7 On Your Side: Dream job or scam? How to spot employment red flags

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Employment scam complaints were up 27% during the pandemic, according to the FTC, and millions are falling for job offers that wind up tricking them into cashing checks or paying for expenses in advance.

"I felt completely defeated," job seeker Katie Scheidle said.

In the span of a few weeks, Scheidle's life got turned upside down. The 23-year-old was initially elated thinking she landed her dream job in media.

"Amazing, I was over the moon, honestly," she said. "I was so excited."

The she quickly realized the job wasn't real, and that she had been scammed.

"Honestly, (I felt) kind of dumb," she said. "I felt naive."

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The BBB says around 14 million people lost $2 billion in job scams in 2020.

NY/Metro Better Business Bureau President Claire Rosenzweig says savvy, fake recruiters pretending to work for real companies are actively targeting job seekers, trolling on popular job sites and social media.

Scheidle, a recent college graduate, quit her job at a Bergen County doggy daycare to start her career as a remote digital editor for a big media company.

But shortly after filling out bank forms for direct deposit, she was instructed to pay up front for a company iPhone via Venmo.

She sent them $840.99 for the phone, but when they asked for more money for a laptop, she caught on that there was no job.

She stopped the transfer by quickly shutting down her bank account.

"Initially, in the back of my mind, it did sound too good to be true," she said.

And experts say that is always a red flag. Beware of recruiters offering big money even if you have no experience, and be wary if you don't interview or at least speak to someone via Zoom.

And even if you talk to a real person, you can verify by calling the company's HR directly to ask if the job is legit.

Don't use any phone numbers provided, and don't cash checks sent to you for deposit.

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Thankfully, Scheidle eventually landed her real dream job as a desk assistant with Eyewitness News This Morning.

That's when she shared her ordeal with 7 On Your Side to warn others.

"I was scared," she said. "I didn't want this to happen to anyone else."

The most important thing to remember is that you should never have to pay money to make money. If a new employer is asking you to use your own cash but you haven't even gotten a paycheck yet, it's most likely a scam.

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