The Work at Home Job Seeker’s Guide to Scams
Scams are a huge problem for work at home job seekers. Business and job opportunity scams in general are in the FTC’s top 10 fraud complaints. The number of complaints soared during the COVID pandemic, unsurprisingly, as many people were desperate to find work, especially remote work. If you’re looking for a way to work at home, this guide to scams should help you avoid many of them.
These scams come in a variety of types. As you can see in the graph below, scams involving jobs and employment agencies increased greatly during the pandemic. Other categories increased as well, but not nearly as much. Business and work at home opportunity scams pretty much bounced around their usual levels.
According to the FTC, the percentage of people reporting a financial loss from these scams is at about 33%, with a median loss of $1800 for the most recent numbers. You can find the graph here.
Obviously, most of us don’t have $1800 or more just lying around to lose to a scam. That’s why job seekers need to keep alert as they look for work.
Here are some ways to recognize that someone might be trying to scam you as you look for a work at home job.
A Helpful Guide to Scam-Spotting
They Really Want Your Bank Account Information
There comes a point with a new job where you will probably need to share your bank account information with your new employer. It’s reasonable to share your bank account information when you’re signing up for direct deposit of your paycheck with your new job. Direct deposit makes getting paid so much easier, especially when you work at home. Otherwise, you have to wait for your check to come through the mail.
But an employer who is interested in your bank account information before you’re even hired is more likely to be a problem. If they’re more interested in your bank account information than your qualifications for the job, it’s probably a scam.
Don’t share your bank information until you are confident that the job is the real thing. This isn’t always easy to figure out, but pay attention to what your potential employer is saying and doing to figure out if they’re real. A real job will probably have you fill out tax forms and other paperwork relating to your new job along with a direct deposit form.
Email Address Isn’t From the Company Domain
Many popular work at home companies now have warnings on their websites about scammers pretending to be with them. One of the simplest ways to recognize this scam is when they use an email address from someplace other than that company’s domain name. Usually, it’s a free email service such as Yahoo or Gmail. Others will register a similar domain and try to fool you with emails from that server.
If you think you’re in contact with a company about a job, but you aren’t certain, check the email address you’re communicating to them with. If it’s not clear that they’re legitimate, contact the company on your own, through a source you know is legitimate. A contact link or form on their website would be a good choice once you know you have the right website. These companies would rather you contact them and ask, right or wrong. Both of you will be happier knowing that you aren’t going to be scammed and blame the wrong people because the scammers fooled you. No business appreciates getting negative reviews for things that aren’t their fault.
Pay Is Too High For the Work
Being overpaid sounds so nice, but it doesn’t happen for most of us, especially for the kinds of jobs offered in “easy work at home” scams. They’re often oddly simple sounding jobs claiming to pay thousands of dollars a month, or hundreds for a basic task.
It’s just not realistic. No matter how desperate you are to earn money from home, be realistic, especially about earnings. It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
Any time a job offer or business opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the work is too easy and/or the pay is too high, be careful. There’s likely a reason you feel that way.
The use of all capital letters or lots of dollar signs or exclamation points are indicators of a scam as well. Real job listings don’t need them.
They Want You to Pay
Be extra careful any time a potential employer wants you to pay for anything as a part of applying for that job. Sometimes it’s legitimate. There are employers who expect you to pay for a background check and are legitimate.
Others are just a scam. They’ll have an application fee or something along those lines, with the excuse that they need to make sure you are seriously interested in the job. An employer should pay you, and the costs associated with finding new employees should be on them, not on applicants.
They Send You a Check to Buy Your Own Equipment
Some of the best remote jobs provide you with equipment. This ensures that your employer knows that you have the tools required for the job, just as you would in the office.
Some scammers take advantage of this by saying that they will send you a check to buy your own equipment, often through a supplier that they specify. And here comes trouble!
The scammer sends you a fraudulent check, money order, or cashier’s check. Many of these are so well done that banks rarely spot they right away. That’s what gives this scam time to work.
You are told to deposit the check and buy equipment from their provider. The catch is that the money from the check may appear before the check is fully cleared, and be found fraudulent later.
In the meantime, you are told to buy your equipment through their provider, paying through Cash App, Zelle, Paypal, or similar. You believe you’ve got the money, so you’re happy to do so.
Then the check fails to clear. You’re out however much they had you spend on the “equipment,” which of course never arrives. The company they told you to buy from isn’t real – and you just sent money to the scammer. Worse, with the app they had you pay through, you most likely have no recourse to get your money back. You’re out hundreds or thousands of dollars.
