8 Ways to Tell Whether That Ad on Craigslist is Bogus

8 Ways to Tell Whether That Ad on Craigslist is Bogus

by Kerry Scott on 20 July 2009


I subscribe to job postings on a number of freelance job boards (Guru, Elance, iFreelance, etc.). Guess what job I see posted far more often than any other?

Craigslist Poster.

These scammers are looking to hire someone (usually for the equivalent of about $2/hour) to post the same ads on Craigslist over and over.   The qualifications generally include something along the lines of being able to have the posting last for at least a couple of hours before it’s reported as spam.  I see probably 5-10 of these gigs per day, just on the few sites where I have subscriptions.

On the flip side, I also subscribe via RSS to the Craigslist job postings for Milwaukee.  I think I see maybe one legitimate job opening every two weeks (and most of those are for babysitters).  I’m hearing from a number of people who are fairly new on the job market and are finding it difficult to determine which Craigslist postings are scams.  Here are some clues:

  1. The English is lousy. If the word choice and sentence structure seem odd, that’s a clue.  Companies (usually) have people with reasonably decent writing skills handle their job postings.  If you’re seeing something where the language is noticeably weird, it was probably posted by one of those $2/hour overseas freelancers.
  2. There’s a bunch of jibberish at the bottom. If you ever open any of your spam email, you’ll sometimes see a couple of sentences about whatever they’re selling (Viagra, credit repair, some weird berry that’s supposed to make you skinny).  Then, a couple of lines down, there’s a string of random words.  That’s there to try and beat spam filters, and they use it for the same reason on Craigslist.  Legitimate employers with legitimate job postings do not need spam-filter-beating crap at the bottom of an ad.
  3. The email address doesn’t match a company. If there’s an email address listed, it should be somebody@realcompanyname.com.  If it’s a web-based email address (like somebody@gmail.com), beware.   Even independent recruiters (good ones anyway) have a professional-looking email address, because it doesn’t cost much to get your own domain name.  There are few good reasons to use a disposable email address in an ad, so real companies almost never do.
  4. It’s a work-at-home job. If there were lots of legitimate jobs you could do at home, I’d be doing them, instead of writing this blog post.   There aren’t. In fact, there are hardly any.   If this job involves working at home, everything else about it needs to scream legitimacy.  In one full year of monitoring the Milwaukee Craigslist postings, I’ve never seen a valid work-at-home opportunity.
  5. The pay is whacked out. Lately I’ve seen a posting come up repeatedly for a recruiter job.  It requires little experience, you can do it from home, and it pays $75,000/year.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Employers don’t post high pay in ads (on Craigslist or anywhere else) because it just increases the number of unqualified applicants to sort through.  They only post when the pay is LOW, to ensure that you know that it’s low up front and don’t waste their time applying if you won’t work for the wage they’re offering.  High pay listed on any job posting is a huge red flag.
  6. There’s no real company name. If you can’t tell who the employer is, there probably isn’t one.  If it’s a name you don’t recognize, Google it and find out who these people are before you apply.  Legitimate employers don’t have a reason to hide their identify from you.  Back in the day, employers occasionally ran blind ads when they planned to fire someone and needed to find a replacement first.  Now employers can easily fill those jobs by networking, so they don’t need blind ads anymore.
  7. They just want your click. Postings with very vague details and few job requirements that ask you to “click here for more info” are almost always scams.  They just want to get you to click through to their website so they can work you over.  Real employers have no reason to do this, so they’ll post their full ad right there on Craigslist.
  8. It’s open in other cities. If you find a posting that, after all this, still looks legit, check Craigslist for other cities.  Scammers often post the same ad in multiple cities (in fact, I’ve noticed that they usually post in alphabetical order, which is kind of funny).  That $75,000/year recruiter job has appeared in every city I’ve checked, over and over, for weeks now.   There are some jobs for which you’d have a good reason to post in multiple locations, but if you find the exact same wording for the same administrative assistant job, that’s a clue right there.

