Home Advice & How-ToGuides Job Scams: The Ugly Side of Your Summer Job Search
Home Advice & How-ToGuides Job Scams: The Ugly Side of Your Summer Job Search

Job Scams: The Ugly Side of Your Summer Job Search

by Fred Decker

Summer is a great time of the year when you’re still in school or have just graduated.  It’s a break from the class routine, an opportunity to spend more time with your friends and just generally de-stressing after the academic year.

Of course, it’s also time for that summer job to help pay for school, your car or the damage deposit for an apartment in the fall (and if we’re being honest, a bit of partying as well).  Not everyone finds their summer job right away, though, which opens the door to job scams.  The more desperate you are, the likelier you are to ignore the signs that your job offer isn’t legit.  Here’s what you need to know, and the red flags to watch out for. 

Summer Jobs Are an Important Tradition

Before we go any further, it’s important to emphasize that summer jobs became an entrenched tradition for plenty of good reasons.  If you just plain need the money, that’s reason enough in its own right.  A few others include: 

Spokeo logo

Who's Calling Me?

Search any phone number to learn more about the owner!

Staying in the groove

If you take the whole summer off, it can be hard to get yourself back into the disciplined mindset you’ll need to succeed in school.  Having a job, even part-time, helps keep you in “productivity mode” during the summer.  Remember, even the top-earning athletes work out in the off-season.  It’s just a smart thing to do. 

Getting better at managing your time

This is a closely related benefit, and an important one.  It’s tough to fit a job into a busy summer that might also include school prep, family commitments, sports and other extracurriculars, the kind of volunteer and community work that look good on your college application and — sheesh! — maybe even have some fun with your friends.  Juggling all of that is good preparation for school, and for life in general. 

Test-driving your potential career

If you have a career path in mind, getting a summer job that’s related to your career choice is a good way to find out whether it’s really what you want.  If it doesn’t work for you, it’s definitely better to find out this summer instead of spending years and big money on getting trained for it. 

Building a network

The people you’ll meet at your job, and even while interviewing for jobs, can become useful mentors and contacts for you.  If you keep in touch with your network over the next few years, they can help you transition from school to your full-time career. 

Even if none of those things apply to you, the simple fact of having a job or two on your resume can make you more employable after school. 

Job Scams Are a Really Big Deal

Of course, wanting a summer job and getting one are two very different things.  In its review of data from the summer of 2021 (the most recent numbers available), the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that just over 60% of potential workers in the 16-to-24 age group were part of the labor force — working, or looking for work — which means 40% didn’t even try, and 10%of those who were looking for jobs didn’t find one.  That’s millions of people your age who want a job and can’t find one, which creates a fertile breeding ground for job scams. 

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) 2021 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book recorded over 100,000 reports of job and “business opportunity” scams in that year (up from less than 60,000 in 2020), for a total of $206 million in losses to victims.  That’s good for fifth place on the list of top frauds by the sheer volume of complaints, but it’s also worth noting that the median dollar loss per complaint was among the highest at nearly $2,000.

Job scams and business-opportunity scams aren’t only marketed at young workers, but a 2020 study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported that 17.3% of scam complaints came from those aged 18 to 24.  The Data Book doesn’t specifically break out job scams by age but it does break out the likelihood of losing money to a scam by age.  Nearly half of respondents 19 and under lost money to scammers, and over 40% of those 20 to 29.  The amounts involved were relatively small, but it’s tough to swallow any financial loss when you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot to begin with. 

8 Job Scams to Watch For

Even those numbers don’t tell the whole story, because some scammers target your personal information rather than money (or as well as money), and then use it for identity-theft purposes.  Both types of scams are pretty common. 

So what do these scams look like, specifically?  There are lots of examples (LOTS of examples) but these are some of the most common: 

1. The bogus website

The FBI warned about this one back in 2020.  You’ll see an ad on a job site from a reputable company, but the link in the ad takes you to a bogus site made to look like a legit page from that company’s website.  You’ll be prompted to fill out an online application that requests all of your personal information and maybe even your banking information, as part of the “onboarding process.”  Any information you provide gets exploited for identity theft, and if you’ve given them your banking info you can expect to lose any money you’ve got in your accounts. 

