Stephanie Wood, CPA, CIA, CFE | Manager
We frequently see advertisements on the internet for jobs that allow you to work from home. If you do a Google search for “work from home jobs”, the right hand side of the screen reads “Legit work from home jobs”, “Work at home for $2,100/week”, and “Up to $45/hour work at home”, among many other ads. While there may be some legitimate work-at-home job opportunities out there, many of them are scams. These are easily perpetrated because people have a hard time distinguishing the real opportunities from the fake ones until it’s too late.
FlexJobs, a Company that helps individuals find flexible, professional, and legitimate job opportunities via the internet, found that there are about 60 to 70 job scams for every one legitimate job posting online. The survey also found that nearly 1 in 5 job seekers reported being victim of a job scam at least once.
One scam that has recently surfaced involves a perpetrator claiming to be from Amazon, calling individuals to ask them to apply for a work-from-home job. However, as part of the application process, the victims are asked to pay $200 for a “starter kit”. Once paid, the scammer disappears.
As perpetrators continue to develop and improve their methods of carrying out fraud, it is important for consumers to have an understanding of the risks that exist.
Types of Scams
According to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the following are the most common work-at-home scams being used today:
- Internet businesses – Victims are told they can earn thousands of dollars each month by starting their own Internet business. Once signed up, the Company requires you to continue to pay for additional services and upgrades to succeed.
- Envelope stuffing – People get lured into thinking they will make money for stuffing envelopes for someone else. However, once the up front fee is paid, no envelopes ever arrive. The victim is told to send the opportunity to others, and only gets paid if they get people to sign up just as they did.
- Assembly or craft work – Victims typically have to invest a significant amount of money into supplies or equipment. Once the product is assembled and sent in, no money is received. The victim is usually told that the product was not up to their standards.
- Rebate processing – People are promised money for the processing of rebates. The up front fee is for training, certification, and registration. However, there are rarely any rebates to process once these fees are paid.
- Medical billing – The advertisement offers individuals the opportunity to start their own medical billing company. After paying for software, training, and client lists, the individual is usually left with an outdated list and are up against stiff competition in this market.
- Mystery shopping – These advertisements look for people who want to shop or dine and then report their experience in exchange for money. While there are some real companies paying for mystery shoppers, the fake ones may require fees up front and ask you to deposit checks and wire some of the money back to them or to another location.
- Multilevel marketing – Legitimate multilevel marketing companies sell products to the public and the individuals involved receive commissions for the products sold and for sales made by anyone recruited. Watch out for the companies claiming that recruiting new members is the way to make money. This is most likely a pyramid scheme.
How to protect yourself
It is important to be aware of the different types of work-at-home scams that exist and to try to stay on top of any new scams that may pop up throughout the year. The Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) has a Scam Tracker with an interactive map that can be used by consumers to learn about scams and report them. Users can search the map using a variety of filters to track scams, see what is happening in a particular area, and to see how much money has been lost. The tracker can be accessed on the BBB’s website at bbb.org/scamtracker.
In addition to the tool above, the BBB also recommends that consumers be mindful of the following:
- Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.
- Take time to research the organization or person who is contacting you.
- Never provide your personal information to people you do not know.
- Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
- Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
- If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
If you suspect that you are a victim of a work-at-home scam, reports can be made to the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, or the Attorney General’s Office in your state.
Thankfully, there are several tools out there to aid consumers in educating themselves on the different types of scams that are out there. It is important to remain skeptical of the different opportunities you come across and to take the time to do your due diligence before making a decision to get involved.