Technology & Security
7 Signs of a Work-At-Home Scam

You've probably seen the signs posted around town or received an email about an "exciting job opportunity" that allows you to earn thousands of dollars while working from home in your spare time. But you know what they say... if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The thought of earning money while you spend the day at home in your PJs is alluring. But too often, these job offers are a scam created to take your money and do little else for you. Companies tend to prey upon senior citizens, stay-at-home parents, and those earning a low income with the promise of easy money and an opportunity to support themselves or their families. So how do you know when it's an attempt to dupe you and what can you do to protect yourself? The FBI has some helpful tips:

1. Never Pay Upfront
This is the golden rule when it comes to spotting scams. Whether it's "investing" in a starter kit, lead lists, training or software, a legitimate company will not ask you to come up with money to start or keep your job. This includes multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. According to research conducted by the Consumer Awareness Institute, more than 99% of MLM participants lose money on these businesses.

2. Know the Common Scams
These work-at-home businesses often ask you to pay upfront to gain access to leads, training, materials and/or goods. Steer clear of them.

  • e-Commerce/Selling goods online
  • Data entry
  • Envelope stuffing/Assembly work
  • Medical billing
  • Contract typist
  • Rebate processing
  • Mystery shopping

3. Contact the Better Business Bureau
Research whether the company is listed and/or has any complaints. But don't stop there. Scammers will regularly change the name of the business to ditch a poor track record. Search online review sites as well to look for trends that indicate fraud.

4. Limit Personal Information
Standard job applications typically ask for information like your home address, drivers license, and Social Security number. But identity thieves have been known to pose as work-at-home businesses to gain access to your personal and/or financial information.

If possible, when applying for any job, limit the amount of personal information you provide upfront, especially if you're filling out an application on a third-party job search site. Instead, let the employer know you'll provide your information if and when you're being seriously considered for the position (because at some point, they may need it to run a background check). If you encounter resistance, it might be better to move on.

Beware if your new employer asks for your mobile banking login credentials in order to process direct deposit. No legitimate employer needs this information. If you give out this information to a scammer, they'll may begin depositing fraudulent checks and then ask you to send some funds back. When the checks are returned, you're responsible for the negative balance owed.

5. Research, Research, Research
Do your own research into legitimate work-at-home opportunities. But beware: some savvy scammers have even created phony websites that claim to provide you a directory of "safe" work-at-home jobs... for an upfront price. Just remember the golden rule and you'll be able to weed out the real sites from the phonies.

6. Ask Lots of Questions
Ask your potential employer lots of questions—legitimate companies will have answers for you.

Avoid any employer that uses unconventional methods to communicate with and interview you. If a potential employer contacts you via text message, or wants to conduct the interview via "Google Hangouts" or other texting app, this is not a legitimate employer. If you insist on speaking with someone over the phone or in person and you get shut down, cease all contact immediately as this is likely a scam.

7. Steer clear of Cashier's Checks
It's suspicious if an employer sends you a cashier's check via next day mail as your paycheck, especially if it's far more than the pay you were expecting. If they try to get you to deposit the check(s) and then send money back or to another person within the organization, especially via MoneyGram or Western Union, then this is most certainly a scam. Be wary when sending funds in this way as you cannot request the funds back. When the cashier's check is returned due to being fraudulent, you'll be out the money sent.

Finally, if you think it's too late and you've been the victim of a work-at-home scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.