Bottom line—be careful out there.  If you have any doubts about an opening, proceed with caution…and remember that there is NEVER a reason to give out your Social Security number, date of birth, or driver’s license number to anyone unless you’ve had an in-person interview.

Photo by sekimura

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Sabrina July 20, 2009 at 10:05 am

I’ve seen ads on craigslist and the email address is always firstname.lastname@gmail.com if you respond, they’ll send you an email asking you to fill out an application. Do that and a few days later University of Phoenix will be giving you a call trying to get you to take classes with them. Job looks legit and of course the people on the other end will swear up and down that it is, but it’s just a front to find more leads. A big reason why when I decided to go back to school, I did not go with them.

I’ve also seen a number of scams where the pay range is just really wide. Like for an Administrative Assistant, the pay is between $32K-$75K. Yeah I don’t think so.

Sabrina’s last blog post..Oh Give Me A Home, Where the Buffalo Roam…

Alexis July 20, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I was always curious as to just who would respond to such an ad. I guess it is more common that one thinks.

Great point about all those work at home gigs too… maybe I need to write a post titled “The Time My GF Got a Great Job: Building Chemical Toilets in Her Own Home.” True story, and I bet you know how it ends.

Alexis’s last blog post..City Living: The Pros and Cons

Kerry Sandberg Scott July 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Sabrina—holy cow. I had no idea that University of Phoenix was doing that. I actually thought they were way more above-board. That’s shocking. The funny thing is that the biggest concern people have about signing up for one of those online degrees is that people won’t take the degree seriously. So behaving like that seems like kind of a bad business strategy, if you’re trying to say hey, no, this is a real degree program. But whatever.

Alexis—I’d totally read that post.

abdpbt July 20, 2009 at 4:32 pm

How about #1. the ad posting is on Craigslist? Or am I just being naive?

abdpbt’s last blog post..18 Questions Raised By The Bravo TV Show NYC Prep

Kerry Sandberg Scott July 20, 2009 at 5:16 pm

No, there are sometimes legitimate jobs on Craigslist. Up until last summer, I was posting jobs there with my airline, because it was free and we got some decent candidates that way (especially college students, who we were especially targeting).

I think that’s changed a lot in the past year though…I used to know a ton of recruiters who were using it. Now, not so much. Part of that is that no one is recruiting, but part of it is that nobody wants to post next to all those scammers. It’s a bad neighborhood for a company to be seen in.

Tim G July 20, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Great and timely advice. Both of my sons are looking for work, one full time and the other part time while at college, and craigslist is one source. Nothing meaningful has come from that, and they seem to have naturally figured out where the wasted time would be. But I will pass this along to them.

Tim G’s last blog post..13 Frequently Given Answers – Supervisory Edition

Ros July 21, 2009 at 6:57 am

One thing that is a big clue for me is when it asks you to open a bank account. A lot of the students at my university have been targetted by fake job ads for admin type positions where they will be required to open bank accounts for “company supplies”. Of course the cheques that they pay into this account are fraudulent and they end up spending their own money and being complicit in fraud.
Worse though is that the initial advert seems fairly legitimate but after emailing the “employer” it is clearly dodgy. But by then they have your email address for further spamming.

Sabrina July 21, 2009 at 7:37 am

So, Kerry, how do HR recruiters feel posting on other websites such as CareerBuilder, Monster, and HotJobs… next to all THOSE scammers? :) (Moreso HotJobs than the other two)

Sabrina’s last blog post..Oh Give Me A Home, Where the Buffalo Roam…

Charles July 21, 2009 at 8:02 am

Sabrina – I’ll second Kerry’s Holy Cow! I didn’t know Univ of Phoenix was doing that – are you sure that it wasn’t a glitch? I know that I once got a call from them after I put my resume on CareerBuilder (or Monster, I foget which one). I realized that it was because I had not clicked off the “contact me” check mark on their ad.

I know folks who are taking classes with Univ of Phoenix and folks who teach for them; I have heard nothing but great things about them. So I am really surprised.

