CV alert: how fraudsters target jobseekers with fake adverts

Cybercriminals are increasingly using bogus job ads to persuade jobseekers to share their personal information – and sometimes part with money – to secure their ideal roles
Scammers are using fake job ads to persuade people to share their personal information, or money, in order to secure their ideal roles

After weeks applying for remote IT jobs, Kelsey Fulton was thrilled to be contacted by a recruiter who had been impressed with her résumé. But a dubious interview, conducted purely via text messaging over Microsoft Teams, and a request from HR that Fulton buy her own remote-working materials – which included a laptop, printer and software – set alarm bells ringing. “I told them that I wouldn’t do anything until they sent a contract,” says Fulton. “But they didn’t reach back out.”

While Fulton narrowly avoided being a victim of a job scam, the number of people finding themselves on the receiving end of a fake job offer has been on the rise. According to data from the US Federal Trade Commission, the number of business-impersonation scams, which includes job scams, has nearly quadrupled from 25,798 in Q2 2020 to 97,779 in Q3 2022. 

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) hosts a scam-tracker database for victims, normally in the US, to provide details of attempted and successful scams. According to its search results, 17,791 employment scams have been reported to the site since November 2019, with some reporting losing thousands of dollars after being asked to send money to buy remote-work tools or training. Sometimes a fake cheque is sent under the premise that the victim will be reimbursed by the company.

Other variations of the con involve fraudsters using the guise of a trustworthy employer to request bank account details or other personal information. Still others offer their mark the first month’s pay, or a sign-on bonus, in advance via cheque. The victim is then told they were sent too much money by mistake and asked to transfer some of it back, only for the cheque to be declined by their bank.

Our post-Covid labour market is far more hybrid. This makes it much easier for fraudsters

Mike Kiser, director of strategy and standards at cybersecurity firm SailPoint, says: “We’ve been seeing more of these scams recently because people are getting more creative. We’re not only seeing text messages from reputable organisations but also more sophisticated approaches where entire job ads or profiles have been fabricated on LinkedIn.” 

Senior business people are the preferred targets for this type of job scam, according to Kiser. “If you set the job advert at the right level, you can get more valuable targets,” he explains. Meanwhile, sending bulk messages on social media sites or via text, with the lure of an easy, well-paid job opportunity, provides an entry point for scammers to then ask for personal information or get them to click on a malicious link, Kiser adds.

In response, LinkedIn admits that scammers are getting “more sophisticated”. To combat this, it has released new features to help users “navigate their job search safely”, according to a spokesperson. These include adding warnings to suspicious messages and using AI to help detect computer-generated profile photos, which scammers often use.

Why are job scams on the rise?

JobsAware, a service that provides free help to UK workers who have been victims of job scams, has noticed a similar trend unfolding on this side of the Atlantic. In Q3 2022, it saw a 35% year-on-year increase in reports of job scams. The trend has continued in January, with figures for this month already exceeding those of December.

The non-profit organisation attributes this increase to the cost-of-living crisis, as more people are actively looking online for paid opportunities. According to internet service provider Fasthosts, there has been a 219% increase in online searches for “make extra money”. 

If you’re offered a job based on a chat you have on social media, that’s usually a red flag

Keith Rosser is chair of SAFERjobs, a non-profit organisation which was created to tackle the growth in job fraud. He points to several large-scale scams in recent months and says that the increased number of people in the jobs market is “leaving people exposed”.

With hybrid working common practice and employers able to make checks online, more people are looking for work, even additional work, but the process is largely digital. Rosser thinks this makes it much easier for fraudsters to be successful.

Since the pandemic, workers have become accustomed to interviews over a video call, or for recruiters to make initial contact via a LinkedIn message. Similarly, gig workers and freelancers have become familiar with being managed via an app or online.

“All organisations now have some form of online presence and people are used to interacting with brands on places like Twitter,” Kiser adds. “Getting in touch with a company isn’t as formal as it used to be. Now it’s a much more instantaneous interaction, which lends itself to these types of scams because they feel authentic.”

An example of a job scam received via Twitter direct message
An example of a job scam received via Twitter direct message

“All organisations now have some form of online presence and people are used to interacting with brands on places like Twitter,” Kiser adds. “Getting in touch with a company isn’t as formal as it used to be. Now it’s a much more instantaneous interaction, which lends itself to these types of scams because they feel authentic.”

Job scam victims have reported being approached via email, through fake adverts on job sites or in private messages on social media and WhatsApp, with fraudsters often impersonating large companies such as eBay and Amazon to gain a victim’s trust. One popular scam that began circulating on Twitter direct messages and Telegram last year offered daily pay of $30 (£24) to $200 per day in a “sales growth services” role for eBay.

The auction site notes that it does not issue employment offers through services like Telegram and advises people to seek out a trusted source such as Action Fraud or the National Cyber Security Centre if they believe they have been scammed. 

How companies can help customers to spot scammers

The rising threat of job scams is not only a problem for individuals. The companies that are being impersonated risk losing the trust of potential new hires, as well as customers and suppliers. 

As one of the largest employers in the world, Amazon is regularly impersonated by job scammers. A spokesperson for the company says: “Scammers that attempt to impersonate Amazon put our customers and our brand at risk. Although these scams take place outside our store, we will continue to invest in protecting customers and educating the public on scam avoidance.”

The retail giant has worked with BBB to raise awareness of these scams and help people to identify any fake job offers. Similarly, UK recruitment agency Ambition issued a guide for identifying job scams after it noticed its employees were fraudulently being impersonated. 

Kiser believes information that informs people what to expect when they receive communication from a business are a good way to counteract the threat. He adds that businesses should “set expectations for their interactions with people” and “maintain authenticity and veracity in all their communications”.

5 ways to spot a job scam

Is the job too good to be true?

Scammers often offer overpaid remote positions to entice their victims. One fraudulent job ad offered a position working from home with flexible hours and a salary of up to £300 per day. If the opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Have you been hired on the spot?

Melanie McGovern, of the International Association of Better Business Bureaus, notes that there is usually a thorough process for hiring someone for a well-paid position. “As an employer, you want to make sure that you’re hiring the right person, so there are usually multiple interviews, tasks and background checks,” she says. “If you’re offered a job based on a chat you have on social media, that’s usually a red flag.” 

How has the person contacted you?

Scammers often impersonate recruiters and send messages via text, email and WhatsApp, normally with an element of urgency in the messages, according to Amber Burridge, head of fraud intelligence at fraud prevention service Cifas. Any employment decision for a large organisation should come through an official channel. Amazon, for example, states that any emails about job offers will only come from an address. If it’s sent from a Gmail account, it’s probably a scam.

Are there any mistakes in the correspondence?

Similarly, if the email contains spelling errors, it’s worth double-checking its veracity. Some victims have even seen scammers spell the name of the company they’re impersonating incorrectly or use the name of someone who has no record of working for the business. “If you look up the employer and you’re still not sure, just move on and keep searching,” McGovern says.

Have they asked for money?

If any fees are required to secure the job or there are upfront costs, it should be clear that it’s a scam. Burridge claims that some people have been “asked to pay fees for administration and travel – or in some cases for fraudulent courses, background checks and other non-existent services”.  Similarly, requests to pay for remote work equipment up front are also becoming more common and, if a cheque is involved at any point, that is usually a tell-tale sign it’s a scam.