You're looking for a job like millions of people these days and check all the big boards. Viola, you see a position advertised that fits your qualifications like a glove with a local company you may know! Maybe you take the time to fill out the laborious application, send it on its way confident that, finally, you might be in the running. But hours turn into days, a week goes by, and you don't hear a peep. Wondering if the position has already been filled, you check the board again and discover to your surprise the job is still listed.
Over time as you navigate other sites and other geographic regions, you see what looks like the same job with same company, the ad never goes away, but you get no response at all, queries go unanswered, or at best you get a form email thanking you for the interest stating the company has gone with candidates who better fit their needs. What in the heck is going on here? Simple, the company is legit, but the job listed was a 100 percent bona-fide fake intentionally put up by that firm.
Follow below and we'll discuss why companies do this and how the simple, good faith act of applying for it could screw you up in a bunch of different ways.
Everyone knows or should know by now that job boards are riddled with scams. There are listing posted by disreputable companies, a typical example being what looks like an ad for employment that turns into a pitch for online courses or a sales "kit" that costs you money out of pocket. But there's a new scam these days, one that's especially insidious, because not only might cost you time and money, it can cost you a job and it's being perpetrated by real companies with, at least for now, a good reputation.
Fake jobs can be classified into three broad groups of increasing sleaziness. The first is a company that hires directly may have some extra money in their budget for recruiting and they have to spend it in a way that will survive an internal audit. So, even though they don't currently need more people on the help desk or manning customer service, they will put an ad up to generate man hours processing the incoming applications and be able to justify it if questioned saying they're filling their database with potential recruits when the positions do become available. Head-hunters can make the same argument, they don't need anyone now, but they might in the future and putting up a fake ad means more resumes in their database, which in turn can be converted into more money in the bank.
There's always the chance that out of the hundreds or thousands of resumes sent in, there will be a few with qualifications in a field that is in high demand. It's the baited hook strategy. One of the comically tragic downsides of accidentally ending up in a head-hunter database is you may have just inadvertently disqualified yourself from consideration at companies that have a lingering contract with that employment agency. Simply by being in the agency's database knocks you out of the running if that company is trying to hire directly. And once you're in, getting out of that database is like trying get off the no-fly list.
The second motive is downright seedy. A company might put up a fake ad to harvest contact information. You do all the work for them! You fill in your full name, your phone number often including a cell, and you give them your email and snail mail address including ZIP code, all conveniently entered into discrete, marked fields. That's a great way to build a detailed database right down to your education and interests, one that can be sold to anyone, cold callers for all kinds of companies, a donation plea for a college or charity, a political campaign sorted by institution and ZIP, even a news site that wants to send out targeted mass emails with links to generate page views. I can't say for a fact, but I'm pretty sure a couple of virtual right-wing rags got me that way. And it worked, I've clicked on some links and read some of the articles.
As bad as that is, the last one is the sleaziest of all: full-blown identity theft and fishing scams. A crook can put up a fake site that looks a lot like the company they're pretending to be and slam you to that site with an ad. Unless you're familiar with the company's site, how would you distinguish it? Responding could result in the classic money transfer scam, but thieves have become way more sophisticated since the days of "Dear Sir or Madame." They may set up a fake skills test, send you a congratulatory email that you've been hired, request verification documents like SSN card and photo ID, and even trick you into filling out what looks like a direct deposit form giving away your bank account and routing numbers.
Most job boards do what they can to weed the worst of the scams out, but like every business, the low paying departments are understaffed and overworked. It's easy for a persistent crook to figure out a way to get through.
There are two factors that make this possible. The Great Recession has created millions of new ideal victims: once middle-class, educated workers who still have some credit left to their name and some residual cash left over in their dwindling bank accounts. Second, everything is now done online. Folks who haven't had to apply for a job recently really don't get how restrictive that process has become.
I saw an afternoon talk show the other day where the sanctimonious host lectured a frustrated job seeker who pointed this out: "Maaaybe it's time to get seeeerious about this and think outside the box: after you fill out the application online why not stop by the company to introduce yourself and add that personal touch?" As if in all the brainstorming done by millions of desperate people over the past four years, no one has ever thought of trying that! The whole reason it's all done online now is because they Do Not want people showing up uninvited. And if you do it anyway, you'll be lucky to get far enough along to creep out a receptionist and generate a call to company security or local police.
Crooks will be crooks, there's not much that can be done about that. But there's no reason why legit companies should be allowed to put up fake job ads to bolster their databases and sell lead lists. It's terrible for job-seekers, which is bad for the economy and bad for business. But until there are real, enforced penalties, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.