Job Seekers: Beware of Online Scams

Job Seekers: Beware of Online Scams

With more people desperate to find work in the new economy, scam artists are increasingly targeting the unemployed and underemployed by using legitimate online job boards.  These scams are intensifying because anyone can place an open job on these boards.

My wife was nearly a victim of one of these scams. Applying on for an account with Baxter Healthcare, a large corporation, she received an email back from someone purporting to be from that firm’s Human Resources Department. It said, in part:

“We have reviewed your resume/cover letter from and you qualified for the position, as you possess the required skills and experience for our available position. The available positions are: Accounts Payable/Specialist/payroll professional. You need to undergo an online job briefing, so it’s required for you to have Ms. Heather Davis of the company (Interview Manager) added to your Yahoo Messenger contact list for an online interview/job briefing.  If you don’t have a Yahoo Messenger on your computer, then go to to download one for free then set up an ID with Yahoo Messenger and IM Mrs. Heather Davis. Her Yahoo screen name is ( She is online now. Instant-message her whenever you are ready. Feel free to email back if you have any questions.”  My wife asked her if she could call our home number for the interview. “This is strictly an online interview and not a phone interview,” she quipped.

Although skeptical, my wife started the online conversation with this “Mrs. Davis” about this job, which was explained as a “strictly work-from-home job” where she would get paid biweekly via check or direct deposit.  Mrs. Davis told her she would be working as an “employee and not as an independent contractor,” with full benefits.  She then listed the duties and responsibilities of the position, which consisted of “printing payroll checks, records, and recording pay slips into an accounting database; these will be done through the use of Accounting software, such as faxing or emailing confidential information.”

Over the next 15-20 minutes, Mrs. Davis ran through some stock interview questions, emphasizing the importance of privacy and confidentiality of client records during this time.  At the conclusion, she stated: “You seem to be a good fit for this position. Hold on while I forward your interview to the hiring board.”

After another 10-15 minutes, she came back online and told her “Congratulations. Due to your experience and your working skills the company has decided to hire you as one of our staff. You are now a staff member of Baxter Healthcare Corporation.”

It’s when this Mrs. Davis related that my wife needed to purchase specific “CheckSoft software” available at office supply stores or online that our suspicions were confirmed.  In addition to the software, she said she needed to buy “check paper” and “magnetic ink” available on When my wife said she wouldn’t purchase anything upfront, this comment made this Mrs. Davis very defensive:

“You were asked to purchase these items and this does not mean one is trying to get money out of your pocket – Note that you are the one to use these items for your work and you will be reimbursed.”

My wife balked at that, saying she needed to sign a contract first before doing anything.

Mrs. Davis then told her she would receive the company employee form to fill out and “your duties paperwork, but that does not stop you from purchasing the items.”

My wife didn’t budge on her contract request, and she did indeed get two forms emailed to her – shoddy replicas of the Baxter Health logo with a signature from a “Lawrence T. Gibbons, Corporate V.P. Quality, Baxter Healthcare Corporation,” and the other a half-baked “employment form” to fill out.

Needless to say, we wanted to call Baxter Healthcare and alert them of this scam.  Doing that wasn’t easy.  We called the district office in Charlotte and asked for a number for Human Resources. The number they gave us didn’t work because you needed a patient ID or employee ID number.  We called back again and got a different 800 number to call, and went through a series of automated messages asking for the same ID codes before they system finally connected to a live person, who told us a real representative at Baxter Health would call us back.  No one did.  Instead, we got a response from – where else? The Internet, where we found a template comment form to email to Baxter. After recording the “ticket number” for our comment, someone did send us an email, which verified our suspicions:
“Thank you for your email. The job posting is not a legitimate opportunity for Baxter International, Inc. or its subsidiaries.  We have received reports of this fraudulent listing. The US Government has been notified of these incidents. Thank you for calling this matter to our attention.

Center for One Baxter
Baxter Healthcare Corporation


After this, we blocked these scam artists from Yahoo messenger and flagged them as spam, although by now these individuals have probably deleted these email accounts in an attempt to cover their tracks.  They never once talked to us on the phone.

