How to Land a Fake Job, Have Your Identity Stolen & Still Not Walk Into Traffic

Paul Fuhr
29 min readMar 13, 2024


I fell for an elaborate job scam, but who’s really to blame: them or me?

Ever get an out-of-the-blue coffee invite from That One Friend Who’s Been Out of Touch For Just a Little Too Long™? In my experience, there’s usually a needed favor, a church pamphlet, or an invitation to sell doTERRA at the end of that rainbow, man.

In other words: an agenda.

Now, I don’t know about you, but very few things bother me more than that sour, split-second pivot between This coffee catch-up isn’t so bad and Why am I suddenly in a basement? Sadly, this feeling used to be an every-so-often kind of thing — but millions of jobless Americans will tell you that lies, scams and schemes are an every-second, comes-with-the-territory aggravation that you simply learn to live with. They’re more common than a new Ryan Reynolds business venture. The problem, though, is that no matter how obvious or ridiculous a scam might seem from the outside, they actually-kinda-sometimes-really-do work.

How do I know? Why, thanks for asking.

<Smash cut to last October>

Right around Halloween, I fell victim to an impressively long, elaborate, identity-stealing job scam — one that wrought some serious, real-world damage on both my bank account and my mental well-being. It’s also when I realized that I could no longer be trusted to save myself from myself.

Like so many others, I’d missed the news that online thieves have not only leveled up their game, but they’ve put The Unemployed directly in their crosshairs. Armed with AI-driven interactive voice emulators, domain name spoofing, Python-powered web crawlers, the ability to post a fake job while posing as a real company, and some basic 3rd-grade distraction skills, scammers are winning in ways that would’ve seemed like science fiction just a few years ago.

In less than two weeks, I’d applied to, interviewed for, and succeeded in landing a job that didn’t actually exist.

In less than two seconds, I gave scammers everything they needed to secure loans, open utilities, get credit cards, score a Florida’s driver’s license, and gain access to my bank account.

Since then, I’ve become less interested in how this happened to me than why this is happening to Americans at an alarming rate. In the past few years, fake jobs have quickly emerged as the market’s most clear and present danger. But what’s the upshot of targeting a person who’s not even drawing a regular paycheck? Well, inside that question is a compelling yet disturbing truth about our job market, the empty economics of “career theater,” and the critical role that unemployed Americans play inside the broken clockwork of it all.

Killing a person when they’re already dead

9.9 times out of 10, I could easily avoid life’s professional and personal pitfalls, like weird coffee invites from almost-disconnected friends with secret agendas. I could see the signs and scaffolding right away, too. Call it instinct, call it being jaded, call it a byproduct of the infinite high school reunion that is/was Facebook — all I know is that I used to trust me to rescue me from a bad situation.

Before I answer your “Just How Gullible Are You?”questions, let’s take a second to acknowledge the impenetrable job jungle that applicants must machete through. It’s not that there aren’t available jobs; it’s that it’s increasingly impossible to find them. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report, there are 6.3 million unemployed Americans — a paradox when you consider the Bureau’s estimated 8.8 million available jobs out there in the wild.

Let’s pretend this 2.5 million difference is 100% legit. (It’s not.) What could possibly be responsible for such a massive gap?

Oh, sorry. That was a question. I was actually asking you.

For such a data-driven report, there’s virtually no data-driven answer to support the Bureau’s 2.5 million estimate. That said, I don’t blame them for the guesswork because when it comes to the American job market, the truth is that it’s downright impossible to know… well, the truth. No matter if there are 6.3 million jobless Americans or 6, they face a labor market that’s about as straightforward and navigable as a county-fair house of mirrors.

The most unforgivable part, though? All the entities and organizations dedicated to keeping it this way.

I’ve written about this issue before: how job sites like Indeed, LinkedIn and the inexplicably still-alive depend on it. These aren’t services, by the way. No, these are companies that need unemployed people to endlessly ricochet around the job-hunt pinball maze. In fact, they’ve collectively built a multi-billion dollar industry around how to keep the average candidate in an indefinite doom loop.

If you don’t believe me, then I assume you know that LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, right? (And riddled with more questionable cookies/privacy concerns than the latest version of Office 365.) Did you also know that is worth around $26.9 billion? That’s right: Serious-Face Facebook is worth the exact same amount that Google paid to become the default search engine on your mobile device.

