Avoid Work-From-Home Scams With This Expert Guide
Your pajamas. Your puppy child. Your couch.
Work-from-home jobs are desirable for all these reasons. And more — especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
We hear from a lot of you who share your circumstances — your hard times, your children’s needs, your need for a magical money-making side gig. That’s why we love showcasing awesome work-from-home jobs and encouraging you to find the one that best suits your life.
However, if you stumble upon a job that might seem too good to be true, pump the brakes for a second — it could be a scam.
We want to arm you with the best tips to avoid getting ripped off, so we reached out to the experts to help us create this guide so you can make money while avoiding work-from-home job scams.
How to Avoid Being a Victim of a Work-From-Home Job Scam
We hate to see all the Scammy McScammertons out there trying to take advantage of people like you — people who just want to find a way to make money.
And because we see new work-from-home opportunities everyday, we’ve gotten pretty good at telling the good from the bad. Plus, we talked to the experts for their tips for how to avoid becoming a victim.
Who Gets Scammed?
Unfortunately, being the target of a work-from-home scam does not make you special. But it also doesn’t make you a dummy — it can happen to anyone.
The Better Business Bureau has a nifty BBB Scam Tracker, where thousands of people report scams concerning everything from credit cards to debt collections and employment.
These aren’t exclusively work-from-home job scams, but those kinds of jobs are especially susceptible, according to Katherine Hutt, the national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.
Whether you want to find a non-committal side hustle or dive into a full-time career, here are some of our favorite ways to earn extra money online.
“It preys on people when they’re at a vulnerable point in their life,” Hutt said. She mentioned those who are fresh out of work, in debt, in need of a second job to pay bills or are caring for a family.
Plus, it’s easier for scammers to extract vital information when pretending to be employers. That’s because a legitimate employer needs your bank account’s routing number, your Social Security number — all of those private numbers.
“There’s other scams where that wouldn’t come up naturally,” Hutt said.
What Can Scammers Do With Your Information?
Because these scammers can easily extract your most personal identifying information, the consequences can be terrifying. (Totally not trying to scare you here, but…)
Hutt says work-from-home job scams can fall into two major “buckets”: stealing your money and/or stealing your identity.
Regarding stealing your money, perhaps your “employer” sends you a check for any expenses. (Think mystery shopping: Go out and buy these things and I’ll pay you.) You go to deposit the check, and it’s a fake.
Or maybe the “employer” wants to make a direct deposit. Don’t share that information.
The second bucket includes identity theft. This might occur when you set up automatic, direct deposits for paychecks.
The chance of getting a legitimate work-from-home job delivered directly to your inbox or through a cold call is slim. Most companies only consider candidates who respond to a job posting.
This can also occur when you think you’re filling out routine employment paperwork, which asks for your name, address, Social Security number — everything.
Steve Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and the author of the fraud and identity theft blog Scamicide, warned about the importance of not handing out your date of birth or cell phone number to just anyone.
“Your mobile number can be used for all kinds of frauds,” he said. “Giving your date of birth and cell phone number puts you in jeopardy of identity theft.”
Basically, these two pieces of information can be used for dual-factor authentication — like when a scammer wants to hack into your cloud or even your phone.
“They can actually call the service provider and talk them into changing the number or SIM, and they can get control of the phone,” Weisman said.
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How to Spot Common Work-From-Home Scams
By knowing which work-from-home jobs are more likely to be scams, you’ll be more likely to identify — and avoid — the illegitimate “business opportunities.”
1. Paid Online Surveys
A company offers to pay you to spend just a few minutes taking online surveys.
You’ll sign up and answer a few questions about yourself. Then you’ll receive invitations to take surveys when you fit the qualifications, and you’ll get paid for each survey you take.
There are legitimate opportunities to do this, but you have to know what to look for.
Before signing up for a survey site, look for these red flags:
- It asks for money.
- It advertises on Craigslist.
- It sounds too good to be true (almost always is!).
- The “pre-qualification” portion goes on forever — like, you just took a whole survey for free.
- It requires an unattainable amount of earnings before it’ll cut a check.
You won’t get rich taking surveys, but you can earn a few bucks a day with the right companies. We’ve even compiled a list of the best paid online survey sites.
2. Posting Ads Online
These companies promise you’ll earn up to $100 a day working for less than an hour.
What a deal!
The job is to post pre-written ads to the free resources the company provides — usually to Facebook pages and groups.
This is a scam.
Here’s the kicker: To sign up, you’ll pay a one-time “membership fee” — a major red flag. Also, do you want to contribute to social media spam?!
There are legit apps that collect data anonymously and help companies better understand web and mobile usage — such as what times of day people browse, how long they stay on websites and use apps, and what types of sites and apps are popular (or not). But they typically pay in gift cards, prize entries or a few dollars a month.
