Laura has worked online as a freelancer in multiple capacities and has learned how to spot an online job scam from a mile away.
8 Ways to Figure Out if an Online Job Offer Is Legit
Worried about being scammed by supposed "mystery shopping jobs" or work-from-home opportunities that seem too good to be true? At first, these scammers compose pretty professional-looking emails or messages to gain your trust and excite you. But with a little further investigation, you can tell the difference between a real job opportunity and a soon-to-be-bankrupt web of lies.
I've been working online for years now, and I still receive mystery shopping emails that look legitimate or requests for interviews on freelance websites that are clearly just going to set me up for identity theft.
Here, I've compiled a list of eight things you can do to make sure you avoid being scammed online.
1. Perform an Internet Search
Sure, this may seem obvious to some, but I figured I'd start with the basics. If someone is trying to scam you, you definitely aren't the only one they're preying on. Just recently, Google came through for me again when I received a letter in the mail detailing a mystery shopping gig that I supposedly applied for. The sender included a check that looked very real; however, Google showed me otherwise.
I searched for the fake company's name that was printed at the bottom of the letter, and sure enough, a ton of other people were writing on a forum about how they were scammed or almost scammed by this particular "company."
Before performing any job or cashing any check, search online for as much as you can, including the sender's information, the company name, and anything else that was included.
2. Confirm Your Contact's Email Address
Their emails should be theirname@theircompany'sname.com Don't be afraid to ask questions. If their email is gmail, yahoo, aol, comcast, etc., then question it. If they reply that it is their personal email, then request their business email. If they refuse, something isn't right.
I recently had an interview request on Upwork.com from a man who identified himself as "Fred Braston." He claimed to be the hiring manager at CHD Developers Ltd. and wanted me to interview with him on Google Hangouts. I did, and he told me that the company was interested in me because they were opening up a new branch office in my area in a few months, but for the time being, the work would be online.
After finishing up our "interview," I decided to Google CHD Developers Ltd. and explore their website. From what I could see, their company based is entirely in India. Nonetheless, I emailed the company to let them know about this scam.
If you are unsure whether you are being scammed or not, this is a great place to start. If the person you are speaking with is claiming to be from a real company, go to the company's website and contact anyone you can that might be able to help you. If it turns out to be a real job and not a scam, the company won't hold it against you for wanting to make sure you're not being set up. You can even explain that in your email.
3. See if They Pay Upfront or After Delivery
It is very rare that any company would give you money before you've done anything. If you're offered money online to buy things for some new job or to wire transfer to someone, abort mission!
In my last example, Fred Braston told me that the company would be sending me a check to set up my home office and buy any software I would need. Here is the exact message:
"Before you start work you will receive a payment(Check),you will be using this payment (check)to set up your mini office by purchasing some office equipment and accounting software, immediately you get this payment you start work fully.Here are the Name's of software's you will be needing to purchase : BS 1 Accounting software ,MYOB business essentials software ,Peach Tree Software ( US Patent Single Users Pack ),simply accounting . Microsoft Office Accounting,Sirius GT Accounting For Windows,which is to be purchased."
"NOTE: All materials are to be purchased from the company accredited vendor, I will provide you with the vendor information when you receive the check."
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While it is true that you may have to use certain software for an online job, the company usually won't be willing to provide you with a check so early on—especially before they even know you're real and not someone who is just going to run away with the company's funds!
Also, not the spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors in the above message. We'll talk more about this later.
In my other example of the mystery shopping scam, I was sent a check for over $3,000. The directions were to cash the check immediately ($100 bonus if completed within 24 hours), go shopping at CVS and Walmart, and then text them when en route to Wells Fargo and they would text their account number so I could deposit the rest of the money—which was still over $3,000—back into their account.
What would have happened if I went along with the directions? I would have gone to my bank, deposited the "check" (which, if you haven't guessed by now, was a good-looking counterfeit), went shopping, and then deposited over $3,000 OF MY OWN MONEY into some scammer's bank account. The next day, the bank would inform me that the check was fake, and I'd simply be out $3,000. No company is going to send someone a real check for $3,000.
4. Find Out if They Pay Directly
Most work-from-home websites have a secure payment portal set up so that their users will not be scammed. Mercari, Poshmark, Studypool, and Upwork, to name a few, all pay directly.
Do not be fooled when someone tries to pay you via PayPal or direct deposit or through a check, etc. If you are doing business on a website like this, then make sure the person or company knows that you will only accept payment through the secure payment feature on the website. If they will not do this for you, then it is surely a scam.
