Every now and then, I hear from people that have lost some of their hard-earned money to a scammer. In some cases, the losses are small, in others, they are life-changing and the emotional scar is priceless.
So I thought I’d do my bit and list a few scamming techniques that I’ve come across in my time online.
My aim is to describe the tactics employed so that you can more easily identify real from fake opportunities. There are too many variants to list but I think you will get a sense of what makes up a scam and how to avoid getting duped.
Before we dig in, I’ve got one request. Please share this article with a friend so that they don’t get scammed. Thanks!
At the end of this article, I’ve got a Q&A style guide to help you determine real from fake, so skip ahead if you are stuck for time.
Here it goes.
- 1. Paying to get a job
- 2. Paid training before you work
- 3. Interviews that get the job done
- 4. Freelance Sites that require membership fees
- 5. Non paying clients or websites
- 6. Disappearing clients
- 7. Online Trading
- 8. Work at home mom scams
- 9. No Contract Quick Hire Jobs
- 10. Instant Message Interviews
- 11. No official Contact details
- 12. Bank details, Social Security, ID, Passport number
- 13. Never-ending webpage
- 14. No Experience Necessary Jobs
- 15. Wire funds on behalf of an individual or company
- 16. Poorly written job advert or email.
- 17. Free or Fake email
- 18. Get Rich Quick
- 19. Pyramid Schemes
- 20. Someone offers to buy your website or domain name
- 21. Premium phone numbers
- 22. Small task now, big task later
- 23. Get Rich Quick Investments (High Yield)
- 24. Social Commenter
- 25. Google Profits
- Take Away
1. Paying to get a job
If you are ever asked to shell out some cash in order to get a job or make some money, then run for the hills because this is a scam.
Investing in yourself to become more marketable is one thing, payment in exchange for a job is an entirely different story.
In the current economic climate, competition is high and desperation is rife. These scammers are preying on the weak and vulnerable.
It’s pretty disgusting to take advantage of people that lost their jobs during the COVID pandemic or the following recession, to be honest.
So even if you have bills to pay and desperately looking for a job, make sure you analyze everything and don’t spend of your hard money just because something looks too good to be true and you don’t want to miss it.
Once again, don’t be caught out!
Here is a short guide released by FTC on how to avoid job scams:
This paying to get a job scam works in a few different ways:
- The client lists a project or job and then requires you to pay an ‘Admin’ fee. No self-respecting employer will ask you to pay anything upfront or at all to get a job.
- A job opening is listed on a website or sent to you via email. Usually, the actual application details are absent and you will be asked to pay a small fee in order to access them. There are hundreds of legitimate job boards that are free to use for applicants. Businesses or companies pay these agencies to list job adverts, so there is no need for a job site to ask you for any remuneration.
- An agent lists a job opening on behalf of a real company and then asks for a fee to guarantee that you get the job. Some may call this bribery. I call it a scam. The companies are real, but the job advert is generally for a fake position.
- Someone advertises a piece of software that will magically increase your chances of finding a job. This is usually accompanied by a convincing website with customer testimonials, cool statistics and graphics. Don’t fall for it. All the software does, is scrape job websites and provide you with the listings. Nothing more than that! You can do this on your own. It’s called browsing the internet for jobs.
- An intermediary (pretending to be agency), will ask you to pay for the job application form….SCAM
- If I come across more types of paying to get a job, I’ll list them here.
2. Paid training before you work
This is similar to the scam above, I needed to list it separately because it can be very very convincing and often people are duped into wasting their money.
The way this works is that instead of asking you to pay to get the job (which is slightly more obvious), the scammer will tell you that your job is guaranteed, but first, you need to pay for a short training course that will prepare you for that specific job. Don’t fall for it! No legitimate company is going to ask you to do this.
More often than not, you receive mediocre training at best and those wonderful job opportunities almost always disappear. You will probably never hear from them again, no matter how many times you ask for a refund.
3. Interviews that get the job done
Be very wary about excessively long and drawn out interviews. A few freelancers informed me that some of their prospective clients would ask for extensive interview tasks. After a bit of digging, they found that the interview task was in fact the work that the client needed to be done.
A lot of the good freelancing websites out there have rules against this practice but not everyone follows them. This can be hard to avoid especially if you are really eager to get that job. If it happens, try and communicate your thoughts with the client. Otherwise, report it to the agency/website.
The way I generally work is that I ask a set of interview questions to understand the freelancer’s mindset, communication ability, their understanding of the job requirements and a little about skills. I’m really testing whether or not they have read the job description. I try and keep it very generic and not too excessive. If it is a long term position or a large project, I generally invite a few select candidates to attend a longer paid interview. This allows me to properly evaluate the freelancer using an intensive, real-world task, which usually lasts a few days; and they are not out of pocket.