3. Reselling Discount Products
A company will get in touch over the phone to help you sign up for a work-from-home business opportunity.
Here’s how it works: They’ll sell you brand-name products at below retail value. Just order your products, and they’ll be delivered to your door. You’ll pay cash on delivery, so no credit card required. Then you resell the products for a profit.
Welcome to Scammed City. Population: You.
Typically, you’ll open the box to find unusable junk, and you’ll never get a refund.
The COD requirement is also a problem, because you have to pay before inspecting the products.
If you want to earn money reselling brand-name products, try selling your own stuff — we have 15 websites that can legitimately help you sell online.
4. In-Home Product Assembly
Know how to sew? These companies hire you to assemble aprons and other clothing at home. You purchase the materials, the company mails them to your door, you assemble and mail them back.
The only problem? It’s a scam.
Your items have to pass inspection before you’re paid. And guess what? They usually don’t. That upfront payment for materials is also a red flag.
5. Mystery Shopping
Mystery shopping is a fun and simple way to make extra money — but you have to vet the opportunities.
Don’t ever pay a fee to sign up, and don’t wire money as part of an audit. Either of those should tip you off it’s a scam.
For legitimate opportunities, check out our list of the best mystery shopping companies.
6. Pyramid Schemes or Multi-Level Marketing
Want to work for yourself and set your own schedule? This company will pay you a 20% to 50% commission to sell health and beauty products.
You’ll pay $25 for a starter kit, including your training materials. After that, you can promote as you see fit — door to door, online, to friends and family or others.
In addition to sales commissions, you’ll have the opportunity to build and lead a sales team and earn even more.
Most multi-level marketing companies give you a percentage of your recruit’s sales. With each level that comes in underneath you, you earn a higher percentage of the sale’s profit.
There are legitimate opportunities for direct sales, including selling with Avon.
Skepticism isn’t unwarranted, though. Many companies have turned the multi-level marketing structure into a pyramid scheme — which is a scam.
The key difference is the product: Are you selling something? Or are you mainly (or only) getting paid to recruit other sales reps? The latter is a scam.
If someone is trying to recruit you for a direct sales company, ask these questions to vet the quality of the opportunity:
- How much money did you make last year (income minus expenses)?
- What percentage came from recruiting other distributors?
- How many people have you recruited?
- What are your annual sales of the product?
- How much time did you spend last year on the business?
- How long have you been in the business?
7. Accepting and Sending Packages
Seems easy enough: The “employer” says they need an address to send you something to repackage and send out.
This would make you a mule, which is illegal and could lead to criminal charges, warned Det. Tim Lohman with Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
“The victim will accept packages from shipping companies like UPS, FedEx, etc.,” Lohman said. “The products are all bought with stolen credit cards. The victim is told to apply a new shipping label from the scammers, and the products are sent across the US or out of the country to other criminals.”
8. Payment Processing
Maybe your too-good-to-be-true remote job includes “processing payments” In this scam, you’re hired to receive money via a check and then wire the money to a different location.
“The checks contain stolen account numbers,” Lohman said.
He said these work-from-home scams are typically a fencing operation for a bigger criminal ring.
“Although the victim may have no idea they are helping the criminal enterprise, they can be held criminally liable if they continue to assist after being told to stop,” Lohman said.
The Red Flags That Your Job Offer Is Bogus
If you’re looking for a job, your search traffic may have already put you on a scammer’s radar.
Lohman said victims are often targeted after posting a resume online with services like Monster or Indeed or after inquiring about a job they’d seen on websites like Craigslist.
“The victim is then contacted by text message or email with a job offer without a face-to-face interview or paperwork to fill out,” he said. “The employer rarely will call the victim by phone… [and] will offer a big salary or other flashy incentive.”
We asked Weisman to review a scam email that claimed you could earn $500 a week working “a few hours” for Core Technology Business Solutions (or Core BTS), which is a legitimate company.
He pointed out the following red flags that this was a bogus offer and how you can check the legitimacy of an offer:
- The email came from Sharon Morgan, the HR manager/controller. However, her email address read “firstname.lastname@example.org,” and it’s addressed to “undisclosed-recipients.” When we Googled Sharon Morgan along with Core BTS, she’s nowhere to be found, which seems odd for an HR manager.
- Core Business Technology Solutions’ website has a careers page. But, surprise — this job wasn’t listed — and none of the other opportunities are work-from-home ones.
- “Sharon” says the company received the recipient’s name and email through his school’s directory. Perhaps this is possible, but schools don’t just let anyone into their student directories.
- It says the job is part of an “empowerment program” for students. A quick Google search returns no record of a “Core BTS Empowerment Program.”