So, think about it: if these seemingly altruistic firms were smartly and seamlessly connecting people with job opportunities, it wouldn’t be much of a business model. But this gets slightly away from my larger point. I’m focused not on the known duplicity of bullshit websites so much as the unprecedented rise of thieves and scammers in the job market.

“I know you’ve got a real job listing hiding in here somewhere, Indeed.”

Looking for a job requires you to swallow your pride and admit that you’re at the mercy of the universe. When you go from having a good-paying job to discovering you’re overqualified to work as a bagger at Kroger, you’re on a pretty humbling trajectory. Unemployment means being vulnerable, but it also means that you’re wounded while you’re trying to tread water.

So, in my opinion? It’s open season on all of these fuc — sorry. It’s open season of all of these places and people.

Targeting out-of-work individuals is many shades of shameful and sleazy, but if you’re a sociopath who knows what they’re doing? You aren’t simply succeeding — you’re succeeding and disrupting the forward progress of an entire country. I’m not exaggerating. The rise of open positions that don’t exist (endearingly nicknamed “ghost jobs”) is a troubling trend that is sharply on the rise.

More shocking, perhaps, is the 2023 Clarify Capital survey of 1,000 hiring managers, which revealed that scammers and thieves and your garden-variety n’er-do-wells aren’t entirely to blame when it comes to counterfeit careers. Brace yourself for the plot twist, you guys: hiring managers are also wasting applicants’ time and adding to the overall noise. That’s right! 50% of the managers surveyed by Clarify Capital admitted to pumping ads for non-existent jobs out into the universe. Maybe you or I applied to one of them.

When asked “why?”, they doubled down on their decision, justifying it for a variety of self-serving reasons. According to the survey, some maintained that it gave employees the impression that their company was healthy and expanding; others contended that fake jobs helped keep “a warm talent pool at the ready” and motivated their people to perform.

And they’re still doing it.

If nothing else, the survey’s results immediately call the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates into question, as well as show just how polluted the job marketplace has become and why it continues to sicken the country. The American job market isn’t a bulletin board thumbtacked with opportunities — it’s an overblown, runaway-budget BBC period drama that’s somehow even more dispiriting and depressing. Sure, it resembles the job-search experience on the surface, but it couldn’t be further from reality than Gary Busey on a good day.

It’s become all about performances, scripted responses, and recited lines — a stage production with an audience of one: you.

Welcome to the age of career theater.

We aren’t applying to jobs (even when they’re real)

Once you’ve applied to 1000+ job postings (it doesn’t take you long to notch that achievement), you get used to depression. You really just get numb to it after a while. One of my very best friends is an orthopedic surgeon and it simply baffles me that he can deal with the blood and the whole Inside-People part. When I ask how he manages, he’ll shrug and say that it’s just something you get used to. Maybe that’s just how we’re all built as humans: we all have the ability to acclimate to undesirable situations hardwired into us, simply to get by in life.

A portrait of human resiliency

A job application is a transaction: job becomes available → job gets filled → done. Near the end of my search, however, I started to realize that I wasn’t applying for open positions so much as firing personal details and preferences off into an assumed void: name, email address, education, experience, and (for some reason) sexual orientation — plus the 1–2–3–4 punch of those self-identification questions: Veteran? Disabled? Gender? Race?

How many times, I wondered, does an applicant submit these details, full well knowing that they’ll never hear back from Generic Company #5353? We just go through the motions of doing it because it’s what we’re supposed to do. What’s really disconcerting, however, is the realization that applying for a job in 2024 is a transaction where you’re the item being sold.

We all know there’s isn’t some eager HR specialist waiting to review our application the second it slides into their office via pneumatic tube. That’s a robot’s job. Applications are reviewed (i.e. dissected for keywords) by AI-forward recruitment firms like Greenhouse, SmartRecruiters, Workable Lever, Zoho Recruit, and whatever 14 new ones that just popped up in the time it took me to write this sentence. (Sorry to give them press, but don’t their names sound like they’re from a Michael Crichton novel?)

An application isn’t a document that informs a company about our skills and experience — it’s human information used to calibrate and train some company’s HR algorithm. And luckily for them: there’s a free, never-ending pipeline of unsolicited data coming their way. I believe this is the primary reason we don’t hear back from 90% of these jobs nowadays, too. When a real job listing exists, it doesn’t exist in the ways we want and need that job listing to exist. In turn, it’s like applicants are willingly entering the world’s shittiest sweepstakes, where there’s no prize and everyone’s a loser.

