To many people the UN system is a very attractive employer and it may seem difficult to get a job in the system. At the same time the UN system can be confusing with all the different organizations and contract types. All these factors combined seem to be a fertile breeding ground for scammers who promise you a prestigious job in exchange for a ‘training fee’, a ‘visa processing fee’ or any other fee that they can think of.
The whole issue is not new and warnings are published on the main UN site, but the nuisance seems to come in waves and lately I have heard more of it. Therefor I wanted to give my personal opinion about the issue and briefly summarize what one should and should not do in order not to fall into the hands of scammers.
Let’s clarify a few basic things to start with: All UN vacancies have to be advertised on an official UN website, so be very careful if you find a vacancy somewhere else. This is the reason the UN Job List deliberately links to official UN websites only. What you can’t find on a UN organisation’s website or ReliefWeb, treat with extreme caution. Don’t trust websites that list vacancies on their own website only and which don’t tell you the official website as source of it.
Do not send money
The UN does not charge any fees and is not ever asking you for money upfront. The UN will never ask you to provide money to organize a visa application, application processing fee, training or anything similar to that. The whole application and recruitment process is entirely for free. So don’t ever pay anything for visa processing.
Do not give out your bank information
The UN does not seek any information about your bank accounts. The only time you will need to provide banking information is way after the interviewing process. In many cases first payments are only paid upon arrival to the duty station, so you will most likely be able to work in your job for a few days before you even have to provide this information.
Make sure the vacancy is genuine
To find out if a vacancy is fake or not, try to follow these steps:
1) Is the vacancy from an official source?
This is easy when you find the vacancy on an official website or ReliefWeb. Also the vacancies on the UN Job List are safe (remember to check they link to official websites only). Watch out for fake UN organisations. If in doubt check if the organization is part of the UN system chart.
My take: If the vacancy is coming from an official UN website or ReliefWeb it is genuine.
2) Is the organization a known UN organization?
If you find the vacancy somewhere else (e.g. your schools notice board), this part can be more tricky.
a) For starters, check if the organization/office/initiative that claims to be issuing the vacancy at hand exists at all. The UN system is quite big and it features a myriad of different organizations, funds, programmes and projects. So a first start is to check if the organization that claims to be the source of the vacancy exists in the UN organizational chart. Make sure you check the wording of the name in particular. While this is not a guarantee, yet it brings you a step closer to figuring out what is going on.
b) If you find the organization which is claimed to be the source of your vacancy, check if the specific vacancy is known to the organization and if the vacancy is on their official vacancy page. It is important to check if the specific vacancy is valid since everyone can just copy any existing vacancy, change the e-mail address and send it out.
My take: If the organization which is claimed to issue the vacancy exists and you find the vacancy on their website you should be ok.
3) Is the vacancy from a legitimate project / country office / other UN initiative?
If you don’t find the source that claims to be the origin of the vacancy, check if it could be a subsection of a known organization. To give you an example: some of the UNDP country offices advertise some consultancies locally so that they appear on a country office website rather than the main UNDP website. If you are in doubt about the legitimacy of the office that claims to be the source of your vacancy, make sure that the country office exists and that the vacancy really is from that particular office.
To check if the office is genuine, make sure you find the reference on the main organisations site. To stay with the UNDP example, make sure that you find a link from the http://www.undp.org to the country office site and not just from the country office site back to UNDP. The later link is easily created by any scammer. But the other way is harder: no scammer will be linked to from the official UNDP.org site.
My take: If you don’t have the vacancy from a reputable source and it is hard to verify that the organization that is claimed to issue the vacancy exists and is really the source of the particular vacancy you have at hand – don’t pursue the matter. Or at least, be very cautious.
I hope the whole story doesn’t sound too bleak after all these warnings. Considering the many thousand vacancies and applications that go well every year, I personally don’t think that the business of the vacancy scammers is a predominant issue when it comes to the UN. If you stick to the official vacancy pages only, there is nothing you should be afraid of. Then, make sure that you follow the precautionary steps listed on the UN job site and just don’t ever send your personal data and/or money. And lastly, don’t take my word for it; I’m giving you some ideas of what I think makes sense. But remember, I don’t speak for the UN so check their pages for further information.
When working on this post, I got some questions that I quickly want to summarize in a mini FAQ:
This vacancy has the UN logo on it. How can it be fake?
You can easily fake anything these days. It is no challenge to find a UN logo on the web and to come up with some good sounding text. Remember these people want your money so they are willing to invest a little effort into papers that look official.
They sent me all the official (or officially looking) forms – how did they get them?
Many of the forms are openly and freely available on the Internet. Collecting a few of them and sending them to you is no challenge for the scammer.
I found the vacancy on my university’s job site. How can it be fake?
Most job boards publish job vacancies without checking the origin of the vacancy. So some scammers could slip through. Be a good citizen and alert the notice board administrator so that not more people fall for the scam.
One last word: Please don’t report scams to me. Remember I’m not speaking on behalf of the UN. But follow the steps outlined in the UN warning about vacancy scams. If you have any correction, idea or comment on this post, please let me know below.
Good luck with your UN job search.
Update 1 (17-Aug-09)
The UN published a new Fraud Alert page: http://www.un.org/en/aboutun/fraudalert/
Update 2 (30-Jan-11)
Be especially careful with (unsolicited) e-mails. The UN never sends vacancies in an e-mail without reference to a UN website where you can verify that the vacancy is genuine. To be clear, nobody from the UN will contact you personally and ask you to apply. And if a vacancy is “sent to you by a friend” the original vacancy still needs to be on a credible UN website.
A last word of common sense warning: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.