Online Job Board Horror Stories:
How to avoid being scammed by less than honest employers

By Dallas Woodburn
GradtoGreat.com Staff Writer

Heather Hillinski thought something seemed fishy soon after she applied for a job with The Acquisition Group, which she found through the online job board Monster.com. “I applied for The Acquisition Group one night and received a call from them the very next morning,” she remembers. “That right there seemed very strange to me because of the ridiculously quick response.”

Heather, a May 2009 college grad with degrees in Spanish and Public Relations, hit the online job boards hoping to find a marketing or sales position. She noticed a few companies – The Acquisition Group, Go-to-Inc., Lighthouse Business Solutions and Worldwide Acquisitions – were constantly posting emphatic listings in bold type: “Entry Level Account Executive **** Apply TODAY in Sales and Marketing” or “HIGH ENERGY – ATHLETIC ATTITUDE – MEN & WOMEN APPLY NOW!”

Heather set up an interview with The Acquisition Group, but her suspicions lingered. So she did a bit of research and found an article from the Better Business Bureau calling out the operation as a scam. “They had [the person who wrote the article] go door to door selling Verizon FIOS,” Heather says. “Not really marketing in my book. So I decided not to waste my time and cancelled my interview.”

Just a few minutes on CareerBuilder uncovered other similar “scam” jobs that mislead applicants about what their jobs actually entail. Blush Promotions advertise themselves as “a NEW Event/Retail Marketing firm looking to fill full time Entry Level Positions.” The job is described as including tasks such as setting up event kiosks, handling supplies, and building relationships with customers and “retail partners.” But the reality is a very different picture.

On the job review site Jobvent.com, Blush Promotions gets negative marks under the categories of pay, respect, benefits, coworker competence, and work environment. One reviewer warns: “Do not do this unless you would like to stand on the street corner every day for 8 hours getting people to purchase cheap makeup! No education required... no skills required... all you need [to do is] be willing to make a fool of yourself!” The reviewer, who traveled from Cedar Falls, Iowa to Chicago for the interview and booked a hotel overnight for a second interview the next morning, estimates the job scam cost her $400.

Even if you do not lose any money over a misleading job posting, you can lose a sense of privacy or security. Heather Hillinski fell for a scam from a company called Skilled Job Seekers. (Other names they operate under (according to RipOffReport.com) include Apple Staffing, Career Network, Three Stars Inc, Extend Your Careers, The Job Push, and Medialogic.) “They had great positions and I applied to a few,” says Heather, “and a woman calls you to say she needs to gather information before sending your info to the employer.” In reality, the company uses your information for other purposes, such as trying to sell you online higher education courses. However, their aims may be as dangerous as identity theft – 58 complaints have been logged with the Better Business Bureau against these companies and multiple people have reported being asking for their social security numbers. Luckily, Heather did not give out that information, but it still makes her uneasy to think of all the information she did volunteer. “God knows what they’re going to do with all the information they have on me!” she laments.

Other companies, such as R.L. Stevens and Associates, use online job boards to fiercely promote their own services under the false guise of posting job opportunities. For example, when you click on a recent posting on CareerBuilder.com for a “Director of Engineering/Quality Control” it takes you not to an actual job listing, but rather an advertisement for “career counseling services” from R.L. Stevens and Associates. JR Rodrigues, who works for the job-search-related software company www.jobhuntexpress.com, constantly checks online job boards. “Why a company would think that spamming jobs boards like this would result in any quality leads for their services is beyond me,” he says, “but I have seen them doing this for all of 2009 [since I first began researching job boards.]”

Yet another scam happens when companies get your name and contact information from an online job board and contact you to try to sell something. This happened to Will Robinson, who, after posting his name and phone number on one of the job boards, received a call from a woman with an “urgent request” to talk to him. “I blew her off,” Will says, “but she was persistent so I decided to see what was up. Turns out she was selling some type of assessment test – but she was great, I mean GREAT, in avoiding describing what she was really selling. She was very very good at composing this elaborate story about how they really wanted me [at the job.] I kept asking, ‘Is there an open role you are considering me for?’ and she would launch into the ‘Yes, that is why we need to do the tests.’” Fortunately, Will didn’t fall for the scam. “After the third time [my] question was deflected,” he says, “I hung-up.”

Also be wary of spending money you don't have to spend. Some online job boards cost money to join, such as Hound.com and TheLadders.com. The website Cheezhead.com rants: “If I go to a job site where the expectation is that I can view and apply to jobs at no cost and I suddenly get thrown into a pay situation, it just feels slimy. Let’s call this what it is: A sneaky way for TheLadders to trick job seekers into becoming members and paying clients. Shame on them!” Echoes Allison Doyle in a recent column on About.com, “That’s money you don’t need to spend – and shouldn’t spend.” Especially because there are countless job sites out there, such as LinkUp, Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com that post the same listings for free.

Avoid wasting your time chasing down scam job listings. Here are some tips:

1. Before you apply anywhere, do a web search for the company.
Include the word “scam” after the company’s name. Some companies flood the major online PR outlets with press releases, so that when people do an online search of just their company’s name, a ton of positive information comes up. However, if you start by looking for negative comments about the company, you can usually find out quickly if the company is legitimate or not.

2. Find someone who has worked for the company and ask them for an informational interview.
Not familiar with a particular company that has a job listing posted? Is something setting off warning bells in your head? Then it's a good idea to talk to someone who has worked (or is still working) at the company before filling out an application.

3. Use sites like Yelp and JobVent to see what other people are saying about the company.

4. Check out the company’s own website.
Does it have a lot of concrete information about what the job entails? Are there testimonials from workers or customers? Or is the website mostly flashy pictures and vague words that say a whole lot of nothing?

5. Never pay to apply for a job.

6. Never give out personal information such as your social security number.
You should never, ever volunteer personal or financial information to any potential employer until you have properly researched the organization and feel comfortable doing so.

It is best to gather as much information about the company as possible so you are able to make an informed decision about whether or not you wish to apply. Good luck with your job search. Remember, there are identity protection companies out there such as LifeLock which can provide additional security for you information should you need it.

Dallas Woodburn, a recent grad from the University of Southern California, is the author of two books, a forthcoming novel, and various articles in such publications as Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, CO-ED and The Los Angeles Times. Visit her website at www.writeonbooks.org and her blog at http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com.