How To Recognize Work At Home Scams

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Time is a hot commodity, with everyone wishing that they had more of it. And that's one of the reasons why opportunities to work at home are so popular. But as appealing as working in your pajamas may sound, you need to proceed with caution when considering home business advertisements and e-mails. Although major corporations like Comcast and United Airlines have increased their stable of home-based customer service reps and virtual assistants over the last few years, many of these seemingly legitimate ads for home businesses can be decidedly bogus — designed to steal either your money, your identity or both.

There are many things you should consider before jumping on a work-from-home opportunity. Many work-at-home offers do not pay regularly and often require out-of-pocket expenses from their employees. Others are structured as "pyramid schemes," where you must actively recruit others to do similar work. According to the United States Postal Service, for example, classic home business scams include envelope stuffing, product assembly, medical billing and reshipping.1

Job recruitment scams and ID theft on the Web

While you should always be somewhat sceptical of work-at-home offers, the long reach of the Internet has created avenues for even more elaborate home business scams. Routinely, you may receive e-mails from companies saying that they accessed your resume online, encouraging you to log on to the link they have forwarded, and encouraging — even urging — you to apply for a specific job they just know best suits your background.

You may get a description of a marketing position; the next one may be for an event coordinator job; and yet another in the field of criminal justice. Be suspicious of any recruitment companies that contact you, especially if you never submitted your resume to them. If you compared each of them closely, you would notice that all messaging seems the same, except for the individual job descriptions and the links. Before applying directly to any of these e-mail links, it's probably a good idea to do an overall search on the company's name. Chances are you'll find articles involving unfair business practices and testimonials from former employees who put in the time but never got paid.

When it comes to identity theft, be proactive

As it is with so many scams out there, being skeptical isn't enough. Even if you trust no one and nothing, there simply aren't any guarantees that even having a sound identity theft plan will protect you. But having some tips can make a difference, allowing you to distinguish between genuine income-earning opportunities and the efforts of opportunistic hackers to rip you off and access your personal information:

  • Keep your money where it belongs... with you. You don't pay prospective employers — they are supposed to pay you. Walk away from anything or anyone that asks you for cash, and make certain that you do some research before you hand over personal information (financial data, a Social Security number and the like) to anyone.

  • Ask for references. A potential employer won't hesitate to check your references, so make sure you do the same. Ask the requesting company for a list of their employees. If the request is denied or ignored, you may well have succeeded in helping diffuse a potential scam.

  • Read the offer more than once. Much of the time, the most pertinent facts, like having to provide bank account information or a Social Security number (two things you should NEVER DO), are buried between the lines. In short, read the fine print.

Working from home clearly has its advantages. But with those advantages, there may also be a caveat or two you'll want to guard against. If the idea of working from home really appeals to you, just make sure you won't fall for any "work at home" scams we mentioned. You may want to consider starting your own business from a home office. Just remember, though, like any work-from-home advertisement that promises "instant wealth," overnight successes are the exception and not the rule.

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