How to Avoid Job Offer Scams: A Personal Anecdote

At least five times in the last couple months I’ve been offered to-good-to-be true jobs by recruiters who disappear when I ask for more information about the company.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

At first some of them seemed legitimate — a hospital in Illinois seeking a writer to work in it’s marketing department, a clothing manufacturer wanting a photographer, a drug company looking for an administrative assistant. But as they began asking for personal information, my queasiness increased.

So I started researching phishing job scams. Digging through the details is how I figured out that the offers weren’t above board:

I got as far as an interview at Touchette Regional Hospital, but in retrospect I should have been on alert earlier than that. It all began with a text message at my phone number from “John Reed.” Reed said that the hospital’s “recruitment team has reviewed my application via Careerbuilder.com” and wanted to interview me for an online work from home position with flexible hours “worth $35.17” an hour.

I did a reverse number search on the phone number (737–271–4192 in case anybody finds this article by searching for the number) and found that the 737 area code is from Austin, Texas. I then Googled John Reed and Touchette Regional Hospital and learned that Reed is a member of the hospital’s board of directors. That gave it an air of truthfulness, but I was still skeptical when I expressed my interest and asked for more information about the position. He gave me a list of job titles and asked which was my field of specialty: personal assistant, customer service rep, writer, translator, data entry clerk and proofreader/editor. Shouldn’t he already know this if he reviewed my resume?

I texted back, saying that writing and editing are in my line of work. He then jumped straight to offering an interview. “Due to the COV-19 virus outbreak the interview will be conducted via Wire App.” I needed to add the interview manager Kathleen James (user @kathleenoffice) and send her a verification code (TNRP882).

I asked again if he could send a link to a job description and was told that James would fill me in. Again I was skeptical that they weren’t giving me information now, but reasoned that maybe this guy on the board of directors liked my experience and was forwarding me to the HR department.

After telling James that Reed had referred me for a writing position, James confirmed my verification code and a grammatically and punctually suspect introduction (all the bolded mistakes are hers): “To acquaint you with, I’m Mrs.Kathleen James, I appear to you as the Hiring Superior/Client Services to Touchette Regional Hospital.Experienced Account Manager with extensive success in National Spot Health Television ..Key Strengths include Needs Analysis,problem solving and the ability to build and maintain relationships with clients that result in increased billing and client loyalty.I am here to brief and interview you more about the opening position.”

I figured some people are lazy texters with terrible grammar and punctuation skills and figured that she accidentally cut and pasted a description for another position in the middle of her introduction. After all, she’s not an account manager and the list of key strengths sound like they came from a job description. But I went along with it, figuring if nothing else I’d have a story to tell.

Next she asked for my full name, location, job contacted for and email address. Since this personal information was all listed on my resume, I figured it was safe to provide it. Didn’t I just tell her which job I was interested in?

She then introduced the hospital, a generous benefits package including medical insurance, a 401-K and paid time off. Then she listed the skills needed for the position: English language, customer and personal service abilities, information ordering, written comprehension, category flexibility, oral comprehension and written expression. And asked if I had these skills. Then she spelled out the responsibilities for the job and said “I believe you can handle the duties?”

She spelled out the compensation, then started asking interview questions (again the grammatical errors are hers):

Tell me about your last project related to the position.

Why do you think we should employ you?

How long do you intend working for this company?

How well do you work under pressure?

What do you understand by privacy and code of conduct in business?

Do you have a PC, printer and scanner?

What do you think is the greatest quality good writer should possess?

Describe a time when you had to enter a large amount of data in a short period of time. What did you do to complete the work accurately and within deadline?

What bank do you operate with to see if it tallies with the company’s official salary payment account?

Will you be able to dedicate 16 hours of your time to this job position, Monday through Fridays?

Are you available to start immediately?

Again, there were a few red flags in addition to the lack of prepositions common to non-native English speakers. I probably should have balked when she asked which bank I “operate with.” I was probably being naïve, but I figured they didn’t have enough other personal information about me to hack it.

Then she declared that the interview was over. “I think you are the right candidate for this job position.”

That sure was easy, I thought. She welcomed me to the team and said I’d receive an official confirmation letter and that I’d need to respond to any emails from the “admin department” ASAP.

In the meantime, she needed more information, namely my home address, “for verification purposes.”

I hesitated. Could they hack my bank account with my phone number, email address and mailing address? I probably should have asked for a link to the job posting or for some other confirming details at this point, but the lure of a $35/hour job to someone making $98/day substitute teaching was too strong.

The next day I got an email from John Reed welcoming me to the team. Instructing me to fill out the forms he’d sent. One was a standard job application form from www.betterteam.com. Why did they need this, I thought. It asked for more specific information about my employers and for job reference contact information. The other was a “Letter of Employment” on Touchette Hospital letterhead.

Again I noticed a few things were slightly off: the email said it was from John Reed, but the email address was kathleenjames.touchettehospital@gmail.com. Surely if this was really a member of the board of directors emailing me, he’d have used a company email address in his own name.

Sequel to your previous interview and due considerations, we are pleased to avail you a provisional offer of employment as Writer You will undergo required training/mentorship program on all software and application platforms required. Your employment training and orientation will commence on the 23rd November 2020.