How to Avoid Online Job Scams

Unfortunately, online job boards are rife with scam artists masquerading as legitimate employers.  Indeed, you probably are more likely to interact with a scam artist online than you are an actual employer (our difficulty actually reaching a live person from the HR department at a major corporation attests to that fact).  But there are things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Be wary of online jobs that seem too good to be true, or locations where the company does not have a presence. On this ad, the company did not have an office in that area, which should be the first red flag.
  • Be suspicious of people who want to conduct interviews with you via online chat rather than telephone or in person. Fortunately, most legitimate interviews still take place on the phone or in person.  No one is going to ask you to “hold on” for several minutes while she forwards your responses to some “hiring board.”
  • Be very skeptical of anyone who gives you an email from a Yahoo, Microsoft Live, Google, or other popular email account who claims to be from a major company. Most companies have their own dedicated email accounts.
  • Do not trust anyone who asks you to buy products as a prerequisite of employment, even if they claim they will reimburse you later.
  • Never, ever give out information about your bank accounts or credit card information to a potential employer.  In this online job scam, the crooks’ main intent was probably to get people’s bank account information to draw funds from their accounts.
  • For more information about how to prevent online scams, go to the FBI website at

Employers get free work from job candidates

In this competitive job market, employers can ask just about anything of job candidates.  In the last couple of years, however, we are seeing a new trend, especially for job seekers in the writing and editing field. That trend is the rise of the writing test.

The writing and editing test can be a useful tool for employers to weed out candidates in an entry-level position where candidates have not built up much of a portfolio, but it doesn’t serve much purpose for middle management positions or positions requiring experience.  Some employers, though, are now using specific assignments to procure free work from their extensive pool of job candidates.

Here’s a specific example:  Salem Health, a hospital in Salem, Oregon, recently posted a job for a copywriter/editor with experience in health care marketing.  Rather than ask for writing and editing samples or giving a writing test, the marketing director of the hospital sent out an email to “the most qualified candidates” asking them to complete the following assignment from an 18-page information booklet about the Bariatic Surgery Department:

  • Write a brief section for the hospital website encouraging readers to click through the bariatric web pages and motivate them to sign up for a free community information session.
  • Write a longer article for their quarterly newsletter to encourage readers to go online for more information about Baratric Surgery services.
  • Develop a sample print ad, “approximately 3 columns x 8 inches in size, 50-75 words, to compel readers to call or go online to sign up for a free community information session.
  • Write a lengthy article for a trifold brochure.

After completing all these “assignments,” the top candidates would then be contacted for an on-site interview.

Obviously, the marketing director will be able to pick and choose the best writing assignments from this pool and use the samples for the hospital.  Why pay for an advertising copywriter when you can get the work for free from desperate job seekers?

I charge a minimum of $75 an hour to clients to develop these same materials for their websites and brochures, yet an employer wants these services for free.  I’ve been a writer for more than 30 years, and have managed marketing assignments and coordinated work from advertising agencies at two hospitals, but I refuse to do free work for an employer who will not compensate me for material that will end up on the company’s website.

Recruiters and HR directors don’t get you jobs

After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search.  After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes.  I may be at that point.

In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates.  I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews.  I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer.  The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.

Let me give two examples.  Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer.  She called back and conducted a long interview.  We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate.  Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview. 

A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:

     “Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX.  Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice.  At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process.   The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area.  Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”

Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time?  Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates?  Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?

A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview.  She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager.  Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.

When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job  (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.”  Uhh?  She wants someone who is NOT qualified?  Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.

All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer.  But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position.  I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager.  What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?

I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market.  To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:

