Laid-Off Individuals Receive Numerous Fake Employment Opportunities Virtual Hiring and Working From Home Have Made It Easier to Deceive Job Seekers


Employment scams that target laid-off tech workers have become increasingly common during the pandemic. Fake job listings, interviews with fake recruiters, and sham onboarding processes are used to steal money or identities from job seekers. Recent job-scam victims report that scammers are specifically targeting workers who have recently lost their jobs, particularly in the tech industry.

The number of reported job scams almost tripled to 104,000 between 2019 and 2021 and stayed high in 2022, according to the FTC. U.S. workers lost more than $200 million from employment-related scams in 2021, up from $133 million in 2019, data from the agency show.  Gustavo Miller, a digital marketing expert, wrote a popular LinkedIn post recounting his experience of recently being “hired” to a nonexistent job. It started with an email from someone claiming to be a recruiter for cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, who contacted him via his profile on a recruiting site for startup workers. The following day, Mr. Miller wrote, he did an online interview and got an offer for a remote contractor role, which he accepted after examining the recruiter’s LinkedIn credentials. Soon after, he got a link to an onboarding portal.  There, he met virtually with a man who identified himself as a human resources official and told him how to order a laptop, headphones, and other remote-work equipment. He realized he was being scammed, he wrote, when he received an invoice for $3,200 and noticed what he called subtle changes to the third-party website and email address that sent it. He refused and got little response when he complained, he said. Coinbase advises that only job listings from its website should be trusted and that legitimate recruiters for the company will use a Coinbase email address.  Mr. Miller’s post garnered thousands of comments, many telling similar stories.  “I felt really foolish and naive when I discovered it, but I know this is not a silly scam,” he wrote. “These guys are pros, they know the standard remote-first jobs conditions and the tech industry’s hiring culture.”

Job seekers say some fraudsters create fake job postings to draw them in, sometimes building websites to make dummy companies appear legitimate, while others impersonate established brands, authorities say. Some companies, such as Coinbase, have added scam warnings to their websites. Once the applicant accepts the offer, the phony company may ask for sensitive information like Social Security and bank account numbers or request the job seeker pay upfront for work-related equipment. Kati Daffan, assistant director in the FTC’s marketing-practices division, which monitors the schemes, noted that scammers are taking advantage of people's need for a good source of income. Though the overall job market remains strong, a number of big-tech companies have cut jobs after pandemic hiring sprees. Fraudsters often use layoff announcements and employment trends to fine-tune their scams. 

Tracy Alcaide, a graphic designer in California, applied for more than 200 jobs on sites such as LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter since graduating from a tech boot camp in December 2021. She was excited when a recruiter responded by email offering an interview for a user-experience design role the next day. The interview took place on an instant-messenger platform, which raised some red flags for Ms. Alcaide, but she was so excited that she didn't pay attention. The recruiter asked for her bank account information to “see if it tallies with the company’s official salary payment account”, which made her realize it was a scam and she declined. She said she has since removed her profile from online job boards and feels violated. 

Job sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter said they try to counter employment scams on their platforms. LinkedIn stopped more than 20 million fake accounts in the first half of 2022 and restricted 200,000 more in response to complaints from users of the site. Indeed removes “tens of millions” of job listings each month that don’t meet its quality guidelines.

Jane Oates, a former Labor Department official and now president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit focused on workforce development, said she has noticed a rise in job scams in recent months. Tech-related workers are particularly vulnerable, she said, as fake recruiters often promise high salaries and it is relatively simple to pretend to be a representative of a small, unknown startup. She recommends job seekers do their due diligence and investigates potential employers thoroughly. Check corporate websites, social media profiles, and online reviews to verify that a company is what it claims to be. Additionally, be wary of suspiciously high salaries and watch out for any spelling or grammar errors.

Michael Reilly, a California-based graphic designer, said he encountered suspicious emails after applying to online listings at least three times after being laid off in August 2019. As a design specialist, he prided himself on being able to spot grammatical errors and discrepancies in logos and fonts in emails from alleged recruiters. However, lately, he has had more difficulty deciphering which emails are real. The last two interview offers he received were from fraudulent companies that had full websites created with fabricated testimonials. He didn't realize they were bogus until the recruiters refused to conduct interviews over the phone or via video. “Now when I get these emails, I'm so worried that it is a scam that I might be missing out on talking to potential recruiters,” he said.

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