The Company is pleased to offer you employment on the following terms:

• Position: Your initial title will be (Writer)While you render services to the Company, you can still be engaged in any other employment, consulting or other business activity that wouldn’t create any conflict of interest with the Company. By signing this letter of agreement, you confirm to the Company that you have no contractual commitments or other legal obligations that would prohibit you from performing your duties for the Company. Working hours are flexible (weekends included) as long as you meet up with the stipulated deadline for each assignment.

• Cash Compensation: The Company will pay you a starting salary at the rate of $35 salary per hour and $18 per hour during training, payable in accordance with the Company’s standard payroll schedule…

• Employee Benefits: As a regular employee of the Company, you will be eligible to participate in a number of Company-sponsored benefits. In addition, you will be entitled to paid vacation in accordance with the Company’s vacation policy, as in effect from time to time.

• Stock Options: Subject to the approval of the Company’s Board of Directors or its Compensation Committee, you will be granted an option to purchase 2 shares of the Company’s common stock (Option)….

Who uses the phrases “sequel to,” “to avail you a provisional offer?” and “The Company will pay you a starting salary at the rate of $35 salary…” I figured it was definitely a job scam, so I Googled those phrases and found the exact phrases in other scam job offers. At least this salary was in the realm of possibility — not $95/hour.

And the hospital isn’t on a stock exchange. I checked. Oops.

The kicker was the end: You may indicate your agreement with these terms and accept this offer by signing and dating the agreement letter and returning them to the company. As required by law, your employment with the Company is contingent upon your providing legal proof of any of your identity ID card e.g. driver licenses.

The email emphasized the need to include the front and back of my ID.

In a real job offer, they might want your ID. After all, an offer I received to interview for a PR job through a temp agency asked for it as well. But that invitation was with three real people through an agency I trusted. With all the other red flags, this was the end of the line for me.

When she started her chat the next morning asking if I’d finished the application, I subtly started asking questions: “Could you send a link to the job posting?”

No response.

“How many hours per week do you want me to work? “You mentioned at least 16 hours, but this job has full benefits, surely you want a full-time employee, right? Why isn’t this specified in the employment letter?”

No response.

I figured they knew I was onto the scam now. “If you really work for Touchette Hospital, shouldn’t you have a @touchette.org email address like the other employees at the hospital?”

No response.

It was a pretty well-crafted scam. Had their English been better and had they spoofed an email address that actually sounded like it had come from the hospital, they might have been able to get a scan of my ID out of me. Then they probably could have caused some trouble. As it is, better safe than sorry. I’ll make sure none of my bank accounts are linked to this email address and change my passwords.

When lakitwilliamsdesk@gmail.com emailed a few days later saying Under Armor had a $45–50/hour photography job, I searched for her email address and scanned the Under Armour website for information. Then I cut straight to the chase: “It sounds too good to be true. Could you email from your @underarmour.com email address? Too many scams out there these days. This job isn’t posted on the website.”

The lack of response told me all I needed to know.

When sophiawilliam386@gmail.com offered a $35/hour position at Alaxia Pharma the next day, 3 minutes later I shot her an email: “It sounds intriguing. Do you have a link to the job posting?”

When adam.corrales@projectllt.com emailed about a $20/hour administrative assistant job at WSK Community, it sounded more realistic. But again, they couldn’t answer my questions:

“I am interested in learning more about the position. When I do a Google search for WSK Community and your name, nothing comes up. Where is it located? Do you have a link to the company’s website or the job posting that I can check out? I’m unfamiliar with WSK Community. Please pardon my skepticism, but I’ve had a couple of scammers recently offer me fake positions that seemed fantastic in an attempt to get personal information from me. Generally, if it’s a fake they can’t provide this sort of information. I also see that your email address doesn’t end in wskcommunity.com.”

Silence. I couldn’t help but wonder if Lakita, Kathleen, Adam and Sophia were the same person. Four job scams within 4 days.

I figure a real recruiter would be able to provide this information in order to possibly land a good employee.

When I got a call and email from megan@careertransitionspecialists.com offering a “career opportunity that you could be a good fit for,” my skepticism was overwhelmed by an actual matching website at careertransitionspecialists.com. If I was interested in becoming a business owner, I might have actually responded. That one was probably legitimate, but unsolicited offers for jobs I’m not interested in taking.

I’ll stick to jobs I actually apply for. Even that can have its pitfalls.

So if you get an unsolicited job offer, what should you do?

If you’re skeptical — maybe even if you aren’t skeptical, do some research.

If you can’t find the company on Google, it probably isn’t real.

If a major corporation emails from a gmail account, it’s probably fake. Google it using double quotation marks (“kathleenjames.touchette@gmail.com”). If it’s on what looks like the company’s website, make sure it’s a real website and not also a fake.

If a company’s real it will have public contact information on its website. It will sell something. As www.job-hunt.com points out, they’ll also have real contact information:

A form for you to complete on their website, telling you nothing about them, is NOT sufficient “contact” information.

A link that opens up a new email message from you tells you nothing about them and is NOT contact information.

If they provide a phone number or mailing address, do a reverse search by Googling it. See if it matches the person or company. Or even if it’s in the same state.

Check LinkedIn to see if the company or recruiter is on the site. If not, be skeptical.

And if you still aren’t sure, try searching SuperPages.com or Hoovers.com for company contact information and ask if the recruiter is legitimate and the position is open.

Former Reporter for the Pasadena Star-News, taught overseas for more than a decade, truth-seeker

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