Unemployment numbers continue to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic leaving job seekers vulnerable and the ideal targets for job scams. With stay-in-place orders still active in some areas and many companies still working from home, scammers get an expanded opportunity to prey on job seekers.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says employment scams were the riskiest scams of 2019 and included 9.3% of all scams reported to the BBB that year. This was before the pandemic.

Here are some things to watch for so you can protect yourself from potential job scams.

Requests for personal information

Slow down and be very cautious if any personal information is requested prior to an interview. You will never be required to provide your full Social Security number or date of birth during the interview process.

However, it is common for agency recruiters to request the last four digits of your Social Security number and the month and day of your birth after you’ve been vetted for a specific opportunity and you’ve agreed to be submitted to their client. This information is typically gathered securely via a service such as DocuSign.

I recommend providing this requested information only if:

  • You feel 100% comfortable
  • You have built trust with the recruiter
  • You have knowledge of the company they work for
  • The recruiter disclosed their client identity

To better understand why recruiters request this information, check out this article by Tyler Cole, who was Sr. IT Recruiter at an international staffing and recruiting company when published on LinkedIn.

Company identity withheld by the recruiter

Be cautious if an agency recruiter refuses to disclose who their client is. This would cause me to question if this recruiter has a legitimate job to fill or is just adding to the talent pipeline.

A good recruiter will disclose pipelining upfront and set the appropriate expectations. There are times when clients ask recruiters not to disclose their names due to a confidential search, but this is more common with executive/director-level positions.

Also, be cautious if you’re working with a direct hiring manager and/or recruiter for an organization and you’re not familiar with the company.

Do your research. It only takes minutes to check a company’s record with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) at www.bbb.org and you can even search scam reports using BBB’s Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us.

Request for payment

If a company is requesting payment of any kind before you begin a job, STOP. This signals a likely scam.

Legitimate employers will not ask you to pay for anything up front.

Job scammers will say they require payment for a whole range of things including a background check, materials, training, etc. Don’t fall for this.

Other common red flags

  • Unsolicited job offers.
  • High pressure to accept a job offer.
  • Communication via email only.
  • High pay for simple work.

Now more than ever, job scammers are targeting the unemployed. Protect yourself by being aware of potential scams and doing your research. Remember: if it seems too good to be true, it just might be.