How do I Identify Fake Employment Opportunities?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

At least since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote “The Red-Headed League” in 1891, advertisements for jobs that aren’t what they seem has been an issue. Here are some hints to help you identify employment opportunities that aren’t what they seem.

Local newspapers typically double check employment opportunities prior to publication to weed out fake ads.
Local newspapers typically double check employment opportunities prior to publication to weed out fake ads.

Too Good to Be True
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In the Sherlock Holmes story mentioned above, Jabez Wilson was offered a good salary for copying the Encyclopedia Britannica for four hours each day, during which time he could not leave the building. Even in 1890 when the story was set, nobody would need to pay well for such a task, and it was, indeed a hoax, simply to get Mr. Wilson out of the way. If the pay is way beyond the qualifications, ask yourself why.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Red-Headed League" concerns a job that appears too good to be true, like most fake job opportunities.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Red-Headed League" concerns a job that appears too good to be true, like most fake job opportunities.

What's In a Name?
Legitimate businesses have legitimate credentials and tell you who they are without your having to ask. An advertisement that does not provide credentials—a business name, an address (not just a PO box, in most cases), a web address, a phone number, and an email address—should raise some flags. In addition, the person who is in communication with you should identify his or herself and his or her job title. Don’t send your CV until you know whom you’re sending it to. This employment opportunity may be legitimate, but proceed with caution.

Signs that Something May Be Wrong
Watch out for “freebies” in the credentials when reading ads for employment opportunities. Yahoo! and Hotmail are free email accounts, often used by “businesses” that don’t have a fully legitimate existence. Similarly, a website that has an “under construction” marker or pop-up ads from another entity may not be what it seems; proceed with caution.

How will you get paid? is an important question to consider. Look for a standard operating procedure for payments, which signals to you that they’ve actually done this before. It is not atypical to get paid through a PayPal account, by check, or by direct deposit, depending on the business.

Are you required to submit a bunch of work as “samples” to make sure you’re a good fit? This could be completely legitimate or a sham to get you to do the work for free. Feel it out before investing your time.

Watch Out for Downloads
Are you required to download anything to apply? If you have to download an executable file in order to apply for a job, walk away.

Location, Location, Location
Where does the information about the employment opportunity appear? A trade publication for a particular industry is likely to have legitimate advertisements. Sites specializing in one area, like SchoolSpring, are also likely to provide consistently legitimate employment opportunities. Your local newspaper is also a good bet. Craigslist and other online advertisement opportunities takes you into a risky area. There are some reasonable jobs on Craigslist and some that are obviously bogus.

Is It Worth It?
Diploma mills and research papers that students purchase and submit as their own, even if they are sold as samples only, are another kind of fake business. They exist, they make money, and they pay people who work for them, but they are deceptive and probably not something that a person of integrity wants to be involved in.

When In Doubt
When in doubt, do the following: Perform an internet search for the company or person’s name and check as thoroughly as you can; contact your local Better Business Bureau and/or the one nearest the company’s locale; contact your state Attorney General and/or the one in the state where the company is located.

And if someone wants to hire you because of your flaming red hair or some other trait that has nothing to do with your qualifications, remember Sherlock Holmes and “The Red-Headed League” and look elsewhere for employment opportunities.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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