Too good to be true? Navigating shady job ads and more



Image Credits: Sinyee


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This is a multi-author article by Timothy Loh and Tan Wei Mei.

So there you are, staring at your LinkedIn, TalentConnect, and other sites and portals through which you can find a job or an internship. You might want some money, you might want some valuable work experience, and you might even be looking for a place where you can return next summer to or convert to a full-time job.

Amazingly, there seems to be a lucrative job offering coming right up! It advertises amazing benefits like astonishingly high pay, flexible hours, and the privilege of working from home — and they’re more than happy to recruit you! Surely, this can’t be too good to be true?

Yes.  Yes, it can. 

Every legitimate job will have very real benefits, but this often comes with very real costs as well. And while most jobs are expected to share their benefits whilst downplaying their shortcomings, there are some jobs which are downright dishonest and predatory in their attempts to recruit you. Here are some jobs you should be careful of jumping into without careful consideration.

  1. Fast Cash Jobs – Not

Some jobs, such as financial advisory and private tuition, may pay very well, and seem to present the opportunity for fast cash. These are legitimate and helpful jobs, but more often than not, the best service is done to clients and students when one is able to consistently follow up throughout a period of time. For financial advisors and other direct salespeople, it’s often a matter of creating a solid client base which is consistently served and with whom rapport is struck—and referrals passed on. This often takes time and energy, especially when one’s salary is almost entirely commissions-based. To do the best service, one must be well-versed, fair, and consistent over time whilst also having good sales skills. This in turn requires these salespeople and advisors to be willing to commit over time, whether the high potential payouts materialise immediately or not. Giving private tuition requires a different sort of commitment: actively following up and teaching a student throughout an entire exam cycle. This is a huge time commitment, and it can be a struggle to keep this up when the summer is over and the semester begins again—especially when our own exams come up. 

What to do:

If you want to consider these jobs, it is of utmost importance that you consider if you can commit to do the best service to your clients. In the case of tuition, this means hands-on tutelage, year-in and year-out. For financial advisory, it means a long-term commitment to your clients, not just a single sale after which you forget them entirely. If you do wish to explore these, try shadowing or assisting another part-time tutor and agreeing for trial sessions, or internships at reputed financial advisory or sales and marketing firms. Ask trusted friends who have done this work as to whether these jobs are suitable for your goals and needs. These internships may not pay much, but they do serve the purpose of sharing the costs and benefits that await. Do keep in mind, however, that even such internships may have a set commitment.

2. Predatory Recruitment and Too Good to be True

Some jobs, however, may have recruitment methods which prey on their applicants. The promises they offer are lofty, ranging from the chance to work-from-home, to ridiculously high offers of pay of $1000/$2000 a month. And once you hear about the ability to get passive income from recruiting more people, who will then recruit others (known as a “downline”)… you know that you’re in a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme.

MLM companies are ones that rely solely on direct-selling, where the distributor directly advertises and sells the product to the customer without a middleman, such as brick-and-mortar stores. Over the past few years, various MLM companies have gained notoriety, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, new members are required to pay money to the company when they first join, usually to purchase inventory from the company or as an upfront charge. Secondly, the main income source of the MLM company is from the fees paid by the new recruits, and not the selling of products. Both of these practices are illegal in Singapore. A detailed explanation of the difference between legal and illegal MLMs can be found on the MInistry of Trade and Industry’s website

Now, sales jobs are legitimate jobs. A sales agency which allows you to recruit others into your team and get additional cash on top of commissions that subordinates make, is still legitimate. But when the major emphasis is on recruitment rather than the actual job, that’s a huge red flag. If the point of the job is to sell an item to someone who’s supposed to sell it to someone else, who’ll in turn sell it to a fourth person, and you get cash from each consecutive sale of the same product, that’s a job well worth avoiding. These jobs, many of which masquerade as legitimate sales jobs, overpromise on flexible hours, the ability to work from home, and potential high returns. These completely neglect the difficulty of sales, the potential lack of revenue from failing to sell, and whether the product is even legitimate to sell in the first place. 

As a general rule of thumb, you should think twice before joining any company that requires you to pay to work for them. Additionally, contracts should not be signed right away. Take a few days to read through it, research the company and its working environment, and carefully think through the decision. 

If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Any job that promises an income that is disportionately high compared to the commitment should be met with scepticism. To anyone who is thinking of joining such a company, it may be wise to reconsider. With great pay, there must also come great responsibility. If you have joined, though, it’s alright to leave even if you’ve sunk money inside. Consider any money lost as money that goes to the school of life.

Legal MLMs and overexaggerated rewards  

As mentioned earlier, not all MLMs are illegal in Singapore. The company the second writer ran into was one such MLM that was under the MLM exclusion order. The company had a legitimate business model and were careful to abide by laws and ethical practices. While not outright exploitative, the recruitment process was nonetheless misleading. During the interview and the subsequent training, the recruiter repeatedly emphasised on the rewards, presenting a rose-tinted picture of the job. Even more worryingly, most of the recruits were polytechnic and university students who had little to no exposure to the working world,and were hence more likely to buy into the company’s spiel. 

