There are plenty of legitimate VA jobs out there, but they’re mixed in with virtual assistant scams. Being aware of the common red flags will help you steer clear of these scams and land a real job to start your career as a virtual assistant. The following are some of the most common warning signs and scams.
1. Expensive Training or MaterialsIf you’ve never worked as a virtual assistant before, it may be reasonable to expect you need to invest in some training or materials. Nonetheless, an authentic job will never require you to pay them anything upfront.
When you pay for training, there’s rarely a job at the end. Usually, you’ll receive some low-quality lessons and then the scammer will disappear with your money.
It’s also a common scam to require prospective VAs to pay for software, promising that they’ll receive their money back with their first paycheck. This is completely unnecessary — a genuine client should be able to provide you with access to digital tools without you needing to pay anything. In addition, downloading unfamiliar software could give the scammer remote access to your computer to steal your information or hack your accounts.
2. High PaySometimes, the opposite happens: the scammer offers more money than you know the job is worth. (To figure out if the job is offering too much, familiarize yourself with the typical rates for virtual assistants.) VAs fall into the trap of thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” After all, you’ll be receiving a large sum of money from the client, right?
In fact, the scammer will find a way to not pay you. This is especially easy when scammers use PayPal, as buyers usually receive the benefit of the doubt in payment disputes and can easily claim refunds. Another option is that the scammer could send you a fraudulent check.
These virtual assistant scams are particularly common after the client asks you to purchase something as part of your job responsibilities. The scammer may ask you to buy airline tickets or a gift for someone. You’ll never receive the funds and you’ll end up paying for something expensive with your own money.
3. Forwarding PaymentsIn some cases, you will actually receive money for the job and it will be a reasonable amount considering the tasks you perform. However, it may still be dangerous to accept the work.
One such example is forwarding payments to a person in “another company.” You’ll receive a check or money order with the instructions to forward a certain amount and keep the rest for yourself as payment.
You need to ask yourself why the client needs someone else to do this. The reality is the client using you to launder money. Sending the payment to you first allows the client to clean the money — which will often result in you becoming the subject of a federal investigation.
Bear in mind that scammers often present such jobs as legitimate by adding other normal virtual assistant tasks to the description. However, the job listing will often feature sending and receiving money as the main duty of the job.
4. Shipping PackagesSimilar to the above is a job shipping packages. You will be asked to receive or collect items and resend them. These will be stolen goods, items purchased with stolen credit cards, or illegal merchandise.
You’ll often receive a fraudulent check, meaning you’ll never receive payment for your work and will end up incurring the shipping costs yourself. Worst of all, though, is that you’ll have participated in an illegal activity and may face criminal charges.
5. Pushing to Start a ContractScammers often want you to start working as soon as possible. You may receive an offer immediately after applying with no interview or background check. Alternatively, you may have an interview, but the client will be pushy and encourage you to accept the job straight away.
This forces you to sign a contract before you’ve had time to think or investigate the offer. Plus, the fact that someone is willing to work with you just because you showed interest in the job is a huge red flag — especially if you have no prior experience and references.
6. Asking for Personal InformationIt’s equally possible that the scammer may ask for too much information. It’s especially risky to supply your bank details — the scammer may say that this is to pay you directly, but it will actually be to turn you into a money mule.
Scammers may also ask for your social security number. In fact, this could be one of the only things they request to start a job, claiming it’s necessary to finish the paperwork and get started. Sharing your social security number puts you at the risk of identity theft. You could be in for years of trouble, as scammers can use your social security number to collect benefits, take out credit cards in your name, and even receive your tax refund.
7. Offer for a Different JobIt’s possible you never even applied for a position as a virtual assistant, but you receive an offer all the same. This sometimes happens if you post your details on a job site or even apply to a different job. In the case of the second, the scammer will claim the job you wanted has been filled, but the company now has an opening for a virtual assistant. If you show any interest, a scam will likely follow.
You may even have fallen victim to a fake job board. Scammers set these up specifically to gather contact information of people looking for jobs to send them scams. The dangerous thing about these job boards is that they look professional. One warning sign is asking for your social security number — with the pretense of screening you — before you can apply to any job or create an account.
8. No Job DetailsAny virtual assistant job post should explain what you’ll be doing. A sure sign of a scam is a listing that just expounds the benefits of the job (like flexibility and great pay) but has barely any or no job details. Without this information, it’s impossible to know who the job is even targeted to — and that’s because the scammer is targeting anyone and everyone.
9. Shady Employer Details The job listing should feature the name of the company as well as the name of the individual running the search. If you have any suspicions, a quick online search will show you if the person does actually work for the company. You can also tell by looking at the email address. Almost all professionals have an email in the format email@example.com. Anything with a generic domain like gmail.com is a sign you’re not dealing with a professional.
You should also check the phone number and website the client provides you. A person pretending to work at a real company may list a slightly different phone number or website.
10. Promising Future PaymentIt’s true that startups may want to benefit from the services of a virtual assistant but have limited funds. They may ask to pay you at a later date after they’ve generated some income. The problem with this is there’s no guarantee that day will ever come.
It is possible that you’ve encountered a small business owner who genuinely does want to pay you later (although this doesn’t make it right). However, it’s more likely to be a scam. These virtual assistant scams prey on one VA after another to continuously gain free work.
11. Asking for a Free TrialDepending on the type of work you’re offering, a client may need to test your skills before offering you a job. However, this should take 10 to 15 minutes at the most — anything more than this is free work. It’s normal to offer a trial contract at the start, but a serious client will always pay you for this time.
12. Poor Spelling and GrammarIf you find a job from a company based abroad, a minor spelling or grammar mistake could just be a sign that the client is not a native English speaker. However, you would not expect a reputable company to post a job listing littered with mistakes.
If the company is based in the U.S. or another English-speaking company, the job is almost certainly a scam.
13. The Sense Something Isn’t RightGo with your gut. If anything feels wrong, move on. This could include a client who is oversharing, asking odd questions or has strange mannerisms. In any case, it’s not worth the risk of pursuing the job when there are so many legitimate opportunities out there.
If a job ever seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Protect yourself by searching for jobs just on outsourcing platforms and through reputable agencies. Always keep scams in mind to assess any job you come across for red flags, as some scammers even make it on to freelance platforms. If anything feels wrong, investigate further. On social media and forums, you may find VAs who have had encounters with the same scam artists or ran across a similar scam and can provide you with further advice about what to avoid.