So basically, if an employer is asking too much in an interview, and it sounds more like a job than an interview then it probably is. So walk away or report it.
4. Freelance Sites that require membership fees
Good freelance facilitating sites are generally funded by taking a percentage of the project or hourly rate. This pays all their bills and then some. So if a freelance website is asking you to pay for a membership, find somewhere else to go.
Some legitimate agency style websites (albeit small ones), sometimes employ this practice. They maintain regular clients and ‘pro’ clients. You only get access to the pro clients if you pay an extra fee.
Remember, this is only providing access to the job adverts. There is no guarantee of getting that job. So it really is not worth the risk or the money. Not so much a SCAM, but it is deceptive and not really worth it.
5. Non paying clients or websites
This is a difficult one to avoid. A lot of websites advertise projects, employ freelancers and then don’t fork out payment when the job is completed. I’m sure a handful of you reading this must have experienced it at some point in your career. It is indeed a very difficult thing to avoid. The only thing that you can do is to ensure your communications are all done via email (so you can defend it in court if it goes that far), and do your research about the website.
Investigate what others are saying (Google the website name to try and find any negative reviews). But even then, it is still difficult to separate the good from the bad. The other thing you can do is to look at the reputation of the site which is sometimes indicated by it’s Alexa ranking. The higher the ranking (1 being the highest), the more popular the website, the less chance you will be out of pocket.
6. Disappearing clients
When I first started outsourcing with sites like Freelancer.com or UpWork.com, I encountered people who had a fear that I will not pay. I took offence, to be honest. I’m a legitimate business, so you SHOULD trust me, I ignorantly thought to myself. It turns out that these freelancers had a legitimate fear. Digging around and talking to a few people, it quickly became apparent that there are some evil people who try to get work done for free.
This works as follows:
- A client that lists a job
- Interviews applicants
- Agree’s pay and commences with the job
- The work is delivered
- You never hear from that client again
- Payment methods are cancelled and even the website you were working through loses out.
So what do you do if you are working with a client with no prior history? Well, there are a few things. For one, ensure that you use reputable services that protect their contractors. I’d recommend oDesk, Freelancer & 99Designs as a start.
The second thing that you can do is ask for a deposit. I don’t like this option; as a business and I never go for it, but you can always ask.
The third thing you can do is to deliver previews until full payment is received. e.g. If you are developing software, you can deliver the compiled application and only release the source code once full payment is made, or if you are a graphic designer, you can deliver a low res image initially and then full PSD upon receipt of payment.
Another thing you can do is agree with milestone payments. Divide the project into several smaller modules, that can be delivered and paid for individually. Once paid, you start working towards the next milestone. Any reputable client will be happy with this.
There are various ways to try and mitigate the risk of not being paid. You can be creative with how you deliver your work, just be upfront with your client and agree on these rules ahead of time so that you don’t pi$$ them off. The last thing you want is an irate client.
7. Online Trading
This is one of the more believable and convincing scams out there. I almost fell for this one! There are a ton of people showing you videos of how they trade online (Especially Binary Options). They will even show you ‘live’ evidence of the income they have generated via balance statements, actual software usage etc.
What they don’t tell you is that the data and applications they are showing you are Dummy or Demo accounts. That’s right, fake accounts. If you play around long enough with a Demo account, you will at some point make some (dummy) money. These are to be avoided at all costs.
Legitimate trading is a very risky business – it’s an ‘educated’ gamble. The general rule is that if you want to trade then do it with money you are willing to lose because more often than not, you WILL LOSE. Binary Options videos and tutorials can be very very convincing. Don’t fall for it. It is a gross misrepresentation of any potential gain. People who make these videos are simply making a commission from referring you to that particular trading service.
8. Work at home mom scams
You read emotionally appealing stories of a mom who spends just a few hours a day online and making tens of thousands of dollars. SCAM! The cheques they show you are fake. The work is not real.
What they are selling you is information on how the scam works. You are taught how to scam other people. That’s basically how the scam works. It does sound enticing but please don’t fall into that trap. It is illegal and you can go to jail.
9. No Contract Quick Hire Jobs
Legitimate agencies and companies will generally have some sort of contractual agreement between them (the client) and you (the freelancer). Facilitating agencies will have generic terms and conditions that make all jobs legally and contractually binding between clients and freelancers.
If you are offered a job without a contract or a defined set of terms and conditions, or deliverables, with explicit statements of earnings, then be very weary. It is probably a scam.
