NEWS + ADVICE
Are You at Risk of Falling for Employment Scams
You know scams happen, but you might assume you’re immune. Whether it’s a Nigerian prince asking you to transfer money or a call from your supposed bank requesting personal information, you think, I know better than to fall for that.
But what if someone contacts you about an appealing career opportunity? People are genuinely recruited everyday, so how can you recognize and protect yourself from the communications that are illegitimate? Consider these tips to help you identify red flags to defend your assets, personal information, and classified knowledge.
Scams Are on the Rise
In times of uncertainty and increased unemployment, scammers work overtime to take advantage of individuals who aren’t thinking clearly. In light of COVID-19, many have lost their jobs or have a family member who has. In situations like this, it’s easier to think something is real, when you want to believe it is. The Federal Trade Commission reported more than $40 million was lost between January 1 and May 25 in COVID related scams.
Hunting season is open for scammers and unfortunately their tactics are getting more sophisticated. They’re not always as obvious as an immediate request to transfer funds for some blatantly nefarious reason. For instance, there have been recent reports of fake job scams in which individuals have gone through several rounds of interviews. And beyond phishing for money, foreign governments are also on the prowl, targeting professionals on social media sites by offering career opportunities in an attempt to gain classified information.
How to Identify Red Flags
When someone reaches out to you with a job opportunity, you may be ready to jump through hoops and do whatever you need to do to sell yourself, especially if you’re in active job search mode or unemployed. But take the time to identify any red flags and confirm the authenticity of the job before sharing your information.
As mentioned before, scams are getting more sophisticated. In the past you may have been able to easily notice an odd URL or poor spelling and grammar that made you think twice. Or the mere mention of a work from home opportunity was a good indicator that the job may not be real. But with remote work on the rise, and scammers paying closer attention to grammar and even setting up job postings under the names of known companies, it can take a little more investigation to uncover a fraud.
Keep an eye out for these red flags:
- A lot of flattery and praise for your experience and abilities
- Referring to the position as “limited” or “exclusive”
- Urgency to act quickly or rushing the process
- Imbalanced focus on the company vs. you as a candidate – they are selling the job and skipping the part where they vet you
- Lack of information online about the company or the job
- Unusually high salary for the role
- Generic titles without the usual corporate lingo
- The same job posting is listed in other cities or states
- Initial application process that asks for your bank information
- On-the-spot job offers or pressure to sign without an interview
- Conditional on you paying for training or promising a job for a fee
- Offering pre-payment, check overpayment processes, asking for money to be wired, or requesting your bank information so they can wire you money
- Offering all-expense-paid trips overseas for meetings or presentations
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
So how can you determine if someone is posing as a recruiter? The best thing you can do is question any unsolicited inbound communications. If you don’t know the person or you haven’t already applied for their job, consider that incoming call or email as suspicious until you’ve done your research to prove otherwise.
If you answer that initial cold call, buy yourself some distance and time before sharing information about yourself so you can do some verification. Ask them to email you some details about the opportunity or share their company phone number so that you can call them back. Even if it’s a call from a legitimate recruiter, this will give you some time to research the position and talk to them at a later time when you’re more prepared. But get that email and phone number so you can start putting the pieces together to determine if they are legit or not—if they can’t provide details like a phone number or mailing address, that’s a huge red flag.
Once you have those pieces of information, start researching. Can you find the job posted anywhere online? If they are from a well-known company, go to that website and search for the job listing directly on the site. If you don’t see the job on their careers page you can always call HR to confirm if someone from their company contacted you or if they are actually recruiting for that role. And if the phone number or email address they provided doesn’t match up with those shown on the company website, that’s another indicator that someone is merely posing as a representative of the company in question.
If the opportunity is for a company that you’re unfamiliar with, search online for information about the validity of the company itself. Look at their website, social media channels, and see if they have followers on LinkedIn to make sure everything looks authentic. When you’re initially communicating with that person you can even ask them for a reference so that you can speak with someone else they’ve recruited in the past.
Even if your initial Google search indicates they’re the real deal and you move forward to the next steps, continue to be alert. Keep these tips in mind to protect against possible scams:
- Buy yourself some time to research before sharing personal info
- Compare emails, phone numbers, or physical addresses with those shown on the company website
- Look for the position on the actual company’s website
- Check their social media presence and followers
- Never share banking information, issue payment or service fees, or deposit checks from someone you don’t know
Extra Considerations for Security Clearance Holders
It’s especially important for those who hold, or have held, security clearances to be cautious when approached online about career opportunities. The FBI and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) are raising awareness about the threat of foreign governments using professional networking sites to target individuals with government clearances.
We often encourage cleared job seekers to leave their security clearance off public networking sites like LinkedIn and to be careful who they link to. Not only can listing your clearance on LinkedIn turn some recruiters off to considering you for a position, but it can also more importantly make you a target—putting yourself and national security at risk.
The FBI warns that hostile actors are posing as headhunters and company recruiters to connect and develop relationships with individuals who have access to valuable and sensitive information. They’re trying to gather information, whether classified or unclassified, including trade secrets, propriety data, and information on cutting-edge research and technology1.
In one such instance, former CIA officer Kevin Mallory was approached by Chinese intelligence through a fake corporate headhunter profile on a professional networking site. Sometimes promising targets are offered all-expense-paid trips overseas for meetings or presentations, where they are pressured to turn over additional information. Similarly, Mallory travelled to China and was provided with a covert communications device. A search of that device by the FBI revealed classified document remnants, resulting in Mallory being sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019, for conspiracy to transmit national defense information to China1.
The bottom line is, think before you link to establish a more secure networking experience. The FBI and NCSC urge you to never accept a connection request from someone you don’t know and to validate invitations before accepting1.
Play it safe by:
- Being careful about what you post on social media so you don’t draw unwanted attention from adversaries and criminals
- Checking your account settings to control what information is public—aka leave your clearance off
- Only connecting with people you know or those you’ve verified
By staying alert and putting in a few extra steps to authenticate the people you connect with and the job opportunities that present themselves, you stand to protect yourself, your current employer, and your nation. Stay safe!