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Unexpected dangers of job seeking

Posted By Natalie Singer, Thursday, 06 June 2013
Updated: Thursday, 06 June 2013

This article first appeared in The Workplace in September 2011

It is shocking to hear the awful tales of unsuspecting work seekers who have fallen prey to con artists, scammers and dangerous criminals posing as employment agents. As an industry fighting for recognition as a profession, it is disheartening to see the havoc that can be caused by unscrupulous individuals who simply see an opportunity to take advantage of desperate people.

In an attempt to provide guidance to those currently seeking employment, APSO (the Federation of African Professional Staffing Organisations) has provided a few tips that should assist you in successfully securing a job whilst avoiding falling into the trap laid by calculated criminals.

Virtual smoke and mirrors

We commonly engage with one another today in the virtual world, whether by email, SMS, instant messaging or social media. Access to technology and the ease in which professional-looking websites and virtual businesses can be created allows an individual who wishes to appear in a certain way, as an employment agent for example, to do so quickly, cheaply and effectively.

More frightening is the speed at which these virtual businesses can be altered or disappear entirely, leaving no trace behind. APSO has recently received reports about a con artist who appears to target free sites like Best and and who regularly sets up (and closes down) "employment agencies” using free email addresses and 086 fax numbers.

Their modus operandi is to get work seekers to respond to an attractive job advert, often communicating seemingly professionally via email and then requesting that the candidate sends their CV and certified copies of all personal documentation including ID, driver’s license, Matric certificates etc.

Once the information has been sent the work seeker never hears from the "agent” again. In some cases the work seeker has subsequently discovered that their personal information has been used fraudulently to secure loans and contracts, for example, and this is tantamount to identity theft.

Tips for dealing with "virtual” businesses:

  • Be wary of dealing with any business that operates using a free email service address like @hotmail, @gmail, @yahoo. If the website address appears to be unusual do an Internet search to find out whether it is a free service or not – you’d be surprised at the vast number, and unusual names, of the free services available in cyber space.
  • Legitimate businesses will most often have personalised email addresses linked to their company website or will make use of recognised service providers like Telkom etc.Look for a contact telephone number ideally a landline and attempt to verify the business by calling them. Don’t simply engage via email or fax. If there isn’t a number then I’d recommend not continuing with them.
  • Free job sites usually don’t verify to see that the adverts that have been loaded or the individuals/companies utilizing their services are legitimate. Free and unlimited access to advertising is a perfect platform for con artists to attract victims. There is no paper trail and so they can appear and disappear quickly, drastically reducing their chances of being caught. 

The issue of fees

More and more we get reports about "employment agents” charging work seekers for their services. APSO would like to point out to candidates that the law is very clear about what can, and can’t be charged. Currently in South Africa a registered employment agent could charge a candidate a registration fee of no more than R1.00 and a placement fee of up to 7.5% of their first month’s salary in the event that the agency secures the candidate employment. However, this is something that is currently being reviewed in line with the Employment Services Bill expected to be passed in the near future. Going forward, it will be illegal for employment agencies to charge any fees whatsoever to work seekers in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention 181 on Private Employment Agencies.

APSO members are forbidden from charging any fees to work seekers, a condition of membership that has been included in the APSO Code of Ethical & Professional Practice since the early 1990s. This is one of the many reasons that we recommend that work seekers actively choose to work with an APSO member.

Professional staffing companies make their money by charging fees to their clients (companies seeking staff) for their recruitment services.Individuals seeking to secure employment are strongly advised not to engage with companies who charge fees, whether for registration, application, administration or placement.

In the event that you come across a company asking for money, especially as a pre-requisite for applying for the role, stop! Further, we recommend that you report this company to the Department of Labour who can investigate further and close down any illegal operators.

Verifying if they’re legitimate

Unfortunately there is little regulation for the South African staffing industry and so it can be difficult for individuals to ascertain whether the company they wish to engage with is legitimate or not. Currently, all staffing companies are required to register with the Department of Labour as a Private Employment Agency.

When you’re dealing with an "employment agency” for the first time, ask them to provide you with their PEA certificate issued by the Department of Labour. If they don’t have one or are reluctant to provide you with this information, be wary. Rather walk away and find another agency to assist you.

All APSO registered agencies are required to meet compliance criteria before they are admitted as members of the organisation to ensure that they are legally and operationally compliant. Members are also held accountable to the APSO Code of Ethical & Professional Practice that sets the minimum standards for the industry, including a section on candidate service. If you choose to work with an APSO member and experience any problems, you have free recourse via the APSO ethics and compliance mechanisms.

To find an APSO member, simply visit and search our member directory.

Be cautious when arranging to meet

It is common to attend an interview with an employment agent before being considered for the vacancy. Although telephonic interviews are becoming more commonplace, it is likely that you will be asked to meet the employment agent in person. Despite dealing with a business, you are essentially meeting a stranger and so you should always proceed with caution.

Tips for safe meetings:

  • Some employment agents may wish to meet you at a coffee shop, rather than in their office, especially if they are recruiting in a geographical area away from their usual place of business. Arrange to meet them in a busy venue, like a shopping centre, so that you can be confident that there will be other people around and you can access help if necessary.
  • After hours interviews can be convenient, particularly if you’re currently working and would find it difficult to get away from the office, but remember to conduct these meetings in a safe environment (public area) and ideally take someone with you, especially if you’re a woman on your own.
  • NEVER accept a lift from a stranger! Always arrange to get to and from the meeting or interview under your own steam.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to get back. You may even want to get them to call you at an appointed time so that, if necessary, you have an excuse to cut the meeting short and leave. 

Finding a job is stressful but your stress should never include worries about the security of your personal information, the likelihood of being conned or placed in physical danger. Heeding the tips provided above will assist you in making informed choices about who to deal with during this process and hopefully result in you securing a great job. Remember too that you should always listen to your "gut”. If something doesn’t feel right or seems too good to be true, it probably is. Rather walk away disappointed that you didn’t get a shot at the job than find yourself a victim.

For more information about APSO visit

Tags:  candidate rights  dangers  Department of Labour  employers  hints  identity fraud  job search  recruiters  scams  tips  virtual recruiters 

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