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6 safety tips for online job seekers
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1. Know what scammers want.
Legitimate companies might want job candidates' resumes entered into in their own tracking systems, so requests for candidates to apply on the employer's Web site should not necessarily warrant suspicion.

Be wary, however, if you're asked to complete a background check on a site before you can be considered for the position. There might even be a legitimate-looking check-off box next to a statement that says "I authorize XYZ company to perform a complete background check on me," at the end of the application, says Stickley. All the desperate job seeker has to do is supply a Social Security number and driver license number to complete the necessary background check.

"Of course, once the user enters this information into the Web site, they are now totally ruined," he says. Instead of gainful employment, the applicant could lose their identity to a crook.

The need for a background check should raise an eyebrow. Background checks cost money, so employers won't usually perform them until after they've interviewed you, says career coach Marcia Merrill, who has more than 18 years of experience as a career counselor, career librarian and career-site Web manager. Instead of completing the background check, she says, reply and ask if they can tell you exactly what's expected of you in the position and when you can come in for an interview. "It's a diplomatic way of saying 'I'm not going to answer you until I know more about you,'" says Merrill. Legitimate companies should have a good explanation for it or honor a request to postpone the background check until after an interview.

Also consider who the e-mail originates from. If you recognize the company name and see that the reply-to e-mail address matches it, go to the Web site and see if the site checks out. If there's a string of numbers before the ".com" portion of the Web address, when you go to the site, it's probably a scam, says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of collegerecruiter.com, an online job board and information source for students and recent college graduates. The recognized company name should come before the ".com."

If you don't recognize the business name, research the company before you reply to the e-mail by:

  • Visiting the Better Business Bureau Web site. See if the company exists, how long it's been around and what kinds of complaints, if any, have been filed against it.
  • Networking. Talk to people in the industry and ask them what they've heard about the company.
  • Visiting the secretary of state's Web site. Find out in which state the company does business. If they're in New York, the New York secretary of state office should have a listing for them online, says Rothberg. Make sure that information, such as the business address, matches the listing. "Bogus organizations won't be registered with the secretary of state office."
  • Conducting a Google or Yahoo search for information on the company. You should find its Web site, or at least a phone number or publication that mentions it. If you see many blogs and sites complaining about the company, that could be a red flag.
  • Checking questionable salary offers against employee-earnings sites such as salary.com to see if the numbers come within a normal range.
  • Conducting a Web search for terms in the job description you don't understand.
Next: "Misspelled words in a job ad are a tip-off to rip-offs"
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