How Candidates Can Spot Job Scams

How Candidates Can Spot Job Scams

Following the unprecedented events of 2020, unemployment in the UK is now predicted to have risen above 4.9% as of October 2020, a rise of 2% from January 2020, and with further increase expected as we head through 2021. McKinsey & Company also report that around 7.6 million jobs, or 24% of the UK workforce, are at risk due to the repercussions of Covid-19 related lockdowns.

The ultimate consequence is that the job market is now tougher than we have seen it in years, with more candidates applying for sought after roles and higher calibre applicants applying for positions below their skill set. Many may be forced to consider a drastic career switch as high street retail continues to suffer an epic downfall, with well-known names such as Debenhams and Arcadia Group collapsing into administration. Furthermore, there are simply less jobs available in many industries, particularly hospitality and tourism, with persistent lockdowns forcing firms to cut jobs rather than expand their workforce. Another trend that has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased need for workers in ‘key worker’ industries, notably Health & Care.

This perfect storm of panic has given way for scammers to take advantage of candidates through fake job advertisements, with SAFERjobs having witnessed a 70% increase in the volume of job scams since March 2020, particularly in Health and Care roles, but don’t panic. There are several ways to spot a job scam, and we are going to talk you through them.


Just before we do, you may have noticed us mention SAFERjobs a second ago. We are going to be referring to them a few times due to their expertise on this topic, so let us give you a quick run-down of who they are and what they do. SAFERjobs are a Community Interest Company (CIC), which provides support and guidance to workers and work seekers who have either been scammed or are concerned about being scammed in future.

Although only officially registered in 2018, SAFERjobs has been a key voice for this issue since 2008 when it was originally set up by the Metropolitan Police. SAFERjobs refer information on prolific scams and malpractice to either the regulator of recruitment companies and job boards, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI), or law enforcement (Metropolitan Police), where applicable. SAFERjobs receive numerous reports from workers and work-seekers on a daily basis and the worrying news is that they have seen an increase in both reports and website traffic since March 2020, and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, here’s what you should know.

There are a number of different methods fraudsters use to try and dupe nervous candidates and prey on their hope and excitement. We are going to take you through 3 of the most common, and how to avoid them.

Advance-fee scams
This scam is possibly the most common and can have a few different disguises, but the basic premise is that you will be asked to pay an upfront fee before you sign a contract. This could be in the form of a DBS check, a proposed training course, security or legal fees.

Charging a candidate for a DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) check ahead of starting a role

It is legitimate practice for recruitment companies to charge a candidate for a DBS check, with common industry practice being that the fees (charges for a DBS check range from £19 to £50 depending on the level of check being undertaken) are refunded to the candidate once they begin working at the organisation. Scammers can use this loophole to charge candidates for a check that never actually occurs, and then the scammer disappears.

SAFERjobs have received multiple complaints regarding a particular method of this scam, where a company sends the candidate a link to what is a legitimate-looking DBS check processing website, but it turns out this website is fake and not a registered body with the DBS. Often the name of the company will change frequently, but the link they send out remains the same. You can verify that the company that is processing your DBS check is a registered Umbrella body with the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) by using this Government DBS body checker.

Charging a candidate for a course or certification to start a role

Another common scam is where a candidate is told they have secured a role, on the basis that they pay upfront for initial training, or an additional qualification. SAFERjobs have seen this most commonly with fake HR Professional roles, where the candidate is told they need to pay (fees commonly range from £100 - £600+) to upgrade or obtain their CIPD qualification. This is of course false, and the candidate loses the money when the scammer disappears.

Premium-rate phone scams
An obvious and essential part of the recruitment process is to have some form of interview with your potential employer, and although telephone interviews were commonplace before the pandemic, they are crucial now.

Scammers can take advantage of this by organising an ‘interview’ and asking you to call them at the allotted time; this is the first red flag of this approach as normally an employer will call you to do an interview. If you do call, you will then likely be kept on hold for a long time to try and extend the length of the phone call (the second red flag), and this is where they make their money. The number they have provided you is a premium-rate line which will likely charge you hundreds of pounds over the course of the call.

The best way to ensure you are not being stung by this scam is to ask the ‘employer’ to call you for the interview or try to organise a video interview on a free platform such as Zoom if possible. This avoids a situation where you can end up being charged. If the ‘employer’ refuses to do so, you can also try searching any numbers you are asked to call to see if you can identify who the belong to, and if anyone has reported them as scams.

Identity and Information Fraud

Perhaps the hardest to identify as a scam, and most worrying of the three, is the trend of identity theft, made possible when you provide personal information to your would be ‘employer’. Information and forms of identification include passports, driving licences, bank statements and bank details for payment etc. It is, again, a legitimate practice in any recruitment setting for an employer to ask for these documents, as an employer, by law, must verify a candidate’s right to work as well as often additional checks for certain industries, such as employment history checks (bank statements), address verification (driving licence). Once a scammer has this information, they can use this for any number of fraudulent activities, including identity fraud and taking out financial products in the candidate’s name. This scam has been made significantly easier with the move to remote recruitment during the pandemic – documents are not seen face-to-face at initial onboarding stages and candidates will send photographs of their documents for the purpose of pre-employment screening.

A couple of job specific scams to note.

Working from home sales roles

This is when a candidate is told that they have secured a job selling products online (typically via eBay, Facebook etc.). They are asked to pay the ‘employer’ for said products upfront, but that the employer will ship the products directly to the candidate’s customers when they are successful in making a sale. It all sounds great, until such time as the candidate makes a sale, but their customer never receives the item. Ultimately the customer will complain, and the candidate is obliged to provide a refund, however the ‘employer’ has since disappeared with the candidate’s money.

Logistics Roles

During the Pick for Britain campaign period last year, SAFERjobs received an increase of reports about scams targeting warehouse/logistics workers, and specifically fruit pickers, further demonstrating the scammers ability to remain on-trend.

As a rule of thumb, does it look too good to be true? If so, it probably is.

As we have just discussed, in the majority of industries we have seen a decrease in positions being offered, and with that comes a decrease in the benefits associated with the roles that are being advertised. This certainly includes the salary on offer, but also includes other job benefits such as extremely flexible hours, excess holiday days or offers of company cars. Scammers try to attract as many jobseekers as possible with attractive employee benefits and lower barriers to applying.  So, particularly in this job climate, if the salary is suspiciously high, the company perks seem a bit too generous and the job requirements are much lower than you would expect, be cautious.

Above all, do your research and check for the obvious errors.

The best way to avoid being caught out is to do your research before you apply. Looking up the company is always a good start, and just by searching the company name you may unveil other people having had issues with them. Also, checking sites such as Glassdoor for reviews of the company and the interview process can not only give you a better idea of what to expect, but also alert you to anything dodgy that could indicate a scam. We also recommend cross-referencing that the company is registered on Companies House, and that they have a website or a legitimate online presence. If their website was set up very recently, is littered with spelling mistakes and errors, or is very basic in it’s content, it may be a warning sign that it is not legitimate. If you suspect a scam, you can always ask the employer for official documentation to confirm they are who they claim and confirm the job’s legitimacy.