A Guide To Common Types of Work at Home Scams
Work at home scams go beyond fraudulent job listings. These are some common scams you can learn to recognize without contacting them for more information.
High Priced Training for Business Opportunity
Starting a business isn’t always easy, so it sounds nice when they offer training to help you get started. The problem is that sometimes the training is expensive, not that helpful, and the money people earn from referring others to training may be the main way they earn from that business opportunity.
Check Cashing/Money Orders
Check cashing and money order scams prey on your greed. Sometimes the check or money order arrives unsolicited, with instructions to do a “mystery shop” with it, cashing the check, keeping part, and wiring the rest to the company scammer.
The catch here is that the check or money order is fraudulent, and suddenly you are on the hook for the entire amount. You may even be in legal trouble if there is any indication you knew it was fraudulent.
Don’t let greed beat out common sense. There is no place that it makes sense for someone to send you possibly thousands of dollars as a money order to cash, have you keep a couple hundred and wire the rest back to them. If they really needed to mystery shop a place that way, a much smaller amount would do, and they’d work with a standard mystery shopping company.
If you receive one of these checks or money orders, do not cash it. Take it to your bank or the police and explain your concerns. Sometimes even banks will be fooled for a short time, but if you cash it, you’re liable for it. You don’t need that trouble in your life. It’s much better to give it to the professionals who can use it for evidence against those who tried to fool you.
Typing/Data Entry Scams
Doing data entry from home sounds so easy, and sometimes you’ll see an ad promising great pay for it. The problem is that it’s too easy. Most times I see real data entry jobs, they’re in an office, not at home. After all, if it were already in the computer, they wouldn’t need you to type it in, would they?
If you want to type from home, learn how to do transcription – there are more jobs in that area, although you will be competing with voice recognition software. The software isn’t good enough yet to entirely beat humans out, so there are still jobs out there.
Most often, these opportunities are some sort of ad posting. You don’t have a job; rather, you’re trying to earn affiliate commissions by placing ads on websites. You’ll have to pay to find that part out, of course.
Job Boards With a Fee
Many online job boards, such as the one I run here, are free for job seekers to use. Others charge a fee. There can be very good reasons to pay a fee, but make sure you know what you’re getting into. Some of them don’t give you anything worthwhile. Do your research before paying for any job board. You want to know what their refund policy is in case you aren’t satisfied even if it looked good from the outside.
The reshipping scam has been around for a while. Basically, they tell you that you will receive packages from sellers that need to be repackaged correctly to be shipped elsewhere.
What’s really happening is that they’re paying with stolen credit cards and such. When the fraudulent payments are discovered, it’s your address investigators will come to. That’s not something you want to get mixed up in, as it can mean jail time.
Here’s a scam that predates the internet. Someone advertises that you can make money stuffing envelopes, just send them a few bucks and they’ll tell you how.
Want to know how? You do the same to the next suckers down the line. No product, just tell people how to advertise this exact same opportunity. It’s not legal.
Email processing is essentially the same as envelope stuffing, just done online. You place ads telling people they can make money online, just buy your system. You send them the instructions on how to do the same thing you’re doing. Just as with envelope stuffing, this is not legal.
At Home Assembly
When you love to do crafts, assembling items at home can sound appealing. 99 times out of 100, it’s a scam. You’d probably be better off taking a chance on starting a business selling things you made yourself than trying to assemble things at home for someone else.
Usually, you’re expected to pay for supplies, then get paid when your work is up to their standards. It won’t happen.
Pyramid schemes have been around for a long time. They come in many forms, and not all of them involve money directly. Most recently, I saw one that was about sending books to each other – each person would send books to those above, and recruit others to send books to them, who would recruit others, on down the line. It doesn’t matter what is being sent through the pyramid; the point is that pyramid schemes are illegal.
Sometimes these are hard to spot, and you will always see participants claiming that their version is legal. If it’s a pyramid scheme, it isn’t legal.
Job Offer Out of the Blue
Some companies will contact people completely out of the blue with an apparent job offer. This one often goes with a check cashing or money order scam but may be something else as well.
Seriously, unless you have some serious skills for one job or another, companies aren’t likely to seek you out. That’s especially true for jobs such as mystery shopping, where they can find candidates with relative ease because the basic requirements are low. If you aren’t doing the kind of work where companies use headhunters to find new employees, it’s extremely unlikely that a potential employer has picked you out of nowhere. Be wary.