A couple of years ago I did answer an ad on careerbuilder about a training job at New Horizon Computer Center (they seem to be a francise, not completely run from corporate). I made it very clear that I was looking to train, not BE trained. “Great”, I was told “be here tomrrow for a group interview.” I don’t usually do group interviews, but thought I should keep an open mind. I was one of 7 people in the “interview” which was nothing but a sales pitch to sign up for classes. Not being the timid type I spoke up – long story short, only 2 of the 7 people were there to inquire about taking classes, the rest of use were brought in to just “fill out the group.” If I hadn’t spoken up everyone else was content to just leave thinking that they were the only ones mislead!

Kerry – can I have your sign on this post – except I want it to say “job wanted – no bullshit!”

Kerry Sandberg Scott July 21, 2009 at 8:41 am

I haven’t posted on HotJobs for at least five years…partly for that very reason, and partly because of other bad experiences I had with them as an employer. I’m not a fan.

I used Monster and CareerBuilder to recruit in my last job, but not much. Now I wouldn’t use them at all. There’s just no need—there are smaller, local boards that are WAY more effective. Plus, now that we have Twitter and LinkedIn and all that, it’s much easier to fill a job without posting it at all. That way you don’t have the deluge of candidates to deal with (although, on the flipside, if it were not for the deluge of candidates, I’d have far fewer Tales of the Cluefree to share).

Pfandfrei July 21, 2009 at 9:13 am

Craigslist is also used legitimately in the DC area – I’ve had interviews with “top” companies that have posted there. And oftentimes they don’t post the company name, either.

Also, the email address thing isn’t true everywhere – in the Washington DC area it’s very very common for people on Capitol Hill or working on political campaigns to use throwaway email addresses (washingtondcschedulingjob@gmail.com, for example) to recruit – this is because they usually get tons of responses to a posting and they don’t want to be harassed long after they have found a candidate.

Kerry Sandberg Scott July 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm

I am surprised that any Hill jobs are being filled by Craigslist—when I moved to DC in the mid-90s, they were all filled by word-of-mouth (especially the entry-level ones…it was hard to break in if you hadn’t already interned and made friends with people who would recommend you). It’s nice to hear that things have opened up a bit.

I have a friend who inherited a recruiter who did that throwaway email address thing to keep from being contacted by candidates. She was the first one my friend fired. If you think that candidate contact is a hassle, you probably shouldn’t be recruiting (especially in a situation like those hill jobs, where the candidates might also be constituents). Candidate management comes with the job, before and after the position is filled.

Mark Welch July 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Are there really offshore people who earn $2 per hour? I thought $1 per hour was the max rate.

I’ve posted my own list of “recommendations” for legitimate job postings.

Mark Welch July 28, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Re: the complaints about the University of Phoenix — it’s 99% likely that this is lead-forgery by affiliates of one of the CPA networks. (Universities contract with CPA networks, who promise to gather leads, for $X each, from people who’ve expressed an interest in continuing education programs; the CPA networks then pay $X/2 to other CPA networks and to “affiliates” who promise to only direct legitimate leads to the system; the other CPA networks contract with other affiliates and CPA networks; these CPA networks contract with others…

What happens is that an unethical affiliate signs up and submits fraudulent “lead forms,” pretending that it’s really you who’s requesting information about continuing education programs at the university.

Of course, the people who call you are probably not employees of the university, but instead another outside company that is paid to call people on the lead lists, in order to qualify them further. Therefore, no matter how much you complain, the information about “lead fraud” won’t actually get to the department at the university where someone would be concerned about being defrauded.

Jojo October 8, 2009 at 5:48 pm

I noticed that those ‘fake’ ads were mostly from recruiting agencies, who are trying to get as many candidates as they could. I have dealt with great, professional agencies, but have to say, the majority of them were just all talk. They just wanted me to come in to their office to see my face, and kept promising great jobs, but nothing materialized. Again, there’s a few who are exception to this norm, though.

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