The other scam indicator is the lack of an interview. I have never ever employed anyone for any job (no matter how simple) without an interview.
10. Instant Message Interviews
I’ve seen this happen a few times, and it is a scam that usually is done by both scammers trying to lure in targets as well as freelancers that want to lure in clients.
It starts out with an attractive looking job advert. There is no voice-based interview, it is all done via instant message. I understand that English is not everyone’s first language and not everyone is a good communicator, but I am automatically wearier when someone opts out of a voice interview and would rather instant message instead.
For one, I am not really sure who I am engaging with. Seeing or hearing someone builds a bit more trust and most genuine employers will be happy to go through a voice or video interview. After you accept the position, they will either get you to pay some fee, or may be one of those disappearing clients. So be wary about clients that don’t want to communicate properly.
In this scenario, the tables are turned. It’s not so much a scam but a time-waster. If you do employ this tactic. Please stop, it is actually losing your clients. You have freelancers who will apply to job adverts with really really attractive low-cost proposals. They then want to engage with you via an instant message service. They are happy to have a really long chat with you regarding the job, the description, the deliverables (All of these already stated in the initial job description by the way).
At the end of the interview/discussion, which they generally fair really well at, they will tell you that the price has now increased. This for me is deceptive, they had all the details initially but decided to put in a fake offer just to get my attention.
So what I’ve learned as a client, is that if the offer is too good to be true, then it usually is. I just ignore most low offers. And in most cases, you get what you pay for! In other cases, it is an annoying lure. I don’t mind paying higher prices but don’t want to be deceived at first.
11. No official Contact details
Scammers generally don’t like to be contacted outside of the scam (physically or electronically). If you see a great job offer or promise of income asking you to pay a little first, without any contact information like address, email, telephone etc, then again…Scam alert!
12. Bank details, Social Security, ID, Passport number
If anyone ever asks you for your bank details, Social Security or any other personal number, just walk away. The only time you really need to hand over your bank details is to an HR department or an official company so that they can pay you. You would never need to provide your banking details in order to get a job or make money online. Most of these scams are email-based. If you need to receive payment, use an official, reliable method that protects your personal details e.g. PayPal.
The way this scam works is that some people (who really have nothing better to do) sit in an internet cafe, sending out thousands of generic emails to a list of recipients that they either stole or bought somewhere. The email content varies and can sometimes be quite convincing and official-looking.
Example1: ‘There is a parcel that is currently with customs in SomeCountry and all you need to do is to pay the customs fees, or provide ID information so that it can be released.’ They usually pad that email to make it seem like it is a really important and highly valuable package. Believe it or not, some people are in fact expecting packages, and will pay or provide the requested details.
Customs won’t email you. They will generally send you a letter because they know the delivery address. If you are expecting valuable packages by post or by courier, check the tracking information before you pay anything. You can even call customs yourself – find their official number first using their official website in your country.
Example2: ‘You have won a prize worth $1000. All you need to do is to confirm your Social Security (or other national ID numbers) and address in order to claim the prize.’ This again is a SCAM. You should not need to do this. These are mainly email-based scams, but I’ve also seen them as popups on some dodgy looking websites.
13. Never-ending webpage
This one is very common and I’ve come across loads of these in my time online. These are single page websites that go on forever in an attempt to bombard you with almost every piece of information, statistic and testimonial that may convince you to buy their product at the end. And of course, that product will miraculously make you loads of money.
More often than not, those ‘products’ are simply teaching you to do the same thing. It takes you through the process of creating that single page website and how to sell the same ebook or resource. It is a SCAM. Unfortunately, a few legitimate websites do this too. I’d just ignore all of them. You are better off that way.
14. No Experience Necessary Jobs
This is another interesting one. No experience jobs seem to be a common way to entice someone that is just entering the market. These generally don’t exist and you really need to be weary. The ‘client’ is most likely not going to pay you anything and in most cases probably wants you to pay for something first.
I must also say that there are a few legitimate No Experience jobs out there by reputable companies. They will train you at their own cost and give you an opportunity. They won’t ask you for money and the process is quite transparent. The difference is that you will in need to be interviewed.
15. Wire funds on behalf of an individual or company
Here’s the gig: ‘I have some money that I need to move to your country. I will give you 10% as a fee for your inconvenience. I will transfer $20 000 000 into your account and then you must transfer $18 000 000 into my account.’ Sounds great right? You are helping someone out? WRONG. The only thing they are after again are your bank details. So be very wary! They can use this information to make payments, setup direct debits etc.
I received the following email the other day:
‘Hi Dee. Sorry to get in touch like this. I’ve just arrived in Italy and my bags were stolen. Everything was taken, my passport, wallet the works. Please can you wire me some money via XXXX XXXXX XXXX so that I can get to the embassy to sort it out.’
