If you're dredging all available options to look for paid work you've doubtless come across Gumtree. Let's take a closer look into this cost-conscious resource ...
Gumtree is a budget website for people seeking work, searching for somewhere to live or looking to buy cheap much anything that can be bought or sold.
According to its Wikipedia page:
"Gumtree.com, known as Gumtree, is a British online classified advertisement and community website. Classified ads are either free or paid for depending on the product category and the geographical market. As of November 2010, it was the UK's largest website for local community classifieds and was one of the top 30 websites in the UK, receiving 14.8 million monthly unique visitors according to a traffic audit in 2010. Gumtree is the #1 classifieds site in the UK, Australia, South Africa, and Singapore."
So Gumtree is rather popular. But is this due to offering a quality service? Or is it because it caters to the lower end of the classified advertising market?
Jobs and training
Genuine job vacancies do exist on Gumtree. Dotted around the site are real ads seeking charity street fundraisers, live-in carers, painters, party planners and a host of other employment opportunities. Many of these positions also appear on reputable recruitment sites such as, for example, indeed.com.
But countless other vacancies also pepper Gumtree's job pages. These are little more than scams designed to trap the unwary or plain desperate into parting with their cash.
Try counting the ads posted by the same companies looking to fill identical job vacancies in seemingly every single part of the UK. This spamming can be difficult to avoid.
Or check out the "opportunities" that promise "training for a new career" and "guaranteed job interviews" for jobs that need "no experience". Recent examples targeted anyone considering health care, IT security, web design, personal training or running a gym.
When I first looked into Gumtree's more questionable offerings back in early 2018 display ads tended to be written so as to suggest they were for actual job vacancies. However, wording on most examples appearing now seem to admit in their small print to being training products. (Maybe someone complained.)
The real problem is that applicants will end up signing credit agreements to pay thousands of pounds in fees for what are self-study courses that are often junk.
In online searches about the companies involved, I uncovered a myriad of complaints from unhappy people saying that costs ran into thousands of GBP pounds. Allegations were also made that credit facilities offered were more often than not impossible to cancel.
Course participants further said that their training had merely consisted of ploughing through dense self-help lessons with little help from online tutors who were regularly unavailable.
A majority of complainants I uncovered said they had found it difficult or impossible to recover any of their money - often being left with a substantial debt they were struggling to pay off.
Of those who did manage to complete their courses, many said they were offered no introductory job interviews. They also confirmed further that their new qualification had proved to be so basic that they were effectively worthless in their chosen field.
When I made my own applications by email, I saw how the core basis of the operation was to sell sub-prime credit - i.e., loans attracting high rates of interest and legal obligations to repay - rather than help people find work.
So rather than "kick-start an exciting career in ..." anything, poor and vulnerable hopefuls instead found themselves to be worse off financially, legally liable for serious levels of debts and, if they'd got through their courses, inadequately qualified.
Supposed self-employment contract
Another Gumtree "job opportunity" I investigated involved providing customer services from home.
For an income pegged just below £10 an hour I could be assisting customers online and by telephone. The work would be carried out on behalf of a variety of large retailers and service providers such as energy suppliers, telecom companies, etc.
However, this would all be done on a self-employed basis using my own IT and telecom equipment. I'd also have to light and heat my own workspace.
The company doing the hiring would in reality act as a temping agency and not an employer guaranteeing consistent hours, salary or in-work benefits.
This would mean no pay for time spent filing essential tax returns or keeping business accounts. Naturally, no paid sick leave or annual holidays either.
Who goes into such an enterprise knowing they'll never receive much above the National Living Wage rate? Indeed, factor in the unpaid aspects of being self-employed and we're soon earning below the statutory minimum.
But it gets worse! Data protection scam at play!!!
In order to find out more, I followed the email application process. The rabbit-hole suddenly got deeper.
There was a link in the reply email to an introductory video. But that turned out not to exist - just a "403 This is a restricted space" notice in its place.
Pressing on, the online application consisted of web pages containing form fields requesting personal data such as date of birth, contact details, etc. This process had to be completed before clicking a "next" button in order to progress.
Having studied data protection law with Groningen University, I was already getting suspicious that I had in front of me the early stages of a data mining operation.
I was then told to read and electronically sign a data protection consent form, which was then saved automatically. This was the scammer's attempt to bypass the European Union's highly punitive General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) plausibly.
However, once that was completed and a tick-box checked off, I next had to read and sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The game became clear from this point.
The NDA set off alarm bells for me: I could read the page and sign it ok but the "next" button on this particular page remained greyed out and would therefore let me continue the application process.
I could take the document no further. Repeating the step several times, including logging out and back in as well as clearing the web browser cache. This was evidently set up by design.
The application process now abandoned, I emailed the company for help. That's when I noticed their contact address was different from the original I'd been directed to use on Gumtree for the original application.
Naturally, I received no response.
So I emailed to both addresses with a polite demand that my personal data be deleted immediately as required by both GDPR and the UK's 1998 Data Protection Act.
Again, no reply came.
I later tried my login details to access the account I'd been required to set up for the application. My profile had now been deleted.
The reasons given in a pop-up box were "either that the application process was not completed or due to a breach of terms and conditions".
These people clearly knew that breaking data protection laws can attract cripplingly huge fines. They also knew I'd caught them out.
What I'll never know is whether the original company was the villain or whether a third party had spoofed their site.
Either way, it was Gumtree that had got me there.
Summary and verdict
Gumtree is an illusion, a painted desert filled with landmines that will damage anyone making a wrong move.
The site's recruitment section clearly appeals to the desperate, gullible and probably the more vulnerable among us. Its owners seem to care little.
Avoid it at all costs. More reputable recruitment websites exist online.