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How to Avoid Fake Remote Jobs

A laptop by the beach

While remote work has always been a thing, advances in technology coupled with societal changes that came out of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic have made it more common than ever. While there are obvious benefits to working remotely and great opportunities out there, there are also a lot of scams.

If a large company like Meta, Google, or Microsoft is advertising the job, it probably has its internal job board and recruitment site. While they headhunt for specific, most available positions, go to people who apply. So if you’ve applied for a remote job on Google’s official site, received an interview offer through a legitimate email address, and gone through the company’s process — congratulations, the job is legit. At the other end of the spectrum are those job opportunities bots post on social media sites. You could earn up to $500 an hour working from home! Except you couldn’t, those are obviously shifty. But what about the job opportunities in between? Can a legitimate-looking offer be a scam, and what do you have to lose if it all goes wrong?

What is at Risk?

A locked smartphone in front of a laptop
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock.com

In most states and countries, you’re free to walk away if a job doesn’t suit you. So, aside from time, what do you have to lose if a remote job isn’t legit? Well, you could lose a lot. For starters, onboarding involves a lot of paperwork, and that paperwork will have your name, date of birth, phone number, social security number, and bank details on it. You shouldn’t let this private information you shouldn’t let fall into the wrong hands.

Then there’s the possibility of a scammer asking for some kind of fee in order to set the job up. This could be a “recruiter” asking for a finders fee, a company asking for an “administrative fee” to cover your onboarding or any other excuse that will get you to cut a check. It’s also a massive sign the job isn’t legit, and there is a good chance any money you send will be gone for good. You could also be coaxed into installing malicious software, which could damage your computer or harvest personal information.

Some offers are from “legitimate” companies but are not worth your time. While there is a federal minimum wage, many remote opportunities are contract work which can get around that. You’re not being employed by the hour; you’re being offered a fee to complete a task. You get a set amount of money when the task is complete. However, if you’re being offered $200 for something that will take you 500 hours, you’ll be far better off with a minimum wage job.

If it Seems Too Good to be True…

"Free money" on top of a trap

When you’re out of work and the savings are dwindling, you’ll likely be applying to more jobs than you can keep track of. So when an opportunity in your field with great benefits and a generous salary lands in your inbox, it may be easy to convince yourself you applied for it. While it could be legit, you should still be vigilant unless you remember applying for the job. Companies like Indeed have an option of making your resume visible to prospective employers, and this can also make things like your contact details visible to bad actors. So you might receive a message with a job offer attached and convince yourself it’s something you applied for.

In my 13 years of freelancing, I have never had a legitimate job offer come knocking via WhatsApp or any other messaging service. The proposals themselves, while still being somewhat plausible, will be very tempting. I played along with a few without wasting too much of my time and had hourly rates around double the average, along with perks like a free MacBook dangled in front of me. Our Editor-in-Chief catfished a scam recruited and ended up with requests as outlandish as mailing a $1,449 iPhone to the scammers.

While golden opportunities may exist, everything from the contact method to the level of grammar the recruiting agent possesses should raise your suspicions. Other red flags include an immediate job offer,

So what’s the scam? Well, there are a few things that could happen. However good a company looks, never pay them for the opportunity to start working for them. Major tech companies don’t expect you to pay a subscription or finder’s fee to do admin work or code for them. Then there’s the possibility of installing malicious software on your PC, which could be used to hijack a bank or credit card account. There were even a few cheeky chaps using other people’s hardware to mine Bitcoin before the cryptocurrency crashed. So always stay vigilant and keep track of where you have applied.

Major Job Websites Aren’t a Guarantee of Legitimacy

A l;aptop with the Indeed careers site open in a browser

A job being listed on Indeed, Monster, or LinkedIn doesn’t make it a legit opportunity. The sites actively attempt to remove suspect listings, but as you can be pretty with a job description, it’s easy for scammers to slip through the net. Indeed acknowledges this and has its own list of tips you can follow to spot a scam job. These warning signs it lists include things like recruiters asking for confidential information early in the recruitment process, the job’s requirements being vague, and details on the company itself being scarce.

While these tips don’t specifically apply to remote jobs, there is a lot of overlap. If anything, the position being remote makes the scam slightly easier to run as the scammer doesn’t need to be in a similar location to the person they are attempting to con, and there’s no risk of you turning up to check out the physical office they may claim to have. The bottom line is although a website may have policies in place to prevent scams, and appearing on a website may give a job posting an air of legitimacy, you shouldn’t assume everything is above board just because the job was advertised somewhere recognizable.

Do Your Research

Always look into a company; a little research can spare you some frustration and stop a lot of your hard work from going to waste. Times can be desperate, and you could want an offer to be legitimate, but you can’t will a genuine offer into existence, and you’re just hurting yourself in the long run.

If an individual or company is a bit dodgy, the chances are that you’re not the first one they’ve tried to burn. For all of its faults, the internet is an excellent place for people to air their grievances. If something is a straight scam, someone will have posted about it somewhere. The same goes for exploitative working situations; if a company wants a lot but pays out very little — someone will have said something. Although online reviews may have a negative skew, people are more likely to complain when upset than praise somewhere when happy; Glassdoor and the like still provide genuine service and can help flag inadequate job opportunities. Beyond that, look up a physical office address and check it on Google street view. If possible, talk to other employees or contractors on a platform like Linkedin and ask for their opinions.

Ultimately, even if you’ve started, you should be prepared to walk away if something doesn’t feel right. Time spent with a bad or scam company is time wasted.

Legit Freelancing Can Still be Rough

A calculator on top of a stack of bills
Thomas M Perkins/Shutterstock.com

One of the more common places to freelance is a dedicated gig website like UpWork or Freelancer.com. These websites make their money in a few ways. Prospective employers pay to advertise their gigs, freelancers give up a slice of their profits, and additional services are sold. The chunk freelancers give up is significant and can be as much as 20% of their earnings.  There are also scam employers who make use of these sites. As a rule of thumb, never download any weird software at an employer’s request — the sites have their own software that can be used to track hours and work completed. Equally, you should ensure the money you are set to be paid is held in escrow and released as pre-arranged milestones are met. This reduces the chances of you being ripped off and allows for some arbitration if an employer tries to pull something shifty.

Even if you independently land a legit freelancing gig from a reputable organization, things can still be rough. This is more the case if they insist on paying you by check. A bad payroll department, coupled with ground mail speeds, can leave you waiting over a month for your payment to hit your bank account. There’s also a chance you’ll have to chase a check up if it’s severely delayed, and some very high-profile publications have been accused of ripping off their freelancers in the past. I would also like to point out that Review Geek isn’t one of those places, and I’ve had no issues getting paid on time every month.

Following the pandemic, more legitimate remote opportunities are available than ever. Just keep your wits about you, and you’ll be able to land the remote job of your dreams.

Dave McQuilling Dave McQuilling
Dave McQuilling has spent over 10 years writing about almost everything, but technology has always been one of his main interests. He has previously worked for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites, and television stations in both the US and Europe. Read Full Bio »