How To Avoid Being Scammed on Job Boards

What to look for in genuine job offerings and how to handle being duped

Jessica Lovejoy
Jan 26 · 6 min read
Photo by Dai KE on Unsplash

If you’ve ever been scammed online while looking for a job, you know how horrible it feels. I’ve been there, and it sucks. It’s unfortunate that there are people online whose method of operation is to take advantage of workers trying to make an honest living. Fake companies posing as potential employers are everywhere online, and it’s important to know what to look out for to avoid getting scammed. Because it’s so common, it’s also important to know how to deal with it after if it does happen to you.

Not everyone is trying to scam you. With time and practice, you’ll learn how to tell the sketchy job postings from the legitimate ones.

Unfortunately, some of these online scammers are so good at what they do, they’ll have you convinced they have a real job for you. The scam experts will use a real company name so when you research them you’ll find real reviews. They’ll also message you back and forth and even do an online interview with you. And through all of that, you might come to find out it was all a scam.

At the Very Beginning of My Freelance Career, I Used Every One of the Most Popular Freelance Job Sites to Find My Big Break

I was looking for that perfect big-time client that would put me on retainer. I found them eventually — but it didn’t happen with the first writing project I applied for. Not the second or third one either.

Being a freelancer means digging through a surplus of underpaid, overworked gigs to find those great lifelong clients. That’s what I did. But when I got scammed online, I was devastated. I was upset at the situation and at myself for falling for a fake gig. But more than anything, I felt stupid. I thought, “I should’ve known better. How didn’t I see this coming? I’m so stupid for falling for it.”

It happened to me, and it’s happened to many freelancers working online. But if you equip yourself with the right advice and knowledge, you can help prevent the rollercoaster that is applying for a job that’s actually a scam.

The Time-Tracker Scam

Through one of the more popular freelance sites, I found a real estate company in a different state that was hiring several freelance writers to write and proofread copy and blogs for their website. I was ecstatic. It was my area of expertise and the pay was really good.

I applied for the job, and the next morning, someone messaged me to schedule an interview. I agreed to do an interview, and meanwhile, I searched for their company online and found great reviews, which led me to believe it was a real company.

There was no doubt in my mind it was a real job I was applying for.

I did the online interview, which was not a video interview, but an online questionnaire where I filled out their questions in real-time. I thought that part was strange, but I didn’t overthink it. I wanted so badly for this job to be mine.

After the interview was over, I told a few friends. I told my partner. Everyone was so excited for me. And I felt that finally, things were looking up. I would get this great job, my pay would be great, and I could start setting money aside to buy a house. I was dreaming big, and I was let down so hard.

Just a few hours after the online interview, they emailed me to let me know they had hired me. It only took them a few hours to make their decision. You could take it as, “Wow, I was so impressive they didn’t even need an afternoon to decide!” Or, “That’s kinda sketchy.”

I chose the scene where I looked impressive.

After accepting the position, they asked me a few questions about the model of computer I used, which writing software I preferred, if I had a printer at home, etc. Until this point, it all still sounded legitimate to me.

And then they asked me if I had a specific software to track my hours. As a very new freelancer, I didn’t have anything like that, so I said no. And they replied that a certain tracker was required in order for me to be hired — but not to worry, because I could buy it from them and they would reimburse me on my first check.

Red flag.

Instantly, I knew something was up. I would never pay a stranger online to buy supplies that are required for the job. I thought to myself — if it was required to do the work, wouldn’t the client provide it to the writer?

So I asked, just to make sure.

“I don’t feel comfortable purchasing it online. I can use a different software to track my hours if that’s alright.”

Suddenly, the person I was communicating with sounded frustrated.

“No. You must buy this one. The link is here. You can purchase it and then we can talk more about the position.”

“I’m not buying anything.”

“You cannot get the job then. Sorry, the job will go to someone else.”

I didn’t reply. I was so humiliated because it was clear that this job was not real, and I felt like an idiot. I had spent several days messaging back and forth with this “company.”

I had already told my friends, my partner, and some online writers about the job. They were excited for me. It sounded like such a great opportunity. Too good to be true. And it was.

I Googled the name of the company with the word “scam” next to it, and I found what I should’ve found a week ago. Articles of other freelance writers getting scammed by companies with different names — all requiring the purchase of the same type of time-tracker.

So I replied after, “I have reported you for the fraudulent job posting.”

They replied, “Go away.”

I reported them and logged off the internet for the day.

How to Spot a Scam

If you’ve ever been scammed, I’m sorry. Please know that you’re not alone. The second you find out it isn’t real, I know it feels like the absolute worst thing. It feels like you should just give up on trying to find work online. But really, you can’t be too hard on yourself for falling for it because it happens to so many other freelancers, even if they don’t admit it. Report the company/client that scams you and don’t give up.

There are a lot of sketchy people online, but there are also a lot of legitimate businesses online looking to hire you.

Legitimate clients will never:

  • ask you to meet them at their apartment for an interview
  • force you to buy something from them
  • make you feel weird, uncomfortable, or unsafe
  • have a significant amount of grammatical errors/typos in their posting
  • ask you for your home address before an interview
  • ask you for a photo of yourself (unless you are applying for some kind of modeling gig)

With practice and experience, you’ll be faster about spotting the red flags. You’ll learn to recognize the differences between a real job post and a fake one.

But while you’re learning, be patient with yourself, don’t buy anything online from someone posing as an employer, never go to someone’s home for an interview, and again, don’t beat yourself up about it for too long if you do fall for a scam.

It happens, and it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world, I promise. Keep on looking, be safe with yourself, and good luck.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Thanks to Niklas Göke

Jessica Lovejoy

Written by

A writer living in Las Vegas, telling stories about relationships, writing, pets, and love in poetry form. Contact me at

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade