Red flags for work-at-home scams

Aug 27, 2010 2:46pm


By Jeremy Gin, CEO, SiteJabber

One of the knock-on effects of the continued bad economy has been a surge in the number of online work-at-home scams reported on SiteJabber. In response to this, we have developed a few resources to help consumers avoid getting scammed. 

Requiring upfront payment: a common trait of work-at-home scams is to require people to pay money upfront. Sometimes this payment is claimed to be used to purchase “work materials” such as business cards or marketing collateral; other times the payment is required to subscribe to a “service” or to purchase the product inventory which you are meant to sell. Legitimate jobs typically don’t require upfront payment.

Collecting personal information: work-at-home scammers often make money by collecting other people’s personal information and then reselling it or using it illicitly themselves. Essentially many work-at-home scams are phishing scams. 

Demanding that you to sign up others to make money: some multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes have been around for years and are not scams in the traditional sense (think Amway), but a new breed of online MLM scams have cropped up. If you need to sign up your grandma to make a buck, it has a high likelihood of being a scam. 

Too good to be true: oftentimes the best way to avoid a scam is to do a gut-check. Ask yourself: “Does this deal seem too good to be true?” If the answer is yes, then it’s probably best to avoid it. Most likely no one will pay you $5000 a month to work in your pajamas. 

Resembling known work-at-home scams: some work-at-home scams have cropped up again and again on SiteJabber. If you encounter a website offering to give you money for any of these “jobs,” think twice before participating: 

• Filling out surveys

• Searching for and clicking on websites and ads 

• Claiming free government grant money

• Setting up e-commerce websites

• Paying or giving out personal info to get access to job postings

• Data entry

• Medical claims processing

• Reading emails

• Stuffing envelopes 

• Assembly or craft work

Tips to Stay Safe from Work-At-Home Scams

Do your homework: before participating in any work-at-home program, be sure to research it first. You can research the program’s website on SiteJabber to see if anyone else has had a bad (or good) experience. You can also do a quick Google search for the name of the program, adding the word “scam” or “fraud”.

Avoid paying money upfront: don’t forget that most legitimate jobs do not require you to pay money to apply, subscribe, or otherwise participate in the job. 

Do not give out personal information: avoid giving out any personal information unless you feel very confident about the identity of the website or company with which you are dealing as well as what they are planning to do with your information. 

Exercise extra caution if you are in a high-risk demographic: perpetrators of work-at-home scams often go after: (1) the long-term unemployed, (2) stay-at-home mothers looking for supplemental income, and (3) retired people unable to live on social security or pensions alone. If you fall into one of these three categories, be aware that scammers may be targeting you and use extra caution.  

Epilogue: What to do if You’ve Been Scammed 

Contact your financial institution:  if you think you’ve been scammed, the first thing you should do is contact your credit card company, bank or other financial institution to see if they can help recover what you’ve lost and prevent you from losing any more money by putting a hold on the account. This will not always work but is worth a try. 

Contact the website or business that cheated you: some work-at-home programs are not entirely scams, and if you raise enough of a fuss, you may be able to recover at least some of your losses. 

Report the scammer: in an effort to protect others from being scammed, you can review the website or business publicly. Oftentimes a shady business may not return your private emails or phone calls, but a public review will motive them to respond. Additionally, you can report scammers to the FBI and the FTC to help law enforcement catch these criminals. 

Jeremy Gin is the chief executive officer and co-founder of SiteJabber a consumer protection service which helps the public avoid fraudulent websites and find good sites. Consumers use SiteJabber to research unfamiliar websites, as well as read and write reviews of online businesses. SiteJabber is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and was named one of the top 100 websites of 2010 by PC Magazine.