Job market / Work experience

How to avoid fake internships

scam_keyboard_190We’ve got a great post this week from Asaf – one of our careers consultants – talking about fake internships. Most organisations offer placements in good faith, but there are some unscrupulous ones out there. Make sure you know what to look out for and what to avoid.

Would you pay someone to get you a job? Would you pay someone to guarantee you an internship? If you are tempted to say “yes”, you need to know how to distinguish between a fraudulent offer and a genuine one.

I was recently approached by a student who was almost tempted to say yes and in the process, lose some serious money.

Let me take you through our journey…

*John saw an advert on a national job search website – the kind of website we all use. The ad was about an internship programme in the US. He clicked, sent his CV, and waited. A couple of days later he was invited for a telephone interview with the “US-EU Global Internship Agency”. What followed was a standard 30 minutes interview – it seemed professional, if generic. Four hours after the interview, he received an email offering him an internship with a company called “Global Financial Expertise” in the US. Great! The email also reminded him about a fee of $2250, payable to the agency. Not so great. At this stage John contacted Careers & Skills to ask for advice.

My first reaction was to be cautious – agencies don’t usually charge candidates. Agencies charge companies and in return they help companies to find – and place – suitable candidates. But there may be genuine agents or service providers who offer services, training, and even access to employers for a fee. Was “US-EU Global Internship Agency” one of them? By asking a few simple questions, you can find out quite quickly whether the organisation is genuine, or fake.

What do I get for my money?

We have seen companies that charge hundreds of pounds for a simple CV check that you can get for free from your careers service. In our case, the only thing the agent was offering John was a link with an American company.

What kind of internship is on offer here?

You need to find out more. What does the placement involve? What projects will you be working on, and where?

My advice was to call the company and ask them if they are aware of an agency that charges money for placing interns with them, but before sharing that with John, I decided to do some digging of my own. My curiousity was piqued and I wanted to find out more. Here’s what I did:

  1. I googled “Global Financial Expertise”. Interestingly, the first result on the page was its Facebook page. Although you would expect Facebook to have a high page ranking, you wouldn’t expect a company’s Facebook page to appear before the company website. It also had a presence on LinkedIn. But when I searched further I found it didn’t appear as a company at all, but as a group. Anyone can open a group on LinkedIn! I also couldn’t find any employees of the company there. This doesn’t have to mean anything but I was immediately suspicious.
  2. I found their website. Yes, they had one. But – and this is a pretty big but – it just didn’t look like a website of a reputable financial company that recruits interns abroad. It used generic images, very little text, and I couldn’t see any company registration numbers or employees
  3. I checked their contact details. There was a telephone number and address but when I used Google Maps to locate the address, I found 25 other companies registered at the same address! I used Street View to tour the area. It didn’t look much like a global financial centre.
  4. As a final throw of the dice I went to the Warwick library business databases and used Factiva to search for “Global Financial Expertise”. Now that was interesting. I found news items from 2010 about withdrawing the company’s licence. So if the company is still operating today, it does so illegally. A quick google search for“Global Financial Expertise fraud” generated more evidence. There was little room for mistake; the company had been instructed to close down a couple of years ago.

This was the end of the journey for me. The agency is most likely part of the scam. Google them, and you find nothing. If I were John, I wouldn’t even take the trouble to phone them. Better to stick with employers that pay you, not the other way around. Scam internships are a very real problem, but you can avoid them.

Top tips

  • Be careful of agencies that charge you. What do you get for that money? Is the fee reasonable? Google the company name. Look at their website carefully. Can you get a sense of a real company with people, offices, clients and activities? Or are they “virtual”?
  • Search business databases like Factiva for news items about the company.
  • Google the company name + “scam” or “fraud”.
  • Check LinkedIn. Can you find employees from this company? Clients? If possible, contact them and ask further questions.
  • Look out for poor spelling and grammar – this can often the sign of a fake recruiter. Not all companies use specialist copywriters, but the genuine ones will certainly try to produce accurate, consistent and professional copy.

* All names and identifiers have been changed.

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