How to spot a scam job opportunity before it's too late

Sally Bracegirdle
Head of Marketing

Did you know that job hunters aged between 18 and 24 years old are the most likely to be targeted by job scams?

It's your abundant hope and determination to secure a job during and after your studies which make you a fraudster’s dream. 

From getting duped into forking out for expensive training programmes that don’t exist to learning that you’re not going to be paid the amount you thought you were (or you’re not going to be paid at all), there are lots of ways scammers can trip you up by disguising a scam as a legitimate opportunity.




If you do fall for a scam job opportunity, the best case scenario is you’ll put two and two together before you’ve actually started working in the role. Unfortunately though, many scams are so convincing that you could end up having already parted with significant amounts of time, energy and money before the penny drops. In fact, according to research by Action Fraud, the average job scam costs individuals £4,000.

As convincing as many job scams are though, there will always be some tell-tale signs, and although we hope you’ll never come across one, we want you to know what to look out for to avoid falling into the traps.

So next time you come across a job that you're not quite sure about, ask yourself the following questions:


1. Did you hear about the job from a reputable source?

If you found the job yourself on a well-established and trusted jobs website, then you should have nothing to worry about. But if you’ve been contacted out of the blue about an opportunity you weren’t looking for, and by someone you don’t know (who just happens to have somehow found you of all people to speak to about it!), alarm bells should start to ring.

More often than not, you’ll be directly approached by a scammer because you match their target profile. They will want you to feel like you’ve been specially selected for an opportunity, relying on you getting caught up in the excitement of the moment so that you don't ask too many questions.

Of course, sometimes it could be a legitimate recruiter who really has scouted you from the crowd, but you'll need to know for sure. In this situation, you’re well within your rights to ask the person who contacted you how they found your contact details, what made them reach out and what their credentials are, so that you can do some background research in your own time. If their responses don’t add up, you’re not obligated to continue talking to them.


2. What is the company’s website and its associated social media channels like?

A quick glance over a company’s website and its social media accounts can tell you a lot about how trustworthy the opportunity is.

Things of significance to look out for include: spelling mistakes and poor grammar, blank or scarcely-used social media profiles, unprofessional-looking content on the website, discrepancies in any of the information you can glean online compared to what you’ve been told already about what the company does and how your role will impact it.

If anything feels a bit “off”, question it before going any further with your application.


3. Do the contact details you’ve been given seem right?

Be wary of vague contact details such as PO boxes, premium rate or mobile numbers and emails that don’t appear to belong to a company domain.

Remember, if an opportunity is a scam, the people behind it will want to make it as difficult as possible for you, or anyone else you tell about the opportunity, to contact them.


4. Does the company have any reviews on employer review websites?

Have a look on websites such as Glassdoor, Trustpilot and Indeed to find out whether the company you could soon be working for has any employee reviews. 

Often, scam opportunities will be with “new” companies (you’re going to play an important role in getting them off the ground!), so they won’t have any reviews, but it’s always worth checking. If you can’t find any reviews, do a quick Google search to see if anyone has flagged anything of importance about the company or opportunity anywhere.


5. Have you been asked to pay for anything or share highly personal information before even starting your job?

If for any reason you are asked by a recruiter to pay for something before, or even after, you’ve started work, always do your homework and get everything in writing before parting with any money.

Double check that a training course actually exists, who the provider is and what it should normally cost. Research whether those “checks” you’ve been asked to pay for really need to be carried out and whether it’s you who should be paying for them. Question why you’ve been asked to provide bank details or your passport number before you’ve even been given a contract of employment.

Don’t forget, scammers can be very good at making you feel at ease, so ensure that you’re really paying attention to the information you’re being given and what you’re being asked for.


6. Have you been pressured into responding quickly or keeping the opportunity on the down low?

When a job opportunity is a scam, the person who is recruiting you will likely want to move you through the process as quickly and quietly as possible to ensure the excitement doesn’t wear off and you don’t get cold feet.

A legitimate employer should be able to give you a timescale for the application and onboarding process, and should never put pressure on you to respond or begin working. It’s also highly unlikely they would ask you to keep quiet about the job.

If ever you feel uncomfortable with the way you’re being treated by a recruiter, trust your gut and reassess whether you want to continue with the application.


7. Have you been given a contract of employment before starting work?

A sure-fire way to tell if a job is on the dodgy side is if you haven’t been given a contract of employment before getting started.

Fraudsters might try to convince you that it’s not a big deal that you don’t have a contract yet, or they might promise you that they will get your contract over to you soon.

Never start working for a company without an official contract in your hands that you have been given time to accept, with clear terms and conditions of what you’ll be doing and how much you’ll be paid and when. Without this, it will be much harder to hold your employer to account should things turn sour.


8. Has the company actually taken your payment details so that you can be paid?

How is the company going to pay you if they haven't asked for your payment details?

This is especially important if the job you’re hoping to get is a “commission only” job, meaning you’ll only be paid if you meet certain requirements.

For a legitimate opportunity, your payment details would need to be placed onto the company’s payroll once you’ve accepted your job contract and before you get started, even if it’s a commission based role.


9. Does the job sound too good to be true?

As with most things in life, if a job sounds just a bit too good to be true, it probably is.

Is the person recruiting you making lots of grand promises about how much you’ll earn, benefits you’ll receive and how fast you’ll progress without providing any proof of how this would be possible?

Fraudsters often get your attention and inspire your loyalty by promising you any number of amazing rewards while skirting over the day-to-day realities of the job. Unless you can see evidence of how achievable these rewards are, take them with a huge pinch of salt and don’t let them be the reason you agree to start working.


If ever you're unsure about an opportunity or an employer, or if you're worried you've been a victim of a job scam, there are plenty of resources you can use and people you can speak to in order to get help and advice.

Websites such as provide a wealth of information on what to do if you think you've come across a job scam and your rights should you get caught up in anything. They also run an incident report system, through which you can confidentially report the job scam and provide important details that could help stop it happening to anyone else.

You can also report any fraudulent activity surrounding jobs to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, who work in conjunction with the police.

For any opportunities you're unsure of, consider reaching out to your university's careers service, who might have some useful background insight or contacts for researching the employer in question. You could also speak to Citizens Advice, who may be able to provide you with further support, and can report any information that's cause for concern on to the correct people.

And of course, talk to other students and graduates. The more information you share with one another, the more difficult it will be for fraudsters to take advantage of you.


Looking for a student or graduate job?

Check out all the latest, scam-free opportunities with open and honest employers on the GradTouch website here.