3 ways recruiters can set themselves apart from scam artists

With scammers getting more sophisticated, HR pros still have a few ways to distinguish themselves as legitimate.

Published March 6, 2024

Emilie Shumwa Editor

A shot of a website postings showing fake job descriptions

An example of some fake job descriptions. Permission granted by Aura

If it feels like scams are becoming ubiquitous in daily life, it’s because, in many ways, they are. A 2023 analysis from the Federal Trade Commission revealed that consumers lost $8.8 billion to scams in 2022, a more than 30% increase over 2021. 

While imposter, online shopping and award-type scams were near the top, the fifth most common scam involved a realm that directly touches employers and HR pros: business and job opportunity scams. 

The loss associated with these job opportunity scams was estimated to be about $490 million, Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist and EVP of product and development at Aura, a digital safety platform, told HR Dive. 

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Ramzan, who has focused on online fraud for nearly two decades, said that along with other types of fraud, job opportunity scams are on the rise. FTC data showed a significant spike in such scams in the months after the pandemic broke out — a phenomenon Ramzan attributed to people being much more online and engaging more through text messages.

How they work

Job opportunity scams initially look very similar to recruitment efforts that HR professionals and headhunters undertake when filling positions. Scammers reach out to prospective “employees” via emails, direct messages and text messages, encouraging them to apply to a job opportunity and often suggesting they’ve already seen the target’s resume or other information and been impressed. 

The rise in artificial intelligence technology has made the scam all the sneakier, Ramzan said. With the use of AI tools, scammers can craft more elegant, believable messages. “The email will have impeccable grammar. It’ll be convincing. It’ll sound right and look professional. And the same trust cues that we’re so used to using in the past no longer apply now,” he said, referring to the poor grammar or strange language that often led potential victims to dismiss messages. 

With a job seeker hooked, the scammer may either try to solicit useful, personal information such as a Social Security number. For certain scams, once a person “gets the job,” the responsibilities often involve “things like cashing checks or being a courier or other kinds of activities that often are parts of other scams that are taking place,” Ramzan said. “​​Some of these scam ecosystems are very elaborate.”

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How legitimate recruiters can distinguish themselves

While AI may be making it harder for job seekers to tell scam artists apart from actual recruiters, Ramzan laid out a few strategies HR can use to signal legitimacy to skeptical applicants. 

1. Use the established job sites.

Often, scammers seek to establish a one-on-one connection with their victims and solicit job application materials personally or through fake job websites. It is rarer that they use legitimate job sites like Indeed or LinkedIn, Ramzan said.

“What usually ends up happening is the site — if they identify it — it’s taken down,” Ramzan said. Scammers are trying to maximize their return on investment, he said, and therefore are more likely to pivot their attention to avenues they can control. If they spend time on a job description that quickly gets flagged and removed, “they’ve invested a bunch of time without any opportunity to realize the return on that investment,” he said. 

HR recruiters do often find and directly contact promising candidates, but redirecting them to legitimate job posts on either professional, well-known job sites or established company sites may provide the job seeker with a greater sense of security. 

2. Avoid collecting sensitive information up front

Don’t ask for sensitive information until it’s needed — usually after an offer has been made and accepted, Ramzan said. For most HR pros, this approach is standard. But some may find it tempting to try to collect personal information more quickly for the sake of efficiency, to get the ball rolling administratively or if the hiring process is further along and the final steps feel like a formality. 

But this can and should be a red flag for job seekers. “No legitimate company will ask you for your Social Security number before there’s any kind of contract or any kind of proper agreement in place,” Ramzan said. 

3. When possible, seek in-person interviews

Finally, HR pros should note that while many processes have gone virtual, in-person interviews, when possible, can be protective for both the applicant and the company. In 2022, an agent from the FBI spoke to HR Dive about the rising threat of fake job applicants, who were resorting to deepfake media during virtual job interviews. On the other side of the equation, applicants may feel more secure when they’re able to check out an actual office and meet workers, Ramzan said. 

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