And this brings me to your “Just How Gullible Are You?” question.

Look, I’ll be honest: I’m the one who applied to, interviewed for, and happily accepted a fake job. (Specifics in a second.) Was I always this oblivious? Did I get through life through dumb luck? What happened to that bullshit barometer I’d trusted for so long? Do I even understand how to apply for a job and/or create a resume? (Many, many people, by the way, have publicly argued that I don’t and that my resume is terrible.)

If I have any defense, it’s this: an unemployed brain is as reliable as a compass in the Bermuda Triangle. Not having a job triggers a constant vibration that shakes everything loose. You’re never quite yourself during that time: constantly distracted, slightly off, prone to suggestion. But maybe that’s because we’re so starved for opportunity and so anxious for life’s pendulum to swing back in our direction that we’ll do almost anything upon any hint of hope.

For me, reality-blindness means ignoring red flags, overlooking details and sending hasty replies. For a scammer, that desperation is the oxygen that their deception needs.

Hell, maybe corporations and job sites created this whole mess together — a collusion so brazen and so impossible that we wouldn’t dare entertain the idea. And while it’s not the craziest notion, it’s a notion that will drive you crazy when you see just how possible it’s becoming.

I recommend the job-scammer sampler platter

If you’ve been in the job-search trenches for more than a week, your junk mailbox is no doubt teeming with invitations to screw up your life six ways to Sunday. Here are a few of the job scams that I’ve personally experienced or witnessed over the past couple of years. (Some as recently as this week.)

Think of this as a restaurant sampler platter, or maybe Side A of a long-lost Time-Life Music greatest-hits collection of old favorites. After all, not since Freedom Rock has there been such a collection of played-out popular nonsense in one place.

Interviewing for a job you never applied to

Let’s start with a classic — and it’s a classic because it’s still very much alive and well. (Don’t mess with perfection, I guess.)

The scam goes like this: You’ll get a call or an email from a company about a recent application. They want to interview you! You say “About goddamn time!” and there’s now an interview on the calendar. You’ll soon discover, however, that (1) you never applied for this job in the first place, and (2) the “company” is not at all what they claim.

Back in 2012, I’d been shotgunning so many applications out there that I just went along with it. Why else would a company call me to set up an interview? This is exactly what a scammer counts on: confusion, haste, being overwhelmed. They’re never going to come out and say they nabbed your name and contact info from a “candidates currently seeking work” report that they bought from a job site.

“Are you readin’ about job scams? Well, keep readin’, man!”

It also didn’t matter that I couldn’t find the job in my pile of applications, but the “Marketing Consultant” job was precisely what I’d been applying to at the time. The interview experience revealed everything pretty fast. It was a kitchen grease fire, spreading fast. The position was actually a door-to-door, commission-based salesperson gig peddling third-party energy options.

Marketing and consulting didn’t factor into the job — not even 1%.

It gets better. My “second interview” was to be a full unpaid day of work where I had to canvas Central Ohio with another second-interviewee/total stranger in one of our vehicles (“It’s your choice whose car you take”). When the “CEO” said that he’d determine who’d advance in the interview process by evaluating our sales rates, I think my eyes went black. When you’re an unemployed new father and you’re grasping for hope, companies like that one deserve its laughably bad press as well as having an interviewee loudly come apart (which I did).

All that said, it remains one of the very few scams where you’ll ever get to meet the people behind it.

Pay your way — to be considered… for … wait, what?

This one usually begins with an email from some “recruiting agency” or prestigious-sounding organization that doesn’t really exist. Right up front, though, they’re all about the compliments and how impressed they were by your resume or profile that they found online. That’s their way inside your bubble. But it’s always hilariously vague where they found you, not to mention why you’re such a very special fit for Faux Position at Wherever The Hell.


There are so many candidates, you see. So, so, so many candidates. And they can’t possibly get through all these competing applications, they’ll tell you. But lucky for you, there’s a way to get to the front of the line for consideration. Boy howdy! You can join their organization by paying the nominal membership fee, which is how they’ll know you’re serious about being considered for this job. (I’m almost clenching my fists while typing here.)

If it’s not a membership fee, they’ll sometimes just ask for your bank account info:

Translated: We improbably noticed your resume in a sea of other resumes. We were so bowled over by it that we set it aside! We even took extra time to write you this message to say how impressed we are with your experience. But we’re too busy to set your resume aside and talk to you about your impressive experience. So, if you’d like us to keep noticing your impressive background, you’ve gotta pay us. Do it… NOW.

If the audacity wasn’t so infuriating, it’d be applause-worthy.

Shhhh…It’s Not Really a Job

This scam isn’t really a scam per se so much as an amusingly shitty tactic. I’ve lost count of how many job postings I’ve seen (and actually applied to) where I later discover that it’s an unpaid internship. I’ve had to re-trace my steps in the application process to make sure I didn’t miss that pretty important detail somewhere along the way. What I’ve learned is that these listings are masterclasses in how to lie by omission and artfully dodge the truth until the very, very end of the application process.

I’m not really sure what the endgame is for a company that’s angling for free labor (maybe getting an exhausted, qualified 46-year-old writer who finally throws up his hands in defeat and says “Fine”), but it’s yet another time-waster to be aware of in the endless career-search minefield.

You actually get the job (sort of)

A few summers ago, I scored a good-paying job for a nationally well-known company. I was elated. That excitement, however, quickly faded away as I collected red flags:

  • The interviews were all remote and never at the company’s headquarters (less than 6 miles from my house).
  • The interviews were never with management or high-level employees from the firm — only my future peers.
  • Right after the job offer, I was summoned to a celebratory meet-and-greet lunch … at a bar… in the morning … with party girls.

Turns out, I was working as a contractor for a “recruiting agency” that these future peers of mine were running — and this agency/scam was only bringing in new hires to one specific company: the one that they already worked for. In other words, they were earning finders’ fees every time they brought in a new hire. I was #3.

This arrangement had never been mentioned once.

So many questions.

Who did I actually work for? Who was my manager? The headhunters who’d been busy ordering margaritas at 11:15 a.m., or one of the managers I’d never interviewed with? To this second, I still have no clue. But what made this such a complicated scam was another fact never mentioned at any time: compensation.

They were careful to present me with the contract (excerpted above) as the very last order of business, right around the time our nacho platter arrived at that bar. I wasn’t going to be compensated for a full 2 months from this “agency,” which I can only assume was because they needed to collect two months’ worth of my paychecks first.

Anyway, spoiler alert: I don’t work there.

LinkedIn’s “Premium” Identity Crisis

For a few months, I’d been desperate enough to subscribe to LinkedIn’s Premium service, which wastes no time in selling itself like so: “Premium members are 2.6x more likely to get hired on LinkedIn with over 20 million open jobs and explore valuable resources to help with your search.” Fantastic! Dare I ask what the Hobo-Level LinkedIn does? Are they simply admitting that their regular platform is 2.6 times less effective in getting someone a job? If so, that’s pretty amazing since I’ve had a near-0% success rate with LinkedIn over the years. 2.6 times 0 still equals nothing.

From what I could tell, Premium access provided me with only three things: (1) the ability to directly contact anyone using their messaging system, (2) the ability to see all of the ex-girlfriends, stalkers, and former colleagues checking out my profile, and (3) a monthly $30 bill I can’t afford.

Here’s a true story: just a few days ago, I received this in my Serious-Face Facebook feed:

Damn, LinkedIn. That’s some cold shit. I thought we were friends. And what’s with the sudden strip-tease approach? You have jobs I might like, but you’re hiding them? And why call out “Premium” like it’s not a paid level of service but instead, some job-hunting character played by Jason Statham?

“I found you 240 jobs, mate. Don’t ask me how I did it.”

Saying that Statham tracked down 240+ jobs perfect for me, though? That’s some serious talk. Maybe the Bureau of Labor Statistics wasn’t full of shit. So, I decided to see for myself. I opted into the free trial. I expected to find a game-changing set of solutions and tools; instead, I … well, just see for yourself.

Here’s its very first suggestion:

1,500 miles away and 3 weeks old? Take my $30, LinkedIn.

Apparently, nobody at LinkedIn bothered to tell Statham that dead jobs don’t count. The first job listing was 1,500 miles away from me, not remote, and at least 3 weeks old. The next 20 listings were the same story. I cancelled my trial right after, for fear of LinkedIn’s real hope: that I’ll forget I subscribed so they can collect their 30 ducats. When they asked for feedback about why I was cancelling (offering to throw in an extra free month of Statham, by the way), I said that me cancelling in less than five minutes says all I need to say.

The One-Two Punch

Sometimes, you’ll get a company that simultaneously sends a text and an email. It’s like that colleague who emails you and then instant-messages ten seconds later to see if you got their email. They all fail to understand the basic mechanics of the process they’re scamming in the first place:

These are nothing short of postmodern art pieces. Grammar, spelling and logic be damned. Personally, I appreciated the exclamation point in the subject line, as if this random company and I were mutually worried that my application might not get approved. It was a real nail-biter.

Oh, and the accompanying text message I mentioned? It arrived three seconds after the email did:

If you try to scam someone, you deserve to have your phone number included in an Medium article

Now, they don’t list the same company but the details don’t really matter here, do they? They’re from the same sender, trust me. The email doesn’t even BCC the 100+ email addresses (including mine), while the text message says the job is going to pay me somewhere in the range of $35 to a curiously lower $28 an hour. There are so many crimes that I don’t know where to begin.

Scammers will oftentimes hit you with the exact same message at the exact same time — but from two different names:

Exhibit A, by the way, redirects you to Bamboo HR, which I’m pretty sure has nothing to do with these people. (Or do they…??)

The “Can We Chat?” Brigade

This one might be unique to me, but it’s demoralizing and disheartening. Ever since my book Bottleneck was published a few years ago, I receive two or three messages a week from strangers wanting to connect or to say what my addiction recovery memoir meant to them. I’m always happy to read them and reply, and it’s very often the most fulfilling part of my day. Lately, scammers have managed to somehow taint this well, too.

Their messages will generally start with an opening sentence like “I read your latest article and I thought…”, clumsily followed by the sales pitch.

Something like this:

These things pile up in my inboxes faster than unread copies of The New Yorker in my office. There’s no conversation to be had; there’s only the plan to sell me something. More than any of the other scams, this is the one that offends me the most. These people relentlessly try to leverage something genuine into something that benefits them. And while this particular situation probably doesn’t apply to you, it certainly speaks to the grander state of things.

In reality, scams are relatively harmless — they serve to slow you down, not destroy you from the inside out. Unfortunately, just like flu strain A(H1N1)pdm09 or Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, today’s job scams are far worse mutations of the original — ones that do nothing but continue to sicken American job seekers.

Say what you will about how I fell for a scam, but there is no denying that with all of the no-shits-given bravado, unshakable confidence, and maddening patience that went into taking me down, we are clearly all just a few scam-mutations away from a total job-application apocalypse. Hell, maybe we’re already there.

How to Defraud & Demoralize a Jobless Writer

1: Contact me about your fake job

My heart almost stops when I see it: an email that stands out from the parade of insta-rejections clogging my inbox. I don’t even have to read the subject line; I can tell just from its shape alone that this one’s potentially good news. When you see the subject line “Thanks for applying to…” dozens of times in a given week, that sentence loses its meaning.

This email, however, is clearly different.

Academy, you can fork over the 2025 Best Original Screenplay Oscar right now.

This one looks like it’s from an actual, real, live, genuine, honest-to-blog, breathing, sentient, possibly-hiring human being — and it is. It’s from a real firm (the email address looks legit) and a quick ten-second spin through their website reminds me that I’d recently applied to their posted job.

It ends with: Might you still be interested in this position? If so, please let me know so that I may schedule an interview with myself and the hiring manager. I’ll send along some date-and-time options.

I stare at this for about an attosecond and write back:

Later that morning, the HR person replies with their promised interview-time options. Surreal. This is happening. Euphoria and terror flush through my veins — bright and electric — as if I’ve just mainlined Windex.

2: Force me to prepare and focus

When you’ve been underwater for this long, a job isn’t a glimmer of hope — it’s a blindingly bright magnesium flare. Right now, the sheer promise of this interview is pulling me free from the years-long, mind-numbing, self-doubting, increasingly suicidal situation at which I’ve arrived. I’ve blamed anything and everything on my existential ellipsis, too: my father’s death, my divorce, COVID, No Time to Die. But right now, I feel alive. I have energy and humor. Purpose.

So, I spend actual time on the company’s website; I review some of their most recent press releases; I familiarize myself with their mission statement. These are things I’ve never done before with any previous employer of mine. I even hit Glassdoor for a second, but then I remember that Glassdoor is nothing more than an elephant graveyard of former-employee complaints and move on. (There’s only so much “And another thing!” I can take in one sitting.)

The interview is going to be a Zoom/Teams/Need2Shave deal with the hiring manager and one of her direct reports. Reality’s sinking in fast. Until now, my life has been an 18-wheeler with severed brake lines — just hurtling down a mountain pass at night in the rain.

After it’s on the calendar, I sit for a second and stare. And then I cry.

3: Allow me to believe in a kind universe

I carpet-bomb everyone with the interview news via text. And judging by how fast the replies come in, I realize that the news gives them as much hope about the universe as it’s giving me. The happiest parade of text messages I’ve ever seen are marching through my iPhone: Hell yeah! Congrats!” “Oh, Paul. This does my heart so good.” “Just be your awesome self in the interview.” “Best news I’ve heard all year. And it’s October so I was getting worried good news wouldn’t come.” “You deserve this.” “See? I told you things would finally turn around for you!!!”

My mom’s response is just a string of hearts and kisses, followed with things like “I’m so, so proud” and “believed in you” and “been praying for so long” strewn through it all. Her comments are so shiny and bright that they’re painful to read, like a hard angle of sunlight off a chrome fender.

I’m immediately filled with shame.

She doesn’t mean it, but her joy reveals the depths of her sadness and pity for me. Everyone’s, really. It’s only now that I really understand just how awful my unemployment has been on others in my life. It’s maybe more insidious than the dementia that took my father away. Only this time, seeing just how much the news of a simple job interview — not an offer — means to my mother, all I want to do is disappear.

But the grief passes and I suddenly feel invincible again.

4: Let’s do this

I check my email the morning of the interview; I see there’s a message waiting for me from the HR person. At first, I think it’s a cancellation — a sudden realization on their part that Paul Fuhr’s life plan doesn’t involve positive things anymore (i.e. “Upon further consideration and review, we’re sorry to rescind this interview opportunity…”).

Thankfully, no. It’s just an update:

Now, what would you say here? Seriously.

You’ve verified that this company exists.

You’ve seen that the names correspond with actual employees of the firm.

You didn’t not sleep for the last two nights for nothing, so replying with a quick “No, that’s not gonna work for me” or “How rude!” is a bold move that I can’t afford. Right now, I’ll do yardwork for a year for these people.

Long story short: the interview is now a telephone call — and I don’t care.

They call me right on time, almost to the second. My phone lights up and so does my heart. Growing up, I was taught that if you’re not early, you’re late. So they’ve already won points. After a few moments where the hiring manager and her employee introduce themselves, I find myself falling into the easy, expected rhythms of an interview. Plus, I’m getting comfort-food questions: “How would your previous managers describe you?” and “Describe a time when you worked through a challenge at work.”

This thing couldn’t be going better; I’m mentally high-fiving myself.

Dancing-sugarplum visions of medical insurance, dental coverage, and a 401K are gaining shape and definition. In no time flat, we’re at the end of the interview. It’s been a breathless 45 minutes of me explaining why I’m an excellent candidate for a high-paying communications role. It’s more money than I’ve ever earned anywhere — 2.2 times over.

I’m asked if I have any questions, so I fire off a few.

The manager’s direct report suddenly chimes in and she fields all of my questions, one by one. She’s curt and polite, but I’m guessing she’s not popular at parties. Then, the manager pipes up with some robotic talk about “next steps” and timing. We’ll have a decision in a few days, I’m told. We’re meeting with other candidates — but we want to fill this job as soon as possible. Preferably before the new year, okay? Again, by next Monday— tops.

I do my best impression of someone who’s not screaming on the inside for an immediate, goddammit-right-now decision.

“That sounds great,” I say.

I thank them, I disconnect, and I spend the next forty-five minutes or so turning the interview around in my rock-tumbler brain. Maybe the longer the interview experience stays up in there, the smoother and clearer everything will become to me.

It’s only after I receive the official job offer when the true clarity comes. But by then, it’s too late.

5: Offer me the job

And just like that, my nightmare is over. As quickly as it’d come, this too-long embarrassment/disaster is now in my rearview. The job offer has arrived. The email even has attached documents (which clearly means it’s the real deal). The whole thing is staring back at me from the very same MacBook screen that’s witnessed me windmill after one job listing after another.

The message is from their HR department again:


I’m delighted to extend a formal offer of employment for the [REDACTED] position with [REDACTED]. [REDACTED NAME] is thoroughly impressed with your skills and experience, and we firmly believe that you’ll be instrumental in propelling our team forward.

We are prepared to offer you a yearly salary package that consists of …

There’s nothing like the chemical rush of adrenaline, relief, disbelief, and pride currently screaming through every cell in my body. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to win. My brain gives me the heads-up that I’ll be crying at some point soon — and this time, it might be the sort of hurricane-strength sobbing that’s reserved for family funerals. Maybe worse. All I know is that I’m going to be letting it all out real soon, and when I do, it’ll be serious and involuntary.

This chapter’s over. The muscles in my neck relax. I read further in the email and there’s a start date. And, oh! There’s my salary right there in bold-faced numbers. And is that…? Why, yes it is: links to my employee benefit packages and other resources. I don’t click anything just yet; I’m afraid I’ll break something.

I’m not crying yet, so I call my mom. She does the crying for me.

I stumble into the other room and tell my fiancée. Now, she’s sort of crying because she’s happy — and probably also because I won’t be such a drag on the financial ticket.

I text my uncle. He’s proud of me. Never had a doubt, my uncle notes.

How I imagined Uncle Steve’s reaction

My best friend Tim gets the news. More I-knew-you-could congratulations.

Yep, this 46-year-old is going places again, goddammit.

As the dopamine wears off, I turn my attention back to the job offer. (I’ve waited a half-hour to reply. Because, you know, I don’t want to seem overeager.) The truth is that I’d already accepted this job offer 13 months ago. And so I sign the agreement and get to work on threading all of the HR hoops as quickly as possible. Standard onboarding stuff. It’s tedious, but this W-2 exercise is light-years better than being asked to provide a cover letter for some hiring manager who’s never-ever going to receive it.

That night, I sleep so hard that I don’t wake up until the following morning around 10:45 when a lightning bolt of fear cracks me right out of whatever dream I was having. The dream details are evaporating faster than my happiness. Bleary-eyed, I check my phone. I need to see that job offer email again.

I can feel something — a nagging detail that feels like that little husk of popcorn that gets stuck in your teeth.

When I re-read the email, I feel everything tilt on its axis. It’s all colorless distance. The death of hope. I’ll never feel those same emotions again; I will never experience the world the same way that I did seconds before seeing the email.

6: Spring the trap

You essentially already know the ending and/or where this is all heading, so I’ll pick up the pace a bit.

I’ve discovered it’s a scam because of a tiny detail that I’d glossed over (or willingly overlooked) in the email: two periods at the end of one of the sentences.

Minor, I know, but it was enough to gnaw at my subconscious. This then leads me to another detail: different font sizes in one of the paragraphs. And then I see it all emerge into view like a night-sky constellation when your eyes adjust to the dark. I now see it for what it is; I do the math on what I’ve done.

They had everything: my bank account numbers, my Social Security card, my driver’s license (front and back), my signature. Everything. When I log into my bank account, my already-low balance sits at zero.

I don’t feel some sort of sting; I just feel a dull distance. My relationship with the universe is forever changed. It’s a phantom limb.


Over the next few days, the bank account problem becomes nothing. After all, I’ve been hovering around $0.00 for so long that not being in the negative feels like having a $1,000 balance. No, I’ll have all kinds of new problems to deal with: some utilities in Florida get opened in my name; loans are attempted to be taken out, too. But luckily for me, I’m broke and that’s not what these bastards were expecting. This is the only comfort I have: knowing that they’re getting 1/15th of what they’d hoped for with this six-figure fishing expedition of theirs.

I now have to open a police report, I have to call the Social Security department, I have to file an FTC report.

The most unforgivable thing, though? Being forced to stand in a BMV line.

If you’ve read all of this and thought, “You know what? Scamming sounds way better than looking for a job”… well, two things: (1) If you want to go that route, be my guest. I’ve laid it all out below, and (2) Fuck you.

