Published January 26, 2021
UB students are being targeted by fake job offer scams, putting them in financial and legal risk.
Job offer scams typically work like this: someone contacts you, usually by email, and invites you to apply for or start a job. These job offers are almost always unsolicited—meaning you never applied or interviewed for the job.
There are many different kinds of scams. On the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, you can read about a common scam targeting college students, where you are sent a fake check and asked to handle, transfer, or spend the money for seemingly legitimate purposes like ordering office supplies.
But the money is an illusion. Although you may receive a check, that check will typically bounce. Depending on how you are directed to use the money, you could even be charged with a crime like money laundering or credit card fraud.
Many college students are anxious about finding a job, and these scams use tactics meant to trigger those anxieties. If someone contacts you with an unexpected job offer, here are some things to look for to determine if it’s a scam.
“Dear student,” one scam email begins, “We got your contact through your school directory…”
Emails that don’t mention specifics like your name or the school you attend are kept general so they can be sent to many people at once. It is highly uncommon for a company to offer a job to a large group of people, especially when those people haven’t applied or interviewed.
Job offer scams might also include generic job descriptions like “organize items orders [sic]” or “[write] detailed reports,” and sometimes include no job description at all.
“You are selected from your school directory to partake in the ongoing Student Empowerment Program PART TIME JOB OFFER…” reads another scam email.
Any student who has applied for jobs knows the market can be competitive. And just as companies don’t typically offer jobs to a large number of people, they also don’t typically select those people at random.
If you receive an offer for a job you didn’t apply for, and they claim to have found you through “your school directory” or “your school job search,” you are most likely the target of a scam.
One scam email from “Terry White” (no company listed) encourages you to “Work 4-8 hours weekly and get paid $250.”
That’s $31.25 an hour—not bad for an entry-level position you were chosen randomly for.
Michael Behun Jr. is the UB Information Security Office’s HIPAA Privacy and Security Official. He encourages everyone to remember: if a job offer seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
“A good question to ask is, ‘Why is somebody paying me this much to do something they could do themselves?’” Behun said.
Job offer scams entice with unbelievably good pay for very easy work—something that just isn’t that common in the real job market.
Emails from reputable companies will, at a minimum, have little or no spelling or grammar errors. An abundance of errors in spelling or grammar is a definite red flag.
The following are all quotes from real job offer scams:
When in doubt, look for these signs, and use your best judgement.
“Context is important,” said Dr. Catherine J. Ullman, UB’s Senior Information Security Analyst. “One or two of these might not catch your attention. But when you look carefully and see a few of these things at once, you know you might be dealing with a fraudulent email.”
Behun recommends students remain skeptical, and do their research.
“Verify the offer by contacting the company directly,” Behun said. “Look them up online. Don’t use the number or email address from the email. Look for a contact in HR, call them up and ask if this is a legitimate job offer.”