How to avoid recruiter scams

Beware of fake recruiters

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.

You’re probably wondering what someone’s motive would be for posing as a recruiter or employer. The motive usually comes down to some sort of theft or fraud, though the exact nature of it varies.

They might want to gather as much information about you as possible so they can steal your identity. Or, maybe they want to gain your trust, then convince you to buy something from a website (which, unbeknownst to you, they’ve set up themselves with the intent of capturing your credit card number and then using it fraudulently). One scam asked job candidates to send an iPhone to them so they could install apps needed for on-the-job training.

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 9 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 offshore $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 or is on a social media account with a different name, that proves the recruiter is a fake!
  5. Unusual requests. This can include requests to: pay a fee of some sort; fill out a job application; optimize your resume for the employer’s software; provide details such as a driver’s license, social security number, or account login information; a request to mail them something of value; 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. Fish around on the web.
  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. You could ask a question intended to see if they actually know about the city they claim to be in.
  9. Grammar and spelling. Grammatical mistakes and spelling errors are a major red flag. Just bear in mind that some con artists actually do use impeccable grammar and spelling, while some legitimate recruiters make a mistake now and then.

Any single one of the items above wouldn’t necessarily be proof that someone is a con artist. 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 before finding out any details. You have a right to ask questions first.

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