Avoiding job scams

Publication date: 
Thursday, August 22, 2013

I’ve been offered a work-from-home position after responding to an ad on Kijiji, and I don’t know what to do because I’ve heard some horror stories about job scams. This position sounds legit but I have a friend who recently worked for two weeks and never got paid after working on a similar assignment. How do I ensure that I don’t fall for a scam and what should I look out for?



Dear John,

Before I get to your answer I want to congratulate you for writing to me — with that you’ve passed the first step to protecting yourself from job scams by being cautious and proactive (writing an email to an employment expert!).

I have some history with job scams. After we moved to Canada, my parents were swarmed by pyramid-scheming “friends” from their immigrant community. First, we had Amway. Then someone tried to rope us into selling lifetime-warranty knives, but by that time we’d already been burned by Amway (as in we lost money — not a lot, but every penny counted back then) so we didn’t bite. We were the prime candidates for job scams because we were new to the country and had never heard of these occurrences — in Poland, scam enterprises were still unheard of at that time. It makes me upset to read stories about newcomers losing their savings to something that seems legitimate but is basically set up to exploit the most vulnerable.

It’s not only newcomers, however. In a chilling account of losing money to a Craigslist scam, Christopher Spata talks about applying for a job that he thought seemed shady but that he convinced himself to accept anyway. Why? Simply because there was a contact person and he seemed nice. “We chatted about fantasy football, and how his team sucked. Then he explained the job. Just register on a website and give them his referral number. Then use the links on that site to sign up for trial offers of services like the Disney Movie Club, and Netflix and Creditreport.com. The trials would cost between $1 and $5, which I’d pay with my own debit card. I’d get it back soon. The idea here was that some loophole had been discovered in these companies’ marketing campaigns, and we would be the beneficiaries. Every time I signed up for five trials Aaron was going to deposit $50 in my PayPal account. Aaron made his money by referring people like me. ‘Call me any time you need help,’ he said, soothing my nervousness.”

Now, I know you’re probably cringing like I am, thinking how obvious it was that this was a scam, but Spata points out that he was desperate and all it took was this nice “All-American” guy to convince him that the deal was legitimate. I remember my own short-lived shady job experience where I spent a whole day being conned and trained by a charming recruiter for what turned out to be a door-to-door gig — I thought it would be just regular sales but then I, along with other hires, were driven to a suburb and handed a binder with golf course packages we were supposed to sell. I immediately handed it back and walked to the nearest bus stop. Only a day, but still — it’s a whole day I’ll never get back.

Whatever your situation, whether you’re a student, a newcomer or simply someone who really needs to make money asap, don’t disregard the warning signs. This is one instance where I’d advise to rely on your gut instinct — if something doesn’t seem right, investigate it!

Here are some precautions if you’re not sure the job is legit:

  1. Does the company have a website? Is there a contact number and a name? Is there a way you can verify the company online via Google? (One word about appearances: I wouldn’t worry if the site is basic and doesn’t look super slick — nothing stops a sneaky scammer from putting together something that looks professional and legit).
  2. If the company doesn’t have a site, is the person you’re talking to someone you can verify online? If it’s a private person, have a look at their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles, Google them online. Please note — just because they are all over the Internet, it doesn’t mean that they’re real either, so don’t rely solely on these findings. Hey, maybe treat this as if you were looking up someone you were about to go on a blind date with — check everything out before you show up!
  3. Find out all the job details — is there a salary? Will you be paid on commission? Will you be paid after a certain time, and, if yes, what’s the payroll schedule? If the company doesn’t pay a salary or pay by the hour, ask why not. And remember: there’s never any reason to give the company any money up front, so if anyone asks you to pay for anything first — run!
  4. Ask the potential employer what sorts of tasks you’ll have to perform. The Work-at-Home Job Scams article lists a number of possible kinds of work-at- home listings to avoid such as data entry jobs, assembling jobs, stuffing envelopes jobs, and more.

Finally, there are a few places where you can research online to see if the job registers as a scam. To begin, go to the Better Business Bureau and peruse the alerts page. Go to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre site where you can learn how to recognize different types of scams (including job scams). Also, hopefully you’ve read this in time to never have any use for the how to report fraud page, but it’s there if you need it.

By the way, both Kijiji and Craigslist have a page with tips on how to avoid job scams so do check that out! (You can also check this forum where a lot of examples of Craigslist scams are listed.)

Final word of advice: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


Poss.ca is a free online magazine to help Toronto job seekers find work. An initiative of Findhelp Information Services, poss.ca is an Employment Ontario project funded in part by the Government of Canada.

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