How developers can avoid remote work scams

Software developers can find good remote programming jobs, but some job offers are too good to be true. Follow these tips to spot remote job scams.

Remote work scams, otherwise known as work-from-home scams, encourage people to unwittingly apply to fake companies that tout the ability to work from wherever one chooses. Unfortunately, these jobs do not exist. Instead these offers serve the scammers' real goal: to steal personal information, money, or both.

Oftentimes, these scams require "new recruits" to purchase training, products and even home office equipment from predesignated suppliers, upfront and prior to their official "start date." Some scams are modeled similarly to multilevel marketing organizations, while others are more like pyramid schemes or outright Ponzi schemes.

Some remote programming job opportunities are legit, but there are common threads among remote job scams that reveal their deception. The jobs they advertise often sound too good to be true. The proposed salary is usually far above industry standards, and the output required is exceedingly low.

If you receive any unsolicited job offers for software development work that you can do from home, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don't share your PII

As with any unsolicited email, text or social media post, don't hand out personally identifiable information (PII) to a potential employer until you're 100% certain they're legitimate.

PII includes information such as the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver's license
  • your passport
  • medical records
  • bank account numbers
  • other financial data

Reputable companies ask job candidates to disclose some information on their job applications. However, they typically don't need PII to process payments and benefits until the employee is officially onboarded into the organization. Be wary if a prospective employer asks for any PII upfront.

Also, follow cybersecurity best practices and don't click on any link, open an attachment or download software that the remote "employer" provides. Their incitement for you to do this in the first place is a huge red flag.

Be skeptical about whirlwind recruitment processes

Even real companies that are desperate to hire talent follow a well-defined recruitment process. This takes time, anywhere from one or two weeks to several months. Think about the last time you applied for a job. Chances are the employer required you to do at least one or two of the following:

  • submit a resume;
  • fill out a job application;
  • produce examples of your past work; and
  • sit for an in-person or virtual interview, or multiple interviews depending on the job's position in the organizational hierarchy.

Many companies also test job candidates on skills specific to the position to assess how qualified they really are.

Remote work scams, in many cases, don't bother with some or any of those steps. If a company encourages you to apply but seems to throw recruitment best practices out the window, or approaches you with a job for which you're not qualified, take caution.

Do your due diligence

If you're genuinely curious about an unsolicited job offer for remote programming work, do some homework before you respond. This can involve several steps:

  • Perform a Google search to gauge the organization's internet presence. Do they have a website? How professional does it seem? Does it have broken links or functionality, or frequent typos? If the company is a scam, you might find search results that say so.
  • Scan job boards for warnings about the company in question. Others might have been burned by the same "opportunity" sent to you.
  • Check the employer's social media presence. If they don't have one, this could be another red flag.

Also, try to speak with someone who already works for the organization to gain a feel for its legitimacy. Beware, however, that you can't be 100% sure they're telling you the truth as they too may be part of the scam.

Don't pay to play

As mentioned, some remote job scams require job candidates to shell out for training, certifications or even office equipment and supplies. When their target hesitates, the scammers threaten to withdraw their offer to heighten the pressure.

This, of course, is not how the real world of employment works. Software developers must remember that the employer pays for their services, not the other way around.

Track who you solicit for remote work

If you're actively pursuing remote software development work, keep records of which organizations you approach, as well as the companies you intend to contact. If you receive an offer for remote programming work, quickly cross-check to verify whether the offer was solicited or not. This practice applies to any remote work, not just scam-awareness or remote software development jobs.

Not all unsolicited remote work offers are scams. As many tech professionals who have dealt with headhunters can attest, companies proactively seek top talent. If you do a good job marketing yourself and network with others in the industry, chances are you will receive legitimate inquiries. These won't require you to outlay your hard-earned cash for the privilege of working for them.

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