- The email launches into (a few) details about the position. A common sign of a scam are spelling errors and obvious grammatical mistakes. Not too many here, but Weisman points out that the language is embellished, an effort to make it seem more legitimate than it is. Take, for example, the unnecessary, “payable in accordance with the Company’s standard Check” when the sentence would be clear and sufficient without.
- The position has a vague title of “Online Supplier Data Assistant” and the details also seem intentionally vague and open-ended. That title doesn’t even come up in a Google search.
- The “payment compensation” (unnecessarily repetitive, by the way) section says salary starts at $500 per week. This seems awfully generous for a position that only needs “a few hours of your time.” For an added too-good-to-be-true factor, the next section talks bonuses.
- Finally, the company wants all your information, including your name, address, birthday, gender (why?!) and cell phone number. Then you’ll hear from your supervisor.
A call to Core BTS (using a phone number on the legitimate website) confirmed that the position was not being offered.
5 Questions That’ll Help You Detect a Work-From-Home Job Scam
OK, so you obviously want to avoid these nightmarish scenarios. Hutt talked us through how you can avoid falling into these traps.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you being asked to accept or send money right away?
Don’t accept or send money, unless you’re positive it’s legitimate — “even for a uniform,” she said.
Say a company needs you to send over $30 for said uniform. That’s not common protocol. Usually, companies just take those expenses out of your first paycheck.
Same goes for background checks, so-called starter kits and other expenses. And never, ever submit your information to the company itself for a background check.
2. Are you required to submit personal information?
There are so many awful ways these scams can pan out.
It could be that the “representative” asks for your bank information to wire money over — that can lead to them wiring money out of it.
Or they might need a Social Security number to fill out the W-2 — that can lead to identity theft.
3. Is the job listing generic or too good to be true?
If the listing uses generic language or is super short or vague, this requires some digging on your end.
Common scams can be found in those classic entry-level, work-from-home customer service gigs — no training required.
“If it’s too easy, it’s more likely to be a scam,” Hutt said. “Scammers will go a certain distance, but, at the end of the day, they just want you on the hook.”
4. Did you check the job listing URL?
“Scammers will pretend to be legitimate companies,” Hutt said. “They might steal the brand.”
Don’t trust the job listing just because the little Target bullseye and logo are on the site, for example. Hutt says even the Better Business Bureau has had its brand stolen in the past — same logo, same colors.
Examine the website. Check the URL. Is it target.com? If it’s target.jobs.com, that’s a red flag.
It’s best if you go to the actual company’s main website, and look for the link to its employment or careers page.”That way, you can be sure you are applying for a job that really exists rather than a work-from-home scam that mimics a real company,” Hutt said.
You can also stick any URL or email address into Google. Put quotation marks on either side, and search. Articles warning against scams might pop up.
“Google everything,” Hutt said. Also use that scam tracker I mentioned above to search the company’s name.
5. Consider Who You’ve Talked To
Even if you get the “employer” on the phone, don’t be so sure — especially if it’s only for a five-minute interview.
Hutt said face-to-face interactions are best. Of course, that’s not always the case with work-from-home jobs, so be wary.
Hutt said the more skeptical you are, the easier it will be to detect a scam.
What to Do If You Find — or Are a Victim of — a Work-From-Home Job Scam
Hutt said this is exactly why the Better Business Bureau developed its BBB Scam Tracker.
It tracks the scam type, the business name used and the date reported, as well as the victim’s postal code, the total dollars lost (but you can report a scam even if you haven’t lost money) and the scam description.
One victim reported on the site that the scam cost them $1,750.
Here’s the victim’s description:
“These people pray on home makers they claim you will receive pay at the end of the month for receiving packages that they could receive themselves ultimately you will get in trouble and they get away with the goods. They send you a check that messes up your bank account”
So what if you’re like this victim?
Hutt said if you’ve lost money, start by filing a police report.
And if you’ve had your identity stolen — or suspect it — the Federal Trade Commission runs IdentityTheft.gov. Here, you report your theft and get a free recovery plan that’ll outline your next steps.
How to Find Legit Work-From-Home Jobs
Now you know how to find a scam. Great. But how do you find a job?
Funny you should ask, because The Penny Hoarder has a legit work-from-home job portal. We post new opportunities all the time — and we vet them, too. Best of all: They’re exclusively remote jobs, so you don’t have to spend time sifting through massive job boards.
Beyond our portal, stick with reputable job search sites, but continue your vigilance since scams can still slip through filters.
And sure, you can try sites like Craigslist to find jobs. But because most online classified sites don’t monitor postings, you must be extra careful.
One key is to see if you spot the same listing in multiple cities, Hutt says. It doesn’t mean the job isn’t legitimate, but it means you need to put your detective hat on.
And a little skepticism can go a long way toward helping you find the perfectly legit work-from-home opportunity.
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Staff writers Nicole Dow and Tiffany Wendeln Connors and contributor Dana Sitar contributed to this report.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.