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Ah, college. You’re starting to embrace your independence, you’re away from your parents, and you’re getting a taste of everything the world has to offer. While this sounds amazing to you, it also sounds great to people who want to scam you. College students can be susceptible to scammers, who try to use your newfound independence to take advantage of you, especially during your job search. You might think you can spot an internship scam or manipulative job posting from a mile away…but can you really?

Scams can be hard to spot.

Spotting a scam can be harder than you think.

Misleading Practices

Have you ever searched for a certain type of job on a site, then it pulled up a position that wasn’t really related? Look out for companies that use misleading practices to get you to view their job posting. For example, when I was looking for communications/marketing internships in college, I kept getting sales positions as search results. Occasionally, it would be an innocent company who didn’t understand the difference between marketing and sales (they’re sometimes used interchangeably, which is incorrect). But most of the time, it would be a company I had never heard of before, asking if I wanted flexible hours, and amazing pay. Of course that sounds tempting! But that’s their goal. They want to lure you in.

Multi-Level Marketing

The keywords I learned to avoid are “multi-level marketing” or “network marketing” companies (MLMs). These are basically pyramid schemes. MLMs are structured with the idea that you work without a salary selling a product directly to people. You can make money two different ways – by selling the product to people, or from commission by recruiting new people into the MLM.

The people who are selling product for these companies must buy it themselves, and often end up paying insane amounts of money for it. If you look up how much people earn in MLMs, the majority of the time they’re not making any kind of significant money. In fact, they often lose money.

You can avoid MLMs with a few strategies. First, no legitimate internship or job should require you to pay them. Unpaid internships are fine, you’ll still have to pay for things like gas for your car. But if an organization is expecting you to pay to work, it’s a scam. Also, avoid unsolicited offers. If someone is contacting you about an opportunity you didn’t ask about, and you don’t know them, don’t reply, no matter how desperate you are for experience! These positions will often appeal to you, saying you can “be your own boss (false),” “start your own small business (also false),” or “work from your phone/home (technically true, but at what cost?).”

Is the internship legit, or a scam?

Is that internship/job a selling or recruiting opportunity? Or is it a pyramid scheme?

Other Things to Avoid

Trust your gut. If something feels wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Avoid internships that are at a personal address, as you’re putting yourself at risk. You should also be wary of employers who don’t give a lot of information on the position, or who don’t follow the normal resume/interview/job offer hiring process. It’s completely acceptable for you to be cautious.

Run if it feels like a scam.

If you feel like something is shady, run!

When you’re applying to an organization for an internship or a job, always Google the company first. You should be doing this with every organization anyway, because you need a cover letter that’s tailored to their brand. But searching for the employer is also crucial, because that’s how you gauge their reputation. Try to find reviews of the organization online, especially from employees. If a company is scamming people, the reviews will either sound so positive they’re borderline fake, or incredibly negative. Do your research!

Don’t be afraid to consult your school’s office of career services or a professor if something feels off, or if you feel like you’re being taken advantage of. Not only will you save yourself from making a mistake, but you might prevent others from doing the same.

Also, don’t forget that Indiana INTERNnet vets each organization before they’re allowed to post internships on our site. This way you know the internships we list are legitimate!

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