Between interviews, salary negotiations and crafting the perfect CV, the job hunting process is frustrating and stressful at the best of times. But imagine being hired and starting a role at a company that doesn’t exist.
“Jobfishing”, as it’s termed, often involves unsuspecting victims answering employment ads and starting to work – without pay and sometimes for many months – for companies that turn out to be nonexistent.
In perhaps the most notable recent example, more than 50 people were ‘hired’ by fake company MadBird – a creative agency that boasted Facebook and Samsung among its imaginary clients – during the pandemic.
MadBird’s employees worked for an unpaid probationary period, during which they would only receive sales commissions, and then would get their fixed salary after six months.
However the company, which was the subject of a BBC Three documentary, was later revealed to be a scam as many had accrued tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt while working for free.
While it may sound like a far-fetched plot of a slick Netflix drama, it’s deceptively easy to fall victim to. Job-scams aren’t anything new, but with the pandemic shifting so much of our day-to-day communication online, a growing number of people are falling victim to scam job advertisements.
“Because so many interviews and hiring processes are conducted virtually now, anyone can post a job advert online and Zoom call you with a plain white or office background and you wouldn’t be any the wiser,” Victoria McLean, founder and hiring expert at City CV tells Stylist.
“Without any prior checks, you’d have no idea who you’re speaking to, what country they’re in or what information you could have unwittingly given away.”
In jobfishing scams skilled, experienced professionals are taken in by fake companies and asked to pay money or share personal details before starting work. However, the impacts go beyond the financial. McLean shares that identity fraud was committed 2.5 times per minute during lockdown.
“The repercussions are terrible because not only can you lose money, you can have your identity stolen or completely derail your career,” McLean continues. “How does working for a fake company look on your CV? How does it make you feel about going for future roles? What does it do to your confidence and mental health? Jobfishing can take so much of your key information away from you, which can then be used in identity fraud or sold on.”
How to avoid being jobfished
Doing your due diligence about a company, their values and culture should be a natural part of your job hunting experience. But there are some extra checks you can conduct to help you spot a fake job ad.
“You shouldn’t need to provide any personal details, such as bank account, national insurance number or passport until you start or receive a formal contract,” says McLean.
Always check the fine print details of a job. Are they listed on Companies House? Do they have a website and accurate domain name? Google the company name plus “scam” and see if anything comes up.
It’s also worth considering whether you heard about the job from a reputable source, remembering that often anyone can post on social media or a job forum without much of a background check.
Don’t forget to ask your contacts if they know anything about the company. If no-one in the industry or your network has heard of them, it could be a red flag.
And if you do get jobfished, McLean stresses that you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. “Some of these fraudsters are professional outfits and run well-oiled scams,” she says. “Report them to the authorities, if only so they can’t scam anyone else.”
Finally, McLean shares that if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is. “If the salary is unexpectedly high, the company is offering unrealistic commission or perks or you’ve been given a job offer after a very short interview process, these could also be red flags,” she says.
“Go with your gut, always. If something feels off, take your suspicions seriously.”
JobAware offers support and advice for those affected by job scams or unfair working practices.