When the concept of being a digital nomad first came on my radar, finding legit online jobs was one of the biggest hurdles that kept me out of the remote, live-anywhere workforce.
I did find some gigs that were obviously authentic offerings at the time, but many of those were prohibitive for one reason or another. And then there were those that were outright scams.
While the overall landscape opportunities for those who want to work from anywhere has evolved dramatically over the past six or seven years, those scammy “jobs” have not gone extinct. In even worse news, while some of them remain incredibly rudimentary–and thankfully obvious–others have become more sophisticated and seem like they are on the up an up until you dig in.
So how do you know you are facing down a scam and not a legit online job?
They reached out to you
Yes, sometimes you do get recruited and that really rocks, but that’s a pretty rare occurrence. And if you aren’t a name in your field, a flashy up-and-comer, or a practitioner of some PR hocus-pocus, the odds of some company finding out about you and asking you to apply is a long shot. And you have a better chance of landing a lottery prize than getting an email instantly offering you a job.
Even though I hate to be the bearer of bad news, that email from a job board, recruiter, or major corporation is probably not a legit job offer. Sorry!
It doesn’t matter how much you want that (fictional) job or how authentic the email looks, you should take these emails with a grain of salt. Heck, you should delete them before the malware that may accompany these messages hits your system.
They’re asking for some information
Scammy “jobs” often make their money by selling the information they get from unsuspecting “candidates.” Or maybe they do something with the info themselves. Either way, you don’t want to give it to them.
If your social security number, address, mother’s maiden name, high school mascot, phone number, date of birth, driver’s license number, or any other sensitive bit of data is requested, don’t give it out. Even if they say it’s for a background check or to send you the ridiculously large paychecks they are promising. Whatever they’re asking for is probably just enough to steal your identity, hack your Facebook, or worse.
And there are even fake job boards out there! If you need to give a lot of personal information for “pre-screening” before you sign up, you may want to take your job search elsewhere.
You saw them in a comment
When someone comments on a blog post or a social media post and tells the world about their new online job or fab freelancing opportunity, that’s a scam.
These spambots pop up everywhere, often at inappropriate times, leaving a link to where you can find out how their cousin’s best friend manages to make $98 per day without lifting a finger. I don’t know what happens if you actually go to one of those URLs, and if you are actively looking for work, I don’t think you can afford to find out.
They want a free sample
I don’t think all of the folks who want potential remote employees and/or freelancers to do a little bit of work as part of the interview process are scammers. At least, they don’t set out to be.
I’ve met far too many of these prospective “employers” who want to test out your chops before they commit to you. It seems like a (free) trial isn’t too out of line, but usually the gig doesn’t progress beyond that. Even if you perform well. These folks often aren’t ready to commit to anyone, regardless of the work they do!
In the content world, I’ve met many of these folks. They need blog content and use the hiring process to fill their editorial calendar. They don’t need to hire anyone after they’ve culled their free trials, and they may not be able to afford to hire someone when they are done. Let the next round of free trials begin!
There are still some very much not legit online job opportunities that promote medical billing or other healthcare-related work at home. This is a giant red flag.
If you are based in the States, you’ve probably heard of HIPAA, and this pretty much prohibits any of this kind of work to be done in a home setting. And even before HIPAA, reputable medical professionals wouldn’t be sending private medical records over to private homes for any kind of processing.
At home manufacturing
These scams have gotten really old fast, but if fashion has taught us anything, some version of these will be back in vogue before we know it. So, what’s the deal with at home manufacturing?
The concept is simple. You are sent parts. You make stuff. You make money. This could be stuffing envelopes or putting together toys. It doesn’t matter–it’s a big scam either way.
Often you are asked to pay for the parts or put down some kind of deposit. And then you are supposed to do whatever it is you’re doing for pennies–because it’s not profitable if they pay you more.
You’re asked to pay something
You have to spend money to make money is true if you have a business, but if you’re taking on a gig, you shouldn’t be shelling out up front. Any position that asks you to pay something, provide a deposit, or otherwise pay money to your “employer” before you can begin work (or even apply) is a SCAM! And yes, I meant to yell!
And even if they don’t ask you for money, they may ask you to buy something or pay for something. In these cases, the money flows to them anyway. This would include paying for your own background check or some proprietary software you need to do your new “job.”
A Gmail address
Yes, I love Gmail as much as the next person, but legit businesses are less and less likely to use Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and other webmail addresses to conduct business. Sure, some very small businesses may still be feeling their free webmail, but recruiters from major companies will be sending correspondence that has their company’s domain attached.
And yes, most spammers are smart enough not to be obvious about this. They will spoof a more legitimate email address in correspondence they send to you–good for them! But they will clearly instruct you to reply to some random webmail address.
Scammers don’t take the time out to make up that good of a story. It may sound like it’s all put together on the surface, but if you dig in or start asking questions, it’s all far too vague. Generic job requirements that almost everyone fulfills (like being over 18 and having a valid photo ID) are common. For the duties, they usually aren’t even glossed over; there’s usually a promise for “full training.”
Yes, even I misspell a ton of stuff every now and again, but most spammers write like Google Translate got really, really drunk on fruity malt beverage.
If you have a “job offer” that uses commas instead of periods, doesn’t capitalize proper nouns, and has no idea of what tense to use, the odds are good you are dealing with a scammer! Of course, you could also be corresponding with a very confident beginning English student who just happens to be an entrepreneur, HR head, or other major decision maker despite an obvious language barrier, but do you really want to take that chance?
Learn more about possible scams: