Work from Home Scam

Are “Work-at-Home” Jobs a Scam?

Consumer fraud happens all the time, but there are some periods where it flourishes. The holiday season is a great example: lots of sales transactions make it less likely fraud will be noticed immediately. At the same time, folks tend to feel more generous and sympathetic at that time of year, and fraudsters prey on that fact.

The current global economic condition is also fertile ground for fraud, as the ongoing pandemic has altered the typical work week for millions. A great number of people have lost their jobs and are in desperate search for income. Many other are working from home and discovering they like it, which could lead them to consider positions that would allow them to work remotely on a permanent basis.

With so much interest in the idea of working from home full-time, we felt it would be a good time to remind our readers that in many—if not most—cases, work-at-home programs are probably not what they seem.

Too Good to be True?

When it comes to finding a remote job, if you’re not concerned about being scammed, you should be. Some statistics suggest there are 60 or more job scams for every one legitimate work-from-home opportunity. In fact, a recent survey by FlexJobs reports that almost 20% of job seekers have fallen victim to a job scam—up from 13% in 2016.

The thing to remember, however, is that a great number of these scams are fairly blatant. Common sense should tell you that there simply aren’t positions where you will make hundreds of dollars a day working from home, relaxing in front of your laptop for 3-4 hours a day. And even if there are any such jobs out there, they certainly aren’t so ubiquitous that companies need to advertise heavily just to supply workers: they have people lining up for miles.

By the same token, an unexpected phone call from an unlisted number with a “fantastic opportunity” is only going to provide an opportunity for the caller. And there is no indication that powerhouses like Amazon or Walmart are paying hundreds or thousands of people to test and review products.

In the end, it’s pretty much like your parents always told you: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Spotting the Scams

For picking out the fake jobs, come armed with your powers of observation and a healthy dose of skepticism. It also helps to know certain “types” of offers that are almost always scams. Here are some examples:

Pyramid schemes: The granddaddy of all scams. You pay big money up front for inventory and promo materials, becoming a “distributor.” Your job is less about selling the product and more about recruiting more distributors (like your family and friends) and collecting off their sales. The math seems to work on paper, but the scheme will quickly collapse under its own weight.

Advance-fee: Like the pyramid scheme, this requires upfront investment from you. Just sink several hundred dollars in inventory and licensing fees, and you’re good to go. The products are worthless, of course—assuming you ever get anything at all. You might as well have just written the check directly to the fraudster.

Mystery shoppers: In this scam, the company sends YOU a big check, with instructions to deposit it in your account, then use the funds to do business with local merchants. Keep a little for yourself, and wire the remainder of the initial check—85-90% of it—back to the company. Easy money … until the bank calls and says the original check was bogus. That means you paid your own salary, wired the crooks free cash, and are now responsible for a huge debt.

Unwitting third-party criminal: You’re hired because the company—based somewhere outside the country—needs a “US agent” to receive and re-ship merchandise. The reality? You could be moving anything from counterfeit cash to illegal solicitations to other potential victims. When the authorities trace the paper trail, it leads straight to you … and stops.

Know What to Look For

People do fall for these ploys—otherwise, fraudsters would move on to another scheme. The median loss for victims is roughly $1,200 according to the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Scam Tracker. So how do you protect yourself?

As we said earlier, the best way to avoid these types of scams is to check things out very carefully. Know the “red flags” that may point to suspicious behavior:

  • Claims that no skills or experience are required.  
  • Questionable or unreliable contact information. 
  • Offers of high pay for minimal work.    
  • Promises that the opportunity is “sure-fire” while offering few checkable details.    
  • Upfront requirements, such as paying for training, certifications, inventory or promotional.
  • High pressure tactics (“Special offer for today only!” “Don’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass you by!” etc.)

Are Any of These Legit?

While far outnumbered by the scams, work-from-home jobs do exist. According to one source, nearly four million Americans reported working from home at least half the week in 2018. From entry-level positions in sales or customer service on up, legitimate work-from-home positions are even available from global companies like Dell, American Express—and yes, even Amazon.

Landing such a job, however, requires the same approach you would take with any other job: you’ll need to do your homework, present a professional demeanor, and go through proper channels.

Also, don’t expect to start at the top: high-end virtual jobs go to people with high-end skills and experience. Bottom line: there are no short cuts here … and any ads that seem to suggest differently are probably better skipped.