That doesn’t mean you’re immune if you have better skills. It’s easy for scammers to imitate any kind of job offer. Know who you’re really dealing with when you get a job offer so you have a good chance of getting paid.
Medical Coding and Billing
Medical coding and billing is one of those tricky ones. There are legitimate ways to learn medical coding and billing from home – Career Step (aff) is one of them. It’s not cheap to learn from legitimate sources, which can make scams look appealing.
Medical billing scams will claim to offer you training and resources to help you and may give you a list of doctors who might need your services. The problem here is that most doctors and hospitals have their billing and coding done through a service. If you’re highly experienced, you might be able to find clients on your own. But training on your own with poor quality resources? No.
Even if you go through a good quality training program, most times you won’t be able to do medical billing and coding at home until you have a least 2-5 years of experience in an office. It’s not that easy a job, and you’re usually best off learning it with more experienced people around you so you can ask questions.
If a business opportunity comes to your attention claiming to offer you a turnkey website, be very aware of the chances of a scam. It’s very difficult to make money off a turnkey website – they’re competing against other identical sites, and so don’t tend to get natural traffic. Income potential is often greatly exaggerated.
There are times when a company website makes sense. It’s not uncommon for network marketing opportunities to include a website, but you’re sending people to it through your own marketing efforts, which are often more local. If they’ve been at all honest with you, you should know what you can and cannot expect from your company website.
They Don’t Care About Your Qualifications
Any job that doesn’t care about your qualifications is likely to be a scam. Even jobs that don’t need experience want to know if you have had other jobs, if you’ve volunteered, what your education is, and so forth. They want to know what kind of an employee you might be.
You should also expect an interview where they’re very interested in your answers to some challenging questions. Anyone who has worked an entry level job can tell you that they want to talk to you for a while first. The job offer does not come just based on your resume. Employers want to know something about the person they might hire by interacting with them. It may be only a phone call for a home based job, but there should be some kind of serious interview.
When in doubt about any work at home opportunity, ask around about it. Don’t rely on the people you heard about it from, find other people to talk to. This can be as simple as asking a family member what they think or talking to a friend.
You can also discuss the opportunity on a work at home website. Many are good at spotting scams or at least telling you if it looks a little iffy.
Google can be useful, but it won’t always give useful answers. There are people who promote opportunities by targeting the name of the opportunity plus the word “review” or “scam.” It’s not always easy to sort out legitimate reviews from reviews done by people who have a financial stake in it and no problem with lying. I do not mean that all affiliate reviews or sponsored reviews are bad. It’s just that some people aren’t all that concerned with keeping a reputation for honesty and will be positive about anything.
Even though work at home scams are plentiful, there are real jobs and home business opportunities out there for you to consider. Use caution and don’t share your most important personal information until you are certain it’s safe. This includes your social security number and bank account information. Any other information you can protect is good, but those two are the most important.
Know Your Keywords
The right keywords are vital to any job search. “Work at home” is not an ideal keyword. While many legitimate jobs use it, it’s commonly used by scams as well.
I find “remote” to be an often useful keyword, although it can mean something other than a job you can do at home. Some companies use it to mean you won’t be in their main office, but you may be in a smaller one. I’ve also seen it used for jobs where you would be sent to work in another country. Remote indeed!
“Telecommute” and “telework” are also useful. Sometimes these mean that you will work in the office part of the time, but many are fully at home. Freelance can be good if you don’t mind taking on projects rather than getting a regular job with an employer. With any job search keyword, beware of scams, as they can hide anywhere.
Narrow your results down by including the kind of job title you’re looking for or a skill you have. The more specific you are, the better your search results will be. I have far too many people email me asking how to get a work at home job who have no idea what kind of job they want. It’s hard to give advice to someone who hasn’t thought their search through even that much. It also won’t impress a potential employer if you apply to jobs you aren’t remotely qualified for.
If You Get Scammed…
Beware scams targeting people who have just been scammed. Yes, it’s a thing. Scammers are awful.
It’s called a refund and recovery scam. The scammer finds you on a “sucker list” and contacts you with an offer to help you get your money back. For a fee, of course. Alternatively, they’ll ask for your bank information so that they can direct deposit your money. They make themselves sound official and reliable as they make their pitch.
Don’t fall for it.
Any time you think you have been scammed, report it at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/. You can try your local police as well, but as most scams are done online, it can be difficult for them to do much. The FTC partners with other law enforcement agencies, so reporting to them is your best bet.