Employers and hiring courtesy

All the job search experts advise that job hunters exhibit the utmost courtesy in dealing with employers and hiring managers. There are detailed articles about how to be respectful, courteous, and honest in your dealings with employers.  Yet the same advice does not seem to apply to employers. Unfortunately, another victim of this recession is professionalism in the hiring process.
Perhaps the lack of courtesy and respect hiring managers show to job candidates can be attributed to their ability to cherry pick candidates.  They feel they can belittle your experience during interviews and conduct Army-style interrogations to see who stands up the best.  Because they can get top talent for less money, they are empowered with a supercilious attitude during conversations with potential employees.
I’ll give one example. Last year I emailed an ad agency about a public relations job that required management skills. I received an immediate response back from the hiring manager complementing me on my “impressive resume” but with stipulations about the maximum salary.  “Are you still interested in possible further conversation at this salary level?”
I emailed her back that the salary range was not an issue for me, as I was more concerned with job satisfaction and joining her outstanding organization. She emailed me back saying:  “Great. I’ll likely make decisions next week about interviews. I appreciate your honesty and directness. Stay tuned. –Susan.”
A couple weeks went by and I heard nothing, so I emailed her again: “Hopefully you haven’t made a final decision on this position yet. I wanted you to know I am still very interested in helping LKM grow and attract new clients in addition to servicing its existing customers. Salary is not an important consideration for me, as I am more concerned with returning to a creative role where I am managing accounts rather than employees. Please let me know if you need writing samples or a list of references.”
She replied: “I appreciate your message. We’ve had some interesting hours at the agency today. Are you available for a phone chat tomorrow? Let me know what time after 10 a.m.”
I replied with times I was available for a real conversation.  No phone call came. 
Struggling with what to do, a friend suggested I contact her: “I will tell you if it was me, I’d definitely get back to her.   She essentially left you hanging and I think you have every right to tactfully respond and say “just wanted to stay on your radar… and I hope we can chat soon.”
So I emailed her with this note: “Sorry we missed each other last week…just dropping a note to let you know I am still interested in LKM and joining its dynamic creative team!”
Again, silence –for three months.  This time, Susan’s email was much less personal:
            “Greetings! Thank you so much for your interest in the LKM Public Relations Manager position. We have filled this position at this time. The job changed its focus a few times along the way, and I appreciate your patience as the hiring process took much longer than we imagined. You were a viable candidate and offered a strong resume. I would like to keep your resume on file for possible future positions, so please let me know if your contact information changes. We believe the public relations group at LKM will continue to grow, and we are seeing signs that this economy is strengthening, albeit slowly. Thank you for the professionalism you showed in your approach to LKM.”
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about her professionalism.  

Job interviewing

One of the most exasperating aspects of job interviewing is succeeding in impressing the hiring manager but not landing the job. This has happened to me a few times during the last 16 months. The job description perfectly matches my background and skill set, so I studiously research the employer and the department.

The initial phone screening interview goes exceedingly well – so well, in fact, the hiring manager invites me to the department’s office for an interview with her and two employees. During the interview, the manager says how impressed she is with my experience and work. The younger employee seems excited that I can help her with her loads of work. I answer every question with proof and confidence that I can do the job. I say how eager I am to work with this quality organization and know I can make an immediate contribution. At the end of the interview, I even ask if there are any concerns that I cannot perform any of the job duties, and they say no. They seem impressed, and say so. When I am escorted out by the younger employee, I am told this is a wonderful place to work and she tells me I should expect to hear something within one week.

I write a stellar thank you letter to the manager and mention how I am excited to work with all members of the staff, whom I mention by name. I reiterate my qualifications and how I can bring results. I write that I see this position as a long-term opportunity to help the organization grow and succeed.

A week-and-a-half goes by with no correspondence. I do something I usually don’t – call the hiring manager to inquire about the status of the position. She tells me “the process and the hiring decision has been a difficult one,” but doesn’t tell me flat out that I am not in the running. I can tell by the sound in her voice that I have not been selected, but she doesn’t have the guts to tell me I was not selected and wants to leave that dirty work for HR. That impression is solidified when I ask her when I should expect to hear a final decision. “You should hear something by the end of the month, either from us or HR.”

Although I am almost certain I did not get the job, I email her another thank you and information about my awards and achievements that relate to the job. I end the email with an appreciation that I am being considered to work for such an outstanding organization.

A few days later, I receive an email from her stating succinctly this: “I wanted to let you know that we have concluded our search for our XXXX position and have made an offer to an individual who has a long working history with our organization. We all enjoyed meeting you and recognize your many talents. We wish you all the best.”

A few days later, she returns my sample work DVD in the mail with a note: “Thanks again for your interest in our position – we had a very strong pool of candidates, and the process was lengthy and challenging. You certainly have a lot to offer – best of luck, and best regards.”

I like the ‘best of luck’ ending the best. In this economy, luck is what you need.