How to Avoid Recruiter Scams

Unfortunately, there are always going to be con artists who will try to prey on job seekers who are eager to land their dream jobs–and even the savviest of executives have been hoodwinked by slick, sophisticated recruitment cons.

Many of us are trusting people, and if someone approaches us with a well-written LinkedIn message or email, it’s natural to believe it.

However, here are some sobering realities:

  • It’s very easy and cheap to set up a professional looking website nowadays. Any con artist can do it with a minimal investment.
  • There are white collar criminals who are smart and articulate. Sounding educated isn’t proof of honesty.
  • Someone can easily create a LinkedIn profile containing untrue information (and LinkedIn contains tons of fake profiles). There are no LinkedIn Fact-Checking Police on patrol, ready to arrest people who put fraudulent credentials on their profiles!

So, when recruiters contact you, how do you know if they’re legitimate? Here are 7 things to look for.

  1. LinkedIn. View the recruiter’s LinkedIn profile. If you can’t find a profile for the person, ask for a link to it. If the person doesn’t have one, or you can’t find it after extensive searching, that’s a huge red flag. Virtually all recruiters today are using LinkedIn. Inspect the profile carefully. It should be detailed and have information about the recruiting work performed. Also look for recommendations. If people have recommended the recruiter, that’s a good sign that it’s probably a legitimate profile. However, be sure to view the profiles of the people who recommended him or her. Do they have recommendations, too, or do their profiles appear to be hastily created? Remember: number of LinkedIn connections isn’t proof of legitimacy. Someone can create a fake profile and pay someone in India $1/hour to add hundreds of connections.
  2. Email. Is the recruiter using a company email, or a Gmail or Yahoo account? While some recruiters do have personal accounts that they may use sometimes for business, bear in mind that anyone can claim to work for Korn Ferry–and if they’re not emailing from a Korn Ferry email account, how do you know they really work there?
  3. Company research. If the recruiter is with a boutique recruiting firm, do your research on the firm. Visit its website and read the staff bios. You can also use ICANN’s WhoIs lookup tool to find out when the domain was registered, and to whom. Only registered within the past year? I’d want to know more about the firm’s team if it’s that new. If it’s registered to someone different than the listed principals of the firm, that might be worth looking into.
  4. Photographic evidence. Use my favorite trick from the TV show Catfish, and do a reverse image search on for the recruiter’s photo so you can find out if it turns up on any other website. If it’s a stock photo, that proves the recruiter is a fake!
  5. Unusual requests. This can include requests to: fill out a job application; optimize your resume for the employer’s software; pay a fee; provide details such as a driver’s license or social security number; and the list goes on. Remember that employers use recruiters to find top candidates for hard-to-fill positions. A legitimate recruiter wants to make it as easy as possible for these candidates, so why would a recruiter ask you to jump through extra hoops? It doesn’t make sense.
  6. Third-party validation. Look for outside validation of the recruitment firm’s legitimacy. This can include media coverage of the firm and its principals, and participation in professional associations.
  7. Recruiter’s background. If the firm seems new, research the background of the recruiter. You can call his or her former employer to verify employment.
  8. Location. Look to see where the firm claims to be located, and where the recruiter claims to be located. Look up the address on Google Maps and Google Earth to see what it looks like. Ask if they work from that city, or from somewhere else. Then you could ask, “Oh, so you’re there now?” If you then say, “Oh, I’m going to be in your city next week visiting family–maybe I could swing by for a short chat?” If the person is lying about the location, the answer will be no.

Any single one of the items above wouldn’t necessarily be proof that someone is a con artist. However, if there are multiple red flags, you’ll have to use your best judgment to decide whether there’s a strong enough likelihood of fraud that you’re better off not dealing with this “recruiter.” I don’t recommend confronting or accusing the person; if you’re dealing with a criminal, that could put you in danger.

And remember: When talking to anyone who claims to be a recruiter, find out details about the job and company. Some candidates are so eager to find an opportunity that they provide their resume without knowing many details.