This came from my friend’s actual email address. It had been hacked into, probably because of a leaked or poor password. Don’t be fooled.
16. Poorly written job advert or email.
One of the easiest ways to identify a scam email or job advert is to simply read it. Now, I am basing this on what I have received in English, but it applies to all languages. Certain parts of the world are known to have a larger number of full-time scammers.
Some of these countries are not natively English speaking, which probably means that the scammers are not native English speakers either. Poor grammar is the result. Look at the sentence construction, spelling errors etc. If you pick out more than one, there is a strong possibility that it is a SCAM! This not only applies to English scams. It applies to all languages. I’m just using it as an example because English is my first language. You may be targeted in your own native tongue.
Companies and other official establishments have quite a drawn-out process before making anything public – like an email, Facebook post, tweet etc. So generally (and I do say generally), the quality of the correspondence will be of a much higher.
17. Free or Fake email
Also, look at where the email or job advert is coming from. Look at the sender information. Is it a generic gmail or yahoo account? A lot of the time, these are the sort of accounts that scammers use. Not always from a custom domain such as @gadgitech.com. Whenever I employ someone, I make it a point to do it via an email address from my official company domain (@gadgitech.com).
There are some legitimate companies using free email addresses. So do your research. With a reduction in hosting and domain costs, I’d hope that any reputable company uses a custom domain.
18. Get Rich Quick
There is no such thing! Unless you are lucky enough to win the lottery.
Here are some of the Get Rich Quick proposals I’ve come across:
- Work only a few hours a day.
- High Yield Investment schemes. Careful! Careful! Careful!
- Stock Exchange secrets, tips and tricks. This can sometimes border on insider trading and is ILLEGAL.
19. Pyramid Schemes
Yet again, one of these too good to be true scams. Especially when you see ‘published’ (fake) paycheques (checks for you US guys). The way these work is that you pay to get into a scheme. Generally, there is no product or service. You simply pay the person who invited you into the scheme.
That person gets a cut and so does the person who referred them and so on. At the end of the day, the only person who really makes any money is the person that started the scheme. Now don’t go out and start one just yet! For one, it will really annoy me. And secondly, it is now illegal in a lot of countries. So don’t be scammed into joining one and please don’t start one. I’d rather you read this blog from your home rather than a jail cell library (if they even have internet access).
Here is a video on a recently uncovered and shutdown by the SEC Ponzi scheme:
According to Investor.gov, a website created by the SEC here are the warning signs of a PROXY scheme:
- High returns with little or no risk. Every investment carries some degree of risk, and investments yielding higher returns typically involve more risk. Be highly suspicious of any “guaranteed” investment opportunity.
- Overly consistent returns. Investments tend to go up and down over time. Be sceptical about an investment that regularly generates positive returns regardless of overall market conditions.
- Unregistered investments. Ponzi schemes typically involve investments that are not registered with the SEC or with state regulators. Registration is important because it provides investors with access to information about the company’s management, products, services, and finances.
- Unlicensed sellers. Federal and state securities laws require investment professionals and firms to be licensed or registered. Most Ponzi schemes involve unlicensed individuals or unregistered firms.
- Secretive, complex strategies. Avoid investments if you don’t understand them or can’t get complete information about them.
- Issues with paperwork. Account statement errors may be a sign that funds are not being invested as promised.
- Difficulty receiving payments. Be suspicious if you don’t receive a payment or have difficulty cashing out. Ponzi scheme promoters sometimes try to prevent participants from cashing out by offering even higher returns for staying put.
20. Someone offers to buy your website or domain name
I didn’t know about this one until a few months back. I received an email out of the blue from a domain/website broker that informed me that a wealthy Chinese businessman was purchasing domains that were related to mine. He had $100000 to spend for about 5 websites and wanted to know what I was willing to sell mine for.
At first, I thought WOW. JACKPOT! This was my honest to god true reaction. Two minutes later, my sensible side kicked in. So I researched the guy a bit. They sent it from an official domain brokering company, official logos. Everything looked great and spot on. BUT, more research revealed that they were in fact a website evaluation service.
The way this scam works is:
- You get this too good to be true introduction email and offer.
- You make contact and say you are interested and tell them your price. Say $20000.
- They respond saying ‘No problem. Price sounds good. But our client wants to ensure that it is indeed worth what you are asking’.
- They then tell you that you can easily verify its value by paying Company XXXX for a website evaluation. (A few hundred bucks).
- You pay, they say, sorry, after evaluating your website it is worth $10 instead of $20000.