2. The “I saw your resume” email

Sometimes you’ll receive an unsolicited email or text from someone claiming to be a recruiter, who has seen your resume on Indeed or some other legitimate job site.  From there you may be routed — again — to a bogus website to complete an application, or you may do an online interview through Zoom or a similar platform where the “HR person” takes down all of this information manually.  This type of approach is an identity theft scam in its own right, but it can also be used to set the stage for more damaging scams. 

3. The “secret shopper” scam

Getting paid to go shopping sounds like the best-ever side hustle, doesn’t it?  That’s what this group of scammers counts on.  The pitch is that you’ll be paid to shop in well-known stores, and evaluate how well they’re doing on price and service.  You’ll be sent a check, which you deposit in your account.  You spend the majority of it at the designated store to buy things – which you “return” to your supposed employer — and the balance is yours to keep.  Then the check bounces, and you’re on the hook for the whole amount. 

4. The “up-front costs” scam

This is a common variant in a lot of scams, if they’re after money instead of (or as well as) your information.  In one form of this scam, you’ll be told you need to pay in advance for a criminal record check, training or perhaps school transcripts.  The job is bogus, and your money is lost.  In another variation, you’ll be sent a check which you’ll use to buy a laptop or other equipment from a “third party” that’s also controlled by the scammer.  Again, the check will bounce and you’ll be on the hook for the full amount. 

5. The “personal assistant” scam

You may see an ad for a job as a “virtual personal assistant,” or be offered one by email.  Your job duties are a bit vague, but they mostly seem to revolve around receiving lump-sum payments from your new boss and then disbursing the funds to various other people.  This is sometimes another bad check scam, but you may also be helping launder money for criminals.  You might even risk prosecution. 

6. The reshipper scam

A similar scam offers you the opportunity to receive and repackage goods for shipping to other destinations.  In this instance, the products you’re repackaging are stolen or were purchased illegitimately — maybe even by victims of some of these other scams — and you’re helping the criminals turn those products into cash.  Do we need to say that you won’t get paid, in the end? 

7. The “be your own boss” scam

There are multiple variations on this one.  Some pitch the idea of working as a reseller, ordering product from your new boss (the scammer) and selling it at a profit.  Sometimes you never actually receive the product, and other times it’s just shabby unsellable junk, but either way your money is gone.  Some are structured as multi-level marketing schemes, where you both sell the product to your friends and recruit them to sell it as well.  The end result is the same, except you’ve also helped them loot your friends and family. 

8. The “business coaching” scam

In this one you’ll be tempted by a training program — usually backed by enthusiastic testimonials from fake accounts — that will teach you a sure-fire system for building a successful online business.  Unfortunately, the only “business model” you’ll learn is how scammers con people out of their money with empty promises. 

Spotting Those Big Red Flags

So how can you differentiate between legitimate job opportunities and the work of scammers?  Truthfully, there are a lot of red flags attached to most of these scams and you’ve probably spotted a few of them just from reading our list.  In no particular order, here are a handful of the really obvious ones: 

  • If the first thing you’re expected to do is deposit a check and send money elsewhere, it’s a scam every single time.  Don’t do it. 
  • Repackaging items to ship elsewhere is always a scam, too.  There’s a whole industry built around shipping and reshipping products and it’s a highly streamlined business that revolves around huge computer-controlled warehouses, not students in their living rooms. 
  • Any job where you’re charged fees before you even start work is a scam.  Legit employers don’t do that.  They especially don’t request money in the form of wire transfers or gift cards, which are pretty much impossible to reverse once they’re sent. 
  • Any job where you’re being hit up for your personal and banking information before you’re formally hired, or have ever met anyone face-to-face, is a scam.  Don’t do it. 
  • Real mystery shopping gigs exist, but you’ll be hired face-to-face and paid (modestly) after completing an assignment.  Big money in advance is always a scam. 
  • A job offer that doesn’t include a real interview, or shows little-to-no interest in your experience or qualifications, is a scam. 
  • The email comes from a web-based email service (e.g., Yahoo, Gmail) or a random domain name, rather than a company’s own domain (this isn’t always the case, but it’s a red flag when you do see it). 

