scam

Internship Scams: Protecting Yourself from Thieves

As you get further into your college career, you may find yourself looking for more practical experience outside of the classroom setting. One of the best ways to obtain this experience is through an internship. Working as an intern in a professional environment is a wonderful way to learn while earning experience future employers will appreciate.

However, there is a dark side to internships. There are people who will take advantage of college students eagerly looking for experience. If you’re on the hunt for an internship then you need to know about this common internship scam. I’ve also added some helpful tips at the end about how to spot and avoid internship scams.

Internship Scam

The Internship Scam

The  internship scam presented here follows a very common pattern. Here’s how it works:

  1. A scammer will create a posting on a communal job board. The posting is usually part-time, paid, and features the name of a reputable company.
  2. When you apply, you will receive a quick response asking for an interview. The scammer then schedules the interview to take place via a video message program (even if the company has an office near where you live).
  3. Typically, on the day of the interview your contact will say something unexpected came up and ask to complete the interview via chat software. However, some scammers conduct face-to-face video interviews.
  4. After the interview (usually short), you will receive a job offer and instructions to start training immediately. Training will involve purchasing specialized computer programs (ex. accounting software). They will offer to send you money to purchase the necessary software.
  5. They will send you check via email with instructions to print and deposit it in your bank account using your bank’s mobile application. This prevents the check from ever being in the hands of a teller who would recognize the check as fraudulent. Also, the delay time caused by mobile uploads will allow you access to the money before many banks withdraw it out of the check issuer’s account.
  6. After the mobile upload, they will ask you to go to your bank to withdraw the money in cash and deposit it into a provided bank account (typically at a different bank than yours). They will probably stress several times to complete the transaction in cash. Their reasoning is the other bank account belongs to their computer software vendor and the money is to pay for the specialized programs.

The Result

At this point, I’m sure you can guess what happens next. Your bank will try to collect money for the check you deposited and will discover the check is a fraud. The money is then removed from your account for insufficient funds. Because the money you withdrew to pay the other account was in cash, there is no way for you to rescind the payment. The representative who interviewed you will no longer answer your messages or e-mails. It all becomes clear; there was no internship and the money you paid was lost for good. I know of scams that ask for up to $2,000 under the pretense of purchasing training supplies. There are several different variations of this same scam, though this format is the most common.

Internship Scam

Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Scams

Getting caught in an internship scam is scary, but you can avoid it. Here a few good rules to follow in order to help you avoid internship scams.

  • Check the Company Website – Most scammers use the name of a big company on a job board to entice people to “apply” for the internship. Most large companies have a job board on their own website. Check the company website to see if the internship is listed. If so, apply directly on that website rather than through the job board.
  • Check the E-Mail Address – Large companies will have a dedicated e-mail address. If the person you are in contact with is using a general address it may be a scam. Example:
    • Good – johndoe@largecompany.com
    • Bad – johndoelargecompany@gmail.com
  • Never Pay Money – You should never have to pay money upfront for any internship or job.
  • Never Give Out Personal Information Online – Your never give out your social security number, bank account, or other sensitive information online. You should only give these numbers to an employer in person while you are at the place of employment.
  • To Good to Be True – If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. A part-time, work-from-home internship that pays $35 per hour should signal a red flag.
  • Get Out – If at any point during the interview process you become concerned about being scammed, get out. Politely tell the interviewer that you feel this internship is not for you. You don’t need to be rude. Simply say you don’t feel like it is a good fit and end the conversation. Protecting yourself is your number one priority.

Have any other tips for avoiding internship scam? Leave them in the comment section below!