Recipe for disaster

Don’t tell the Colonel Sanders of scammers that I didn’t put this recipe in a safety deposit box:

- Post a fake job listing on LinkedIn. Not just any fake job listing, though. It has to mirror a listing from an actual company — with only slight differences so that the actual company doesn’t notice it.

- Make sure you post a job that targets someone near or in the six-figure range. This scam of yours is guaranteed to land some whales with savings. And the occasional middle-aged writer with no savings, too.

- Use domain spoofing to mimic a company’s domain name. Don’t have the funds to do that? Well, mask it by buying all the domain names around it. Most applicants won’t even notice if it’s a letter or two off. Oh! Still too much work? Sky’s the limit when it comes to laziness. Slap a company name onto a Gmail address and hope for the best.

The villainous Colonel Scammer, who implores you to protect this recipe with your life. (Source: My brain)

- Use the names of real employees from the real company in your emails. If you’re going to go the distance with the ruse, you’ve gotta create a fake profile on LinkedIn too, and then buy some followers for a little extra credibility. (For $30, you can buy 250 LinkedIn profile followers.)

- Pace yourself. This is about the long run, remember. You’re landing someone with a six-figure job, not someone who works a Wendy’s window.

- When your mark accepts the job, throw all the stuff an employee gets hit with (W2s, bank info requests, fake drug test appointment paperwork, etc.) as quickly as possible. Create a blur.

- The second you get their financials: run.

How did this happen? Because they went a few extra miles.

First off: the job interview. Why did they go to all that trouble? That’s the genius part: they didn’t. If you’re conducting a standard job interview, all you really need is someone to ask questions. 95% of it is on the candidate. The hiring manager on the call? She wasn’t even real. Never was. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that felt off (their dead-inside tone, maybe, or the ghost of a foreign accent?), but I was responding to pre-recorded interview questions. Anytime I asked a question, that’s when the only real person jumped in to answer.

Career theater.

In a day or two, I’ll start getting notifications that more utilities are being opened up in my name. At the same time, I’ll start to receive similar requests from other companies wanting to interview me for jobs I’ve applied for, but I’m prepared now. I know what signs to look for; I even start contacting the real people whose names have been Body-Snatched by scammers.

Today, I have a job. True story. Over fifteen months, I was hit with more scams and schemes than a Billy McFarland fever dream. In that time, I applied to thousands (literally thousands) of jobs. I even abandoned one of my longtime email addresses because I couldn’t tell the difference between my inbox and a junk mail folder anymore. (I was secretly thrilled to kill off my Hotmail address.)

But before all of that, who’s really to blame for the scam and its fallout?

Me? Sure.

Them? Absolutely.

Assigning blame minimizes the actual problem. We’re all complicit in allowing the job market to become so unacceptably and irrevocably broken — especially with no replacement or solution in sight. When it comes down to it, we’re all scammers by participating in a charade that we pretend has our best interests in mind and constantly works in our favor.

Scams don’t prey upon weak people who get lost in the funhouse; scams expose weaknesses and flaws in a system that we’re reticent to change. However, the longer we don’t call out the Indeed.coms of the world for dangerously disguising themselves as public services, or the fewer explanations that we demand about why we continue to add complexity to our lives (I spend more time proving to Google that I’m the owner of my Gmail account than I do actually using Gmail), the more we’re guaranteed to lose.

Rather than closing the growing gap between available jobs and the people looking for them, America is instead preoccupied with teaching machines how to fix inherently human problems. We’re throwing AI tools into the nearest kitchen mixer and expecting them to learn how to make pizza dough while they’re in there.

There’s a big difference between automating a routine process and robbing a process of its humanity, though. That’s why applying for a job means that we’re doing nothing more than going through the motions. We’ve reached the historical re-enactment period of the Great American Job Search in many ways. But this doesn’t mean change is out of reach. We’re more than capable of collapsing not only the distance between a job and a jobless American, but correcting the misconceptions and falsehoods that currently guide the market.

Until that happens, however, the unemployed seem doomed to wander an ever-worsening wasteland without any purpose, direction or humanity. And if we’re not careful, America itself will end up with as little personal identity as I had after accepting that job offer.

After all, the most effective scams in life are the scams that we pull on ourselves — all of the lies we pretend to believe, all of the tricks we use to distract us from one undeniable fact: the future is here and it’s not necessarily taking us along with it.