- You are out of pocket a few hundred bucks! You can’t ask for your money back, because you legitimately asked and paid for an evaluation service which was provided.
- You never hear from them or the wealthy Chinese businessman ever again.
- They live happily ever after and try to dupe the next person into doing the same.
- I’ll say it again, you just lost a few hundred bucks.
- The End!
21. Premium phone numbers
Jobs are sometimes advertised with the only method of applying being to call the provided number. In almost every case, that call in number is a premium phone number. 1-900 numbers in the US. 0871- in the UK. It varies from country to country. But that is the general scam.
The scammer will try and keep you on the line for as long as possible. The longer you are on the line, the more money they take from you. There is no real job. It’s all a scam!
22. Small task now, big task later
Some unscrupulous clients will try and gain your trust and then screw you over later. So don’t drop your guard.
It works something like this:
- The client employs you to do a small quick job that pays just a few dollars.
- The same client then employs you for a few different projects, all paying just a few dollars.
- You start to trust the client.
- That client then proposes a nice large project. You think, GREAT!. I’m going to make some real money.
- You work your hardest and provide the best quality work and deliver it to your client.
- You don’t get paid and you never hear from your client again. They simply disappear of the face of the planet.
The take away here is to not trust anyone! Especially in business. Ensure you have legitimate contracts throughout. Try and protect yourself as best you can. Use legitimate freelance websites and use your common sense.
23. Get Rich Quick Investments (High Yield)
Like trading, you will find investment opportunities that promise high yield with minimal investment. GUARANTEED!
THERE IS NO SUCH THING
Investments will go up and down and the higher the potential profit, the higher the risk of you losing everything. The only loser is you, so invest wisely and use reputable methods like via your bank or other regulated financial authority. In most countries, they are legally obliged to give you a proper risk assessment for any investment.
24. Social Commenter
Some clients do hire people to manage their social profiles and this is a legitimate job. But there are others out there that will ask you for a small sign up fee to start commenting on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google plus etc. This fee is generally very small $1-$5. They advertise these jobs with high paying rates like $30-$40/hr.
Don’t be fooled. These scammers set impossibly high targets like thousands of comments per hour, and if you don’t meet these targets, you don’t get paid. So in the end, they win twice. You pay them the small startup fee and they get comments. But because you didn’t make the target, you don’t get paid.
25. Google Profits
Some legitimate people have shown off their Google Adsense profits and some of the initial ones were real. Unfortunately, almost every one after that is showcasing fake cheques and account balances. They then promise to teach you how to set up your Adsense account and website to do the same. But yet again, this is taking money out of your pocket unnecessarily. Adsense is Free to use and you can create a free or paid for website on your own. There are plenty of really good free tutorials out there on how to do it. It will only take a matter of minutes to setup once approved by Google.
Very similar to this is the scam where you are told that you can earn up to $25/hr simply placing links on websites. These scammers use fake names or try and masquerade as legitimate entrepreneurs. Sounds too good to be true?.. It is.
Most of these scams are generally easy to avoid but I can see those that are in a desperate situation can be easily taken advantage of.
Here is a quick checklist to help you determine if it is a scam or not. If the answer is ‘Yes’ to any of the questions below, then most likely, it is a scam and needs to be avoided.
- Does it sound too good to be true?
- Did I get the email out of the blue from someone I don’t know?
- Is their email address a free email?
- Is the email from someone I know but just doesn’t sound right?
- Do I have to pay anything to get started (Admin Fee, training course, software, startup kit)?
- Do I have to provide my personal financial details (or passport, Id, etc) in order to start?
- Does this work or scheme guarantee overnight success?
- Was I contacted using an instant messaging service?
- I was not able to find the company details by simply searching Google
- Do I have to send money somewhere?
- Do I have to accept money on behalf of someone?
- Are there numerous grammar or spelling errors or is the wording is not fluent?
- Does the website have a low Alexa ranking?
- Did you find negative information/reviews by simply searching the web?
Unfortunately, there are a few legitimate businesses and companies out there that also employ these tactics. They are few and far between and hopefully, they will change, but be very very careful.
More often than not, you go with your gut. There is no such thing as easy money. Work hard for what you have and cherish it. Don’t give it away to all the scammers out there.
This by no means is a definitive list of every type of scam that is going on. But it gives you a feel for what people are doing. Every day there is something new!
Scammers are very creative. I just wish they would use that creativity in other areas. Hopefully, this post helps you more easily recognise the characteristics of a scam, making all the variants more easily identifiable.
Be safe at working online.
I’ll ask one more time. If there is one good deed you want to do today. Please share this with a friend so that they don’t get duped!