach the resume and answer additional questions about past job experiences and education, others make you upload a video resume. Only provide the information that the application requires. 

  • Avoid sharing personal details. Talk about your qualifications, skills, and relevant work experience. The interview is when you can let your personality shine through. Hackers can use personal details to guess passwords to your other accounts. 
  • Sensitive information should be handled with care, like your Social Security number or driver’s license number. Reputable employers typically don’t ask for this kind of information during the initial application process. If you’ve applied and a recruiter has contacted you, they may request that information or at least outline when you’ll be expected to provide that information later on. 
  • Consider setting up a separate email address for your job applications. You’ll be able to keep track of everything in one spot, and if you do get taken in by a scammer, they won’t have access to your personal or business email. If you go this route, don’t forget to check that email address regularly. 
  • Provide your cell phone number. This gives legit employers a direct way to contact you. Most cell phones have the capacity to block and report scammers, which is helpful just in case.  You don’t have to provide your full street address – city and state should suffice during the initial application process. 
  • Update your resume. Avoid personal details like your date of birth or marital status. Don’t post your resume as part of your LinkedIn profile if it has your cell phone number on it. Scammers might use that free information to contact you.

If you do get hired, make sure you understand the company’s data handling practices. When it is time to hand over these personal details, it’s important that they stay safe. Employers typically have policies and procedures to protect their employees’ information. 

Employing strong passwords and secure connections

Your job search accounts should each have their own unique, complex password. The same goes for job portals. This can be annoying if you’re applying for multiple jobs, but it’ll help keep your information safe. Once a scammer unlocks one profile, they’re likely to go after your other profiles and accounts. Avoid applying for other jobs on your current company’s internet. Make sure you set up a secure Wi-Fi connection, as hackers can steal your info from an unsecured network.

The current job landscape places a premium on open-source cybersecurity expertise. Nurturing your proficiency in open-source skills not only equips you with emerging opportunities but also positions you for lucrative employment prospects. Companies are actively seeking open-source cybersecurity talent. Open-source skills are one of the best ways to make the most out of this opportunity and land a high-paying job.

Trusting your instincts

If you receive an unsolicited job offer via email and you feel skeptical, follow that instinct. Ask trusted friends for second opinions, but go with your gut and look for real opportunities instead. 

Organize your job search to avoid scams 

If you’re currently unemployed and applying to as many jobs as possible, it’s important to keep track. The organization is key to a safe online job search. 

For example, keeping a job search log helps you stay on top of which companies you’ve already applied to. Track submission dates and if you’ve heard back from the company. Knowing which companies you should expect to hear from means you’ll be better able to identify unsolicited job offers.

Add follow-up activities and correspondence so you know who to communicate with when you have a question. Following up with additional questions or even a thank you email after an interview can put you above other applicants. 

Keep track of the applications that don’t work out. If you receive encouraging feedback, make a note to check back on that company in the future. The search log can help you stay motivated to find the right opportunity in the future while helping you protect your personal information.

Use an applicant tracking system for a secure online job search. ATS filters legitimate job postings, verifies company details, and minimizes the risk of falling victim to scams, ensuring a safe and efficient job hunt.

While most employers look for future employees online, there are plenty of scammers out there too. If you’re searching for your next opportunity, use common sense to protect your information. Look out for suspicious job listings and be wary of unsolicited offers. Scammers rely on simple human error to get your information. Stay organized and alert, and always trust your gut so you can enjoy a safe online job search.