Internship scams

Chapter 6

There are two versions of scams, in relation to internships.

The most obvious is the bogus internship. These are quite common, and a recent search of internship scams came back with 457,000 hits.

This is pretty much the conventional internship scam, with an online ad. They're similar to Make a Billion in Your Pajamas, etc. These are worthless, and potentially expensive, wastes of time.

They also work on very much the same basis as other online frauds, with ad copy emphasizing how great whatever it is will be for you.

Internship scams are basically parasitic, extracting work from people for little or usually no reward. Unfortunately, the time differential between someone finding a scam and anyone doing anything about it means they can do a lot of damage to aspiring interns.

The only way to avoid them is to avoid any unknown quantities in your internship search. Stick to providers you know are bona fide. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is. Ignore testimonials from someone in a cave in Utah, and check out trade and industry sources. Ring up someone in the industry (preferably an industry association, who'll be interested to hear about the scams) and ask, if you're not sure.

NOTE: Internship ads can be as dangerous as the Work At Home variety. Some of these things are much more than scams, they're a ticket to actual identity theft. A person in the US was actually asked to send a scan of their driver's license.


DO NOT send anything which could possibly be used for identity fraud to anyone. Providers can do anything that needs doing about an internship with an email address, if they're legitimate. If they're legitimate, they also won't ask for things like that, because they'll know the privacy laws better than that.


There are now fluttering around the net things which are called online internships, like online universities, etc.

The search of online internship scams came back with 1.3 million hits.

As usual on the net, there's what are called scams and what are scams. A lot of these so-called internships are pure scams, and they've added yet another degree of difficulty to the online education approach.

That's a pity, because the logical place to look for internships is now online. Some internships, like web design, graphics, and most modern media do have online roles where an internship would be a practical way of doing the work.

There is something to be said for online internships, because they are efficient, in principle, and they reduce overheads to internship providers. They also reduce the strain on interns, because it's a lot easier to organize sitting yourself in front of a computer on time than getting to work and jumping through the workplace hoops.

Sooner or later, most education will be conducted online. At the moment, however, the wheel is still being invented, and these bogus offerings have been showing up everywhere, and costing people a lot in the process.

Which doesn't alter the fact that some things advertised as online internships are pure garbage, by any possible standards.

At least one we saw for writers was in fact a blog writing exercise.

  • Value to those thinking of writing online: zero or less. It was supposed to pay per post, in theory.
  • Credentials, zero or less. Nobody would know who this company was, or approve of seeding blogs with plugs for other services, which was the main work.
  • Scam? No, in terms of the advertisement of service, which was so vague it was either a writer's internship or a letter drop. But not an internship in any possible sense of the word, other than theoretical.

These things show up on craigslist or other big advertising sites, where they're only noticed if someone complains about them. The sites don't want them and don't like them, and they do try and prevent scams, but finding them is the problem.

The vague definitions, again, make them extremely hard to pin down, legally. They do provide the service they say they'll provide. The providers don't have to admit their product is worthless crap. They can, in fact, claim value for the work, and will inevitably be able to find someone who claims they got benefit from it, usually from the same cave in Utah.

Obligations on providers aren't necessarily well defined, even in bona fide internships. The expectation is career value, but as defined by whom?

In other words, it's up to you to get it right.

The same criteria apply for legitimate online internships as for career relevance:

  • Relevant, yes/no?
  • Value for time and effort, yes/no?
  • Accredited, yes/no?
  • Acceptable for credits, yes/no?
  • Learning a lot, yes/no?

You can spend the rest of your life being idealistic, brilliant, or whatever.

Just not when you're trying to find an internship that will deliver what you need.

Stick to the basics.

If it comes up with a no, on any of the points above, forget it. If it doesn't figure out as a yes to all of them, there's a problem somewhere.

Make sure you get the real deal.

You have to be hard nosed about this, because it's your career at stake, and all those tens of thousands of dollars' worth of degree that you'll be paying off.

Unless you have a deep personal need to give large amounts of money to credit providers for no particular reason, it's the qualifications bottom line that's calling the shots.

Just get the best internship you can find, and forget about the El Cheapo stuff.

Think of it as being like buying a car.

You'd expect an engine in running order, maybe a transmission, and perhaps even some wheels. And, for the sake of luxury, you may go nuts and want a steering column and some brakes. Maybe even a body, with a chassis.

You wouldn't buy a car, sight unseen.

Don't sign up for an internship without a good long look at the essentials.