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Job & internship scams: why you're at risk & what you can do

Frances Chan

Careers Commentator
Around the world, students like you are falling victim to job and internship scams. Here's how you can protect yourself.

Got a job offer that's almost too good to be true? Pause and assess, because it might just be a scam!

That's right, dear student, fraudsters are on the prowl, offering fake jobs and internships that seem like the real deal.

The good news? Armed with the right knowledge, you can spot these scams and keep your career on the right track. Let's dive in!

  1. What are job & internship scams?
  2. Why you're at (high) risk
  3. How to protect yourself
  4. What next? 

What are job & internship scams?

Job and internship scams – more broadly known as recruitment or employment scams – are deceptive practices by fraudsters to trick job seekers into parting with their money or personal information. 

Recruitment scams usually involve a scammer posing as a reputable company or recruitment agency, advertising fake jobs and bogus internships. You may encounter them as:

Here's an example of an email scam (among many) flagged by Baruch College:

Once you've accepted the sham job offer, the scammer will typically ask for payment, supposedly for work essentials like a laptop. (In one real-life example, a student was told to purchase an "iPhone 13 Pro, an Apple Watch Series 7, and Microsoft Business Standard.")

Or if they're fishing for personal info, they might ask you to provide your driver's license, social security number, or bank account details during the application process. In a recent case, scammers used job seekers' social security numbers to falsely claim unemployment benefits.

Why you're at (high) risk of job scams

First off, here in the US, we're already at high risk for employment scams.

An estimated 14 million people are exposed to employment scams every year, with $2 billion in direct losses annually. – Better Business Bureau

To make matters worse, as a young adult, you're especially at risk! That's because:

  • You're more eager to get your foot in the door than experienced workers – and economic downturns (which hit you harder than older demographics) only add to the desperation, further clouding judgment.
  • As a newcomer to the job market, you're less likely to raise an eyebrow when asked to do sketchy things like purchasing a laptop before you even start the job. 
  • You and your peers all look for jobs around the same time, making for a prime hunting ground for efficient scammers.

We know what you're thinking. "Getting my first job or internship is hard enough – and now I have to worry about scammers?" Luckily, there are many things you can do to protect yourself.

How to protect yourself from job scams

#1: Use a curated job board like Prosple

Scams aren't confined to dodgy corners of the internet; they've infiltrated and are even "skyrocketing" on reputable platforms like Linkedin and Indeed.

And the bad news is, scammers are getting more and more sophisticated. They're using AI tools to write proper English, they're setting up company websites and phone numbers (with real operators on the other end!), they're hacking into recruiters' Linkedin accounts to spread bogus jobs, and more.

So your first line of defence should be to stick with curated job boards like Prosple's

  • We're a lot more cautious with who we allow on our job board: When anyone reaches out about posting jobs on our site, we perform a series of checks to verify the legitimacy of the employer, including checking whether the company is officially registered with the local government. 
  • We also hand-pick a lot of job opportunities: Any job opportunities that aren't posted by employers are hand-picked by trained contractors and reviewed by our own staff using a weighted points system. We only post opportunities that pass a 90% quality benchmark.

📌 Keep in mind

  • No job boards are completely foolproof. However, we really take this issue to heart. Our mission is to help students, so if our platform is used to harm students in any way, we feel personally responsible – like we scammed you ourselves!
  • That's why we've set up quality assurance processes that are way harder to get past compared to basically every other job board out there. 
  • That's why we've set up quality assurance processes that are way harder to get past compared to basically every other job board out there. And when we did identify a job scam, we proactively contacted students and reimbursed them for any losses.

#2 When in doubt, reach out to the company

No matter what job platform you're on, it pays to directly reach out to the company when you suspect something. Here's how:

  1. Search for the employer on Google and use the contact information on their official website.
  2. Ask about the specific job or internship you're interested in and verify the official channels for applying.
  3. If you received messages from a recruiter, confirm that the recruiter exists and actually contacted you.

📌 Keep in mind

  • It might seem awkward to ask a company if a job posting of theirs is real, but global recruitment giant Adecco assures you that "Legitimate employers will appreciate your diligence in confirming the legitimacy of the job offer."
  • And if you did find a fake job posting, the employer will appreciate the early tip-off, as they'll want to take it down before it damages their credibility!

#3 Look out for red flags

Finally, there are a number of red flags you can look out for. Here are the biggest ones.

  • Quick job offers: If you're offered a job without an interview or application process, it's likely a scam. Or if any part of the hiring process feels hasty (e.g. the interview was conducted over text message or you didn't talk to a real person during the whole process), that's a red flag.
  • Requests for money or personal information: Legitimate employers will never ask for money or sensitive personal information (such as government-issued ID numbers) before you're officially hired. Be especially wary if they request payments in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
  • "Too good to be true" opportunities: Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Make thousands of bucks every week just by tapping away on your laptop from home? Yeah nah.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are common examples of job scams:

  • Work from home job scams
  • Nanny, caregiver, and virtual personal assistant job scams
  • Mystery shopper scams
  • Job placement service scams
  • Government and postal jobs scams

📌 Keep in mind

  • Scammers love offering jobs at popular companies, so be wary of opportunities even if they seem to be coming from reputable employers. Here in the US, they've posed as everything from government agencies to airline companies!
  • Check the news or the websites of relevant government agencies (e.g. the Better Business Bureau frequently posts about new scams on its site) to stay up-to-date on the latest scams.

What next? 

We hope you now feel equipped to spot recruitment scams – or avoid them altogether.

If you do come across a potential scam:

  • Report it to the job board, providing as much evidence (e.g. screenshots) as possible.
  • Report it to the appropriate authorities (the FTC and Internet Crime Complaint Center).
  • Warn others about it on social media.

Bad actors are always going to be around, so let's do our part to keep each other safe. 💪