How to spot a job scam — no matter how sophisticated

Job scammers have become very sophisticated, convincingly claiming to represent real employers, requiring interviews and even providing phony offer letters. If you're applying to jobs online, you'll need to constantly do research before accepting an interview or employment offer. It's the best way to protect yourself from these schemes that are designed to take your money – and personal information - instead of helping you earn money.

Submissions from individuals to BBB's Scam Tracker show that these cunning new twists are increasingly being added to traditional job scams. In fact, according to BBB's latest Scam Tracker Risk Report, employment scams climbed to the second most risky scam type – after online purchases.

How the scam works: You apply online through a reputable, third-party job-seeking site. A few days or weeks later, you get a text message or email asking if you are still interested in the position or a similar one at the same company. Since you made your contact information available to your potential employer when applying, the message doesn't strike you as unusual.

For example, one person told BBB Scam Tracker about their partner's experience with such a job scam. "He was contacted via text message by someone claiming to be with [Healthcare Company] about a position he did not apply to. He did apply to a different job, but not the one he was contacted about. He decided to reply in case there was some kind of confusion. The texter said their name was Tara and that they were reaching out because they wanted him to have an interview."

If you reply to the message, the scammer will invite you to interview for the job. However, this is when red flags start to appear. Instead of doing a traditional interview, the "employer" asks you to download a messaging app and answer a few questions via text. Then, you're offered the position on the spot, with great pay and benefits. Your new "employer" may even send you a convincing offer letter. After your "job offer," the phony employer asks you to complete a form with your personal and banking information, claiming they need it for direct deposit. In other cases, the scammer may ask you to set up a home office, either with your funds or money they'll send you in a (fake) check.

One job seeker recognized the scam by telling BBB Scam Tracker: "It seemed like a real interview, and they even sent me an employment offer letter that looked real. They were going to send equipment to me in order to set up my mini office. However, a day later, they were asking for money - $400 to fly in my office equipment to the airport nearest to my home."

If you send money or share your personal details, it will now be in the hands of scammers. It's very unlikely you'll get your money back, and your shared personal information puts you at risk of identity theft.

How to avoid job scams: 

-- Research the person who contacted you. If you suspect the person contacting you could be a scammer, look them up. A quick online search should reveal if they work for the company they claim to represent. If you're still unsure, call the company at a phone number you've confirmed to be their legitimate one (not the one the representative provides). Verify the person is an employee and that they are interviewing and hiring.

-- Do more research on the company. You may have done this before you applied for the position. Still, if you get a surprise offer to interview, it's worth doing more research to learn more about their hiring process, home office requirements, salaries, and benefits packages. If these don't align with your offer, you could be dealing with a scammer.

-- Guard your personal information. Never give sensitive information to anyone you aren't sure you can trust. Be especially wary if someone pressures you to divulge your information saying the job offer will only last if you fill out all the forms.

-- Watch out for overpayment scams. Many job scams involve sending fake checks with extra funds. Scammers ask their victims to deposit the check and send back the excess amount, hoping they'll do so before they realize the check was fake and has bounced. Legitimate companies will only send you money after you've done work for them, so be wary of jobs that involve receiving and returning the money.

-- Don't fall for jobs that seem too good to be true. They probably are. If you are offered a job - without a formal interview - that has excellent pay and benefits, it's likely a scam.

BBB's next Shred Day is April 15

A great, proactive approach to securing your identity is to safely destroy and dispose of unneeded documents and hard drives that contain your personally identifiable information. BBB is here to help with our spring "Shred Day." BBB will hold this free, bi-annual event in partnership with the Times Free Press, River City Shredding, Resource 1 Tier 3 Data Security, Coca Cola Bottling Company, and the Hamilton County Coalition on Saturday, April 15th from 9 am to noon. (Shredding will end earlier if trucks fill up).

The event will be held in Coca-Cola Bottling Company's parking lot at 2111 W. Shepherd Road in Chattanooga, which is located just off exit 1A (Airport exit) from Highway 153.

This is also a wonderful opportunity for residents to have electronics recycled and outdated or unneeded prescription drugs dropped off for safe disposal.

Please limit documents to three large trash bags of documents per person. For more information, please visit or call BBB at 423-266-6144.

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.