Let's go back to our lovely friend, Fred Braston. He gave me three options for payment: wire transfer, direct deposit, or check. Sorry . . . no—not happening. Either pay me through the website we started doing business on or get lost.
Websites have these payment features for a reason. It ensures that you will receive payment because it takes the person's payment before you complete a job or send out a product you've sold and holds the money until the job or transaction is complete.
5. Keep an Eye on Your Contact's Spelling and Grammar
If someone is employed to hire people online, then they will definitely be educated enough to, for the most part, speak properly and spell correctly. Mr. Fred Braston and the mystery shopping letter that I received in the mail both had multiple words misspelled and subpar grammar.
Companies want to look professional at all times. Most do not allow employees who don't know when to press the space bar or compose a well-thought-out business email to handle communications with prospective employees.
6. Never Send Anyone Money
"Send me money—I will make you rich!" No, they won't. I don't care what their reasoning behind it is. Don't fall victim to these get-rich-quick schemes; they have "scam" written all over them—figuratively, of course.
7. Be Skeptical
It's okay to be skeptical and ask questions. Online employers should understand that you want proof of their legitimacy or have additional questions. You don't have to be rude and interrogate them; just ask questions respectfully and tell them you want to make sure you're not being scammed because the internet can be a questionable place. They may even applaud you for being cautious.
8. Report Scammers
The only way to get rid of scammers and prevent others from being scammed is to report their names, fake company names, and any other information to proper authorities and share it online.
The comments section is open, so if you can, take a moment to tell your story (if you have one) and include all the information you can so that the next person Googling the company or person's name will find your comment and save themselves the hassle and expense of being scammed.
Have you ever been contacted by an online scammer? What did you do? How did you handle it? Were you scammed, or did you see through their lies before it was too late?
Tell us your story or inputs in the comments. Let's help each other stay updated on scammers and put a stop to them. One name mentioned may show up in someone's internet search and save them from being scammed. Good luck in your future online job-search endeavors!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Sawyer on October 02, 2020:
I did a whole interview with a ComCast comapny that had a part time position for Data Entry and they had me sen my email, phone number and ID picture an i felt very unsure about them
Mell on June 16, 2020:
Thank you for the information. I just received two emails describing the same experience for a company called BHR pharmaceuticals and the gentleman name was Edward Stephen and the woman name was Marita williams. This was very helpful
Farrah Young from Lagos, Nigeria on March 25, 2020:
Good tips on spotting a scammer. I almost got scammed myself a few years ago by a group of guys who claimed they were clergymen and had seen a prophesy of doom concerning me.
Of course, I needed to part with some amount of money to be used to ward off this evil.
In the end I called the scammers out and they fled in shame.
bronwyn hanekom on January 08, 2020:
I've been in contact with a man called Stephen Brunner, supposedly working for Amerigroup, an insurance company. He was referred by the girl that connected with me on Facebook, Dory Vargas.
It was data entry & accounting position offered by them. He told me to purchase the 10$ amazon email delivery card for the software to be installed onto my computer. I logged into my Amazon acc & searched for this card but only gift cards came up. I realised this was not real. People are buying him gift cards for him to do whatever he wants to with it, promising work & weekly payment.
We have to real careful on the internet...
Doris Thomas from Port Moresby on April 25, 2019:
Scammers are very smart these days so we also need to be twice smarter than them to avoid being the victim. Good article.
Locks of Laura (author) from Philadelphia, PA on July 24, 2016:
He can't do anything with your address. Just don't sign anything. Once I realized he was a scammer, I told him that the real company verified that he was running a scam, and that he should NOT send me a check in the mail for "setting up my office and software."
Hellana Marshall on July 18, 2016:
I got the same thing from Braston. I gave him my address already though and i'm supposed to sign the papers in the morning. Can he do anything to me with my address?
Locks of Laura (author) from Philadelphia, PA on July 18, 2016:
Wanted to report another scammer from Upwork: Jessie Cannady who messages you to tell you to interview with Franklyn Williams via Google Hangouts ASAP. ( email@example.com )
If you were contacted by Jessie Cannady or Franklyn Williams, do not interview or accept. This is a scam.
Locks of Laura (author) from Philadelphia, PA on July 13, 2016:
You're welcome! I'm happy to hear he was unable to scam you.
Grace Douglas on July 12, 2016:
I was contacted by Fred Braston from Upwork and had the same information relayed to me.. thank you for posting about him.
Locks of Laura (author) from Philadelphia, PA on July 11, 2016:
You're welcome! Glad I could help!
Brandon Spiegel from North Texas on July 10, 2016:
This article is very useful, thank you so much!