  • Vague job listings  

As mentioned earlier, any job that promises both good pay and flexible working hours should be taken with a grain of salt. The company’s listings offered both: a monthly salary of $1200-$1500 with a minimum of three working days per week. The listing also appealed to students, NSFs and fresh graduates with no prior working experience, which seemed like an excellent first job for those struggling to fill their resumes.  One immediate  red flag was that the company name was not mentioned in any of these similar-looking listings, which made it impossible for applicants to look up the company before applying. 

Here are some of the actual job listings from the company: 

  • Over-selling the job

Her first interview with the company was, oddly,  immediately followed by a training session. The “training” was actually a sales pitch for the company, where the recruiter introduced her, at length, to the company’s products, as well as the lucrative income and career opportunities within the company. The actual scope of the job was not mentioned. She was essentially hired on the spot. Instead of selling herself to the employer, the employer was selling the company to her. 

  • Income through recruitment 

The company is different from other infamous MLMs where members’ primary source of income came from recruitment. However, there is nonetheless a strong incentive to recruit as the member will get a percentage of their downline’s profits. Now, there is nothing wrong with encouraging your friend to join the same company as you. However, combining one’s trust in a friend with the company’s over-selling could lead to potential recruits being lured into a job for the benefits only to be disappointed later.

  • Anecdotes instead of data 

Numerous anecdotes of their member’s success were shared. However, no hard evidence like earnings reports were mentioned, nor could such evidence be found online. Additionally, the company pushed the narrative that such successes could be attained by anyone who was willing to work hard despite numerous rejections. While that may be true for the top performers of the company, the same cannot be said for the average member. The job has no base salary, so earnings are solely dependent on commissions and one’s aptitude in sales. For those new to  sales, it can take a week or even months to build up the necessary skills, which may result in little to no pay during the holidays – a far cry from the lucrative earnings promised in the company’s listing. 

  • Job experience may not be 100% transferable 

The development of soft skills and relevant job experience were the other selling points highlighted by the company. At first glance, that seemed reasonable – sales provides ample opportunity to develop communication skills, while having a team of people you recruited would demand leadership. However, direct selling to people within your social circle is very different from sales in a corporate setting, where the inherent trust from personal relationships can no longer be leveraged. The leadership skills required to manage a team of colleagues in the workplace cannot be gained from having a downline of friends and acquaintances. The transferability of the skills are often overexaggerated by recruiters targeting students who have yet to enter the workforce.  

At the end of the day, there are people who thrive in sales jobs, be it in MLMs, insurance or other industries. However, sales, like any other skill, requires you to invest significant time and effort (perhaps way beyond the holiday period) before you can reap the rewards. Any position that promises high pay and flexibility with no experience required should be taken with a grain (or the entire shaker) of salt.

3. Job Recruitment Scams 

While scams related to banks were recently at the centre of public attention, job recruitment scams seem to be less well known. While they seem easy enough to spot, scammers have successfully impersonated reputable companies by using a business account with the company’s logo on them. So, knowing what these scams look like is the first step in protecting yourself. 

Some early red flags are “company” email addresses that do not use the company domain and  texts riddled with typos or sent from foreign numbers. The job offer is usually purely work-from-home. Marketing-related job offers are common, and require victims to perform simple tasks such as by repeatedly clicking a button to “boost sales,” adding items to cart on ecommerce websites, and mass-liking social media posts. 

To perform the tasks, victims need to download an app or create an account on a website. This usually lacks two-step verification, which is always a red flag as many company accounts mandate it for security purposes. Other scammers may oh-so-generously let the newcomer use their account and the money in it for the first few days, which often leads to many letting their guard down as they do not need to invest out of their own pocket—yet. 

Most worryingly, even sceptics may believe in the legitimacy of the company when they are compensated for their work in the first few days. After all, what kind of scam will give money to its victims? However, once the trust is established, victims will be asked to pay out of their own pocket to complete tasks or top up the business account, with the promise that they will get reimbursed in full when the job is completed. 

Scammers may also engineer a small crisis, like the account balance dropping to the negatives or commissions falling through, that can only be averted if the victim transfers money to the business account immediately. It had unfortunately been effective in stirring victims into a panic and spurring them to comply with the scammers’ demands. The victim may also be denied further compensation or be unable to withdraw any money they have already put into the account due to “banking errors”. This is usually when most victims realise that they have been scammed, but by then the money is already lost. 

As recruitment scams have gotten better at masquerading as reputable companies, it can be difficult to spot one unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. When in doubt, contact the company directly through their official channels to verify whether the job offer and recruiter is legitimate. Of course, the usual guidelines for online interactions and job hunting still apply: Don’t give out bank details or personal information to strangers, don’t download unknown applications, be wary of “too good to be true” offers, research companies to ensure that they are trustworthy, and so on. 

With some vigilance and an awareness of what red flags to look out for, hopefully you’ll be able to stay safe when you’re looking for some side income.