Scam: Work At Home Jobs

Avoid Work-at-Home Job Scams

Who wouldn't want to work from home on a part-time basis and earn thousands of dollars a month? It's an offer millions of people can't or don't refuse. Unfortunately, some of these folks eventually regret having done business with a so-called work-at-home employer.

"It's hard to distinguish legitimate work-at-home programs from people who are just out to get your money," says Sheila Atkins, associate director of public affairs for the Council of Better Business Bureaus in Arlington, Virginia.

With that caveat in mind, use the following tips to steer around the hazards of finding work-at-home employment.

Likely to Be Legit

Some occupations and industries are much more likely than others to offer real opportunities for at-home work.

"A lot of legitimate companies are using home workers to take orders over the phone," says Cheryl Demas, author of It's a Jungle Out There and a Zoo in Here: Run Your Home Business Without Letting It Overrun You. "Some employers also employ customer service reps who work at home."

Scam-Ridden Occupations

Other lines of at-home employment deserve a higher level of scepticism. It pays to examine the economics of the work you're being asked to do.

Envelope stuffing is a classic example of a business that may not be for real. If you were the employer, why would you pay someone $1 or more to stuff an envelope when you could job out the task to a mailing house for a few cents apiece?

At-home assembly work is also highly suspicious. If these companies were legit, why wouldn't they be using offshore labour at a fraction of the cost?

And then there's medical billing or claims processing. "Very few medical professionals will let just anyone handle private medical info," says Atkins. "Most doctors will not outsource billing services to individuals," but rather to large, established companies whose workers are trained and employed on site.

The so-called refund recovery business was big in 2003, says Atkins. The scammers offer to sell you software to track late and lost UPS and FedEx packages and assist the shippers' customers in obtaining refunds. The shippers say these refund recovery schemes are bogus.

In general, beware of work-at-home employers who ask for your money up front. "Legitimate employers pay you, not the other way around," says Demas.

Time to Sleuth

If you think you might have identified a legitimate work-at-home job, it's time to do some detective work. Here are three trusted stops for your gumshoe route:

  • SCAMwatch.gov.au is a government website which reports on scam activity and provides advice and guidance on protecting yourself from scammers.
  • You can also visit your states Department of Fair Trade website to find out about recent scams. You can also report scams to these departments.

Questions to Ask

Legitimate work-at-home employers should be willing and able to answer a variety of questions about their programs. Here are some questions the FTC suggests you ask:

  • What tasks will I have to perform? (Ask the program sponsor to list every step of the job.)
  • Will I be paid a salary, or will my pay be based on commission?
  • Who will pay me?
  • When will I get my first paycheck?

Finally, if the work-at-home employer passes all these tests but you still feel a bit queasy about the offer, trust your gut and run the other way.

For more information on how to stay safe in your job search, visit CareerOne's Be Safe page.

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