Twenty years ago, only 9% of U.S. workers were telecommuting. Today, nearly 37% work remotely, four times as many as in 1995, according to Gallup. Telecommuters tend to be college educated, white collar professionals. There are a multitude of millennials among them, which isn’t a surprise considering that many view working from home even more essential than getting job experience overseas, according to a recent study of work/life attitudes by MSL Group.
But a by-product of the proliferation of positions open to telecommuters is the increase of more sophisticated work-from-home scams. New findings from a FlexJobs survey of over 2,600 workers indicates that one-fifth of millennials have been scammed when seeking work-from-home positions—even more than seniors (a group previously thought to be the most susceptible according to the AARP, which found the average age of fraud victims to be 69). Only 13% of respondents aged 60-69 have been scammed.
“There are millions of people interested in work-from-home jobs, and unfortunately, this job niche is—and has been for decades—rampant with scams,” FlexJobs founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell tells Fast Company. “This [millennial] generation is far more likely to look for jobs with telecommuting options, and so they’re also more likely to be exposed to these sorts of scams,” she points out.
The survey found that there are 60-70 scams for every one legitimate job posting, yet only 48% of applicants are “on guard” for potentially fraudulent listings when they do a job search. FlexJobs found that 17% of job seekers were victims of a scam at least one time, despite warnings over the years from the FBI and Better Business Bureau.
Part of the problem is that scammers get more sophisticated every year, says Sutton Fell. “Gone are the days when a scam could be assumed to be fairly obvious to anyone with a healthy dose of skepticism,” she explains, “Yet, many job seekers don’t realize this, and so they still feel confident that they would know a scam if they saw one and would be able to avoid them.”
Indeed, how quickly would you apply for a telecommuting position at GE or UnitedHealth Group? How about Google? Their reputation precedes them, so you wouldn’t be faulted if you eagerly started checking off boxes in hopes of scoring a work-from-home spot at one of these organizations. Yet all three of these have been subject to recruitment fraud.
Sutton Fell points out that scammers have broadened their target audience from jobs for more unskilled jobs such as mystery shopping, envelope stuffing, and check processing, to more professional opportunities in a wide variety of career types and with name-brand companies. “By impersonating trusted companies like these, scammers are able to get unsuspecting job seekers to let their guard down much faster, and to successfully get personal information from them more easily,” she says.
GE has a dedicated page on its website explaining how to identify a fraudulent job offer. With the GE name and logo featured prominently, “The perpetrators will often ask recipients to complete bogus recruitment documentation, such as application forms, terms and conditions of employment, or visa forms.”
UnitedHealth Group experienced a similar unauthorized use of its name and logo in phony job ads. “Cybercriminals post their ads on legitimate job sites and often use familiar-looking or convincing company logos, language, and links to fake websites that appear to be real,” a company spokesperson writes. “These sites might also charge fees for services. Typically, after a few days the thieves close down the scam and disappear.”
Federal agencies have also been the target of scammers. Classified newspapers or online ads offer a fee-based service to help job seekers find and apply for federal and postal jobs. “Some even try to hoodwink people by using company names that sound like federal agencies, like the “U.S. Agency for Career Advancement” or the “Postal Employment Service,” according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC paid out a hefty $2.3 million to over 90,000 consumers who were charged hidden fees in a bogus work-at-home scheme operating under the names Google Money Tree, Google Pro, and Google Treasure Chest, which appropriated the search giant’s logo to offer jobs that could earn $100,000 in six months by simply sending their credit card information to pay a modest shipping fee for a work-at-home kit.
FlexJobs also warns job seekers to check their LinkedIn contacts carefully.
No job seeking site seems to be immune to scammers, even one with as solid a reputation as LinkedIn. We recently heard from a member of our FlexJobs LinkedIn group about an unfortunate experience she had when dealing with a job offer she received through LinkedIn. The job seeker says, “I gave up a work-at-home position with a reliable paycheck because I was contacted by someone through my LinkedIn profile. The company offered me a much better paying position and requested I leave my current position and start there the following week. I did as they requested. I worked for them for 2 weeks and 2 days…and then out of nowhere they said they decided to ‘go in a different direction’ and let me go. They NEVER paid me—they owe me over $1,000 and won’t respond to my calls or emails.”
Getting contacted from someone in your network is what is supposed to happen on LinkedIn. Unfortunately in this case, the urgency of the offer should have raised a red flag. “Scammers have become incredibly tuned into the fact that some job seekers are desperate to make more money, and they will use this in recruiting new professionals,” Alexis Reale writes for FlexJobs. “Scammers recognize that applying a time limit, paired with an increase in pay, may make it difficult for professionals to look at the job from a logical and rational standpoint.”
Other potential scammy signs include:
- early request for personal information such as address details, date of birth, passport details, bank details, etc.
- request to pay an application fee
- request for a background check even before you interview with the potential employer
- request to contact other companies/individuals such as lawyers, bank officials, travel agencies, courier companies, visa/immigration processing agencies, etc.
- email correspondence sent from (or to) free web-based email accounts such as Yahoo.com, Yahoo.co.uk, Gmail.com, Googlemail.com, Live.com, etc.
- email correspondence that appears to be sent from an officer or senior executive of the company, often in Legal or Human Resources and the address doesn’t end with the organization’s domain name
- ads that offer information about “hidden” or unadvertised federal jobs
- ads that refer you to a toll-free phone number
- toll-free numbers that direct you to other pay-per-call numbers (like 900 numbers) for more information
“As all generations look for flexible and remote work options, it’s important to raise awareness about the widespread prevalence of job scams at all career levels in order to help prevent more people from taking the bait, especially with telecommuting being an undeniable part of the future of our workplaces,” says Sutton Fell.