And the old saying that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” remains some of the very best scam-avoidance advice there is.

How to Protect Yourself From Summer Job Scams

Just keeping an eye out for obvious signs of scammers is a good starting point, but there are active steps you can also take to protect yourself. These include:

  • Check listings at job sites like Indeed against the company’s official website.  Companies almost invariably list openings on their own sites, so that’s a good way to double-check.  If the job isn’t there, screenshot the listing you’ve seen and send it to the legit company’s HR people.  If it isn’t real, they’ll move quickly to have it flagged as fraudulent. 
  • Look up the company, and the names of the supposed employees, on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.  If they have little to no presence, or if what’s there seems pretty minimal, you might have a scammer. 
  • Use Spokeo’s reverse phone number lookup to verify that the phone number you’ve been given is actually owned by who you think it is.  If it’s supposedly a corporation based in Indiana, but the phone number belongs to some random guy in Florida, just walk away. 
  • Similarly, you can use Spokeo’s name lookup or reverse email lookup to see who you’re really dealing with.  There is a cost involved, but it’s pretty minimal compared to the costs of being scammed — and it can save you a lot of grief. 
  • Legitimate secret-shopping operations almost invariably belong to the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association (MSPA).  If you search their database and don’t find the company that offered you a job, it’s pretty likely a scam.  Pro tip: The MSPA’s Scam Alerts page is worth a look, as well. 
  • Google the supposed employer’s name, plus the words “scam” or “complaint,” can be a good idea.  If it’s a scam that’s making the rounds, you should get a whole bunch of hits. 

What To Do if You Spot a Scam

If you think you’ve spotted a scam, or worse, if you think you’ve already fallen for one, there are some things you should do.  In the case of bogus job listings, report them to the site or social media platform where you saw the ad.  If the scammers misrepresented themselves as a well-known company like Amazon or Walmart, inform the actual company as well.  They’re always pretty militant about protecting their reputation. 

Other things you should do include reporting the incident to the FTC’s Report Fraud website, and — optionally — the BBB Scam Tracker page.  You might also notify your local law enforcement agency, or make a report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).  It may even be worth reporting the incident at your school, in case scammers have somehow gotten a list of students enrolled there. 

Finally, if you’ve lost money to the scammers, you should immediately try to get it back (the sooner the better).  The odds aren’t exactly in your favor, but the sooner you get started, the better your chances are.  The FAQs at the Report Fraud website can guide you through how to do that, and we have some advice on our blog as well.  

Get Back Out There

Job hunting can be discouraging at the best of times — especially when you’re just starting out — and it gets worse when the few opportunities you do find turn out to be sketchy.  Don’t give up: employers are still losing their minds over a chronic shortage of workers, so there are usually opportunities. 

If nothing turns up online, go old-school and look for openings by visiting businesses in your own area.  The hospitality business, and seasonal businesses like lawn care and landscaping, are high-turnover industries and often need people mid-season to fill vacancies.  If that doesn’t pan out, tap your personal network: talk to your parents’ friends and your friends’ parents, your extended family and anyone else who might be able to make a connection for you. 

You may or may not succeed in landing a legit summer job, but at least the skills you’ll gain from trying to find one will serve you well in the coming years. 


Investopedia – Top 5 Benefits of a Summer Job – Besides Pay

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Employment Status of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population 16 to 24 Years of Age by Sex, Race and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2021

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2020

Better Business Bureau (BBB) – Job Scams Study

Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – Cyber Criminals Use Fake Job Listings to Target Applicants’ Personally Identifiable Information

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – Avoiding a Money Mule Scam

Mystery Shopping Professionals Association (MSPA) – Service Provider Search

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – Report to Help Fight Fraud!

Better Business Bureau (BBB) – BBB Scam Tracker

Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)