Is Your Work from Home Job a Scam?According to the average American, working from home is part of their ideal life, giving them more time with their family and freedom from the dreaded rush hour commute. Unfortunately, the number of legitimate work from home opportunities is quite low compared to demand for them. Flexjobs, a website for remote and flexible work, estimates that for every real telecommuting job, there are 60 to 70 scam postings designed to steal your money, steal your identity or even involve you in a criminal enterprise. To learn more about spotting typical work from home scams, as well as how to find real flexible job opportunities, keep reading.

Signs of a work from home scam

Fake work from home opportunities often try to entice victims with the idea of an easy, high-paying remote job that anyone can do. Postings that include guarantees of success and wealth, or highlight making a lot of money in only a few hours of work are likely scams. This is especially true if the job involves you sending money up front, as no legitimate employer will charge you a fee before giving you a job. Other suspicious details include a lack of specific job duties in the description, generic and vague qualifications for candidates and an interview that is conducted only via online chat, with no calls or in-person meetings.

Work from home scams that are attempting to steal your identity can be a bit trickier to detect, as it’s common for employers to ask new and potential employees for personal information. Many companies like to run background checks on prospective hires, and they need your social security number to report your wages to the government. However, it’s unusual for a lawful company to ask for your social security number as part of your job application, or immediately after you get hired before any paperwork is presented or signed. You should only give your social security number to a company after you have accepted an offer, signed new hire paperwork and begun some kind of onboarding process. If you’re still suspicious, you can try to verify a company’s legitimacy by asking for its official IRS employer identification number, or EIN, and researching it. You should be wary of any companies that ask for more information than necessary, such as your driver’s license number or credit card number, as well as those that hire you immediately after inquiry without much of an interview process.

Common work from home scams

While work from home scams can take many forms, most scammers like to stick with the same handful of tricks because they reliably fool people. These are some of the most common kinds of work from home scams you might encounter.

Mystery shopping: Mystery or secret shopping can be a legitimate part-time job, where you work for a company that is contracted by a business to evaluate its quality of service. However, it’s also a very popular subject for scams that exploit the way money moves to steal from people. In a mystery shopping scam, the scammer will send you a check or peer-to-peer payment for a large amount of money, then instruct you to either use it to test a wire transfer service, such as Western Union, or to spend it in a certain store on gift cards and give them the codes. After several days, the initial check or transfer the scammers sent you will fail, leaving you on the hook for any money you sent or spent. As a rule of thumb, do not deposit money sent from a stranger into your bank account as part of a job — or any other reason. Some scammers will also try to get you to pay for some kind of mystery shopping directory or certification, but these are almost always worthless. A legitimate source for finding mystery shopping jobs is the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association, which is free to access.

Fake business opportunities: Business opportunities, or bizopps, essentially sell prepackaged businesses to aspiring entrepreneurs. This can take the form of video rental machines, Internet commerce sites or envelope-stuffing businesses, just to name a few examples. While some of these opportunities can be legitimate, they can also quickly turn into money pits. The initial starter pack you get for the business will rarely let you turn a profit, and as your new business starts failing, the bizopp sellers will bombard you with offers for useless add-ons and coaching that they claim will lead you to success. The best way to sort honest bizopps from ripoffs is to ask to see the bizopp’s disclosure document and earnings claim statement. The Federal Trade Commission has very strict rules regarding the information bizopps are required to give you, and by reading over these documents for inconsistencies and contacting the listed references, you can make an informed decision that cuts through the flash the bizopp salesperson is trying to pitch you.

Assembly jobs: Many people make money on craft marketplaces like Etsy, so the idea of assembling crafts as a job isn’t far-fetched. However, assembly job scams require workers to pay for the materials they’re sent, promising payment when the worker sends in completed crafts that pass a rigorous quality inspection. As you may have guessed, no craft is good enough to pass the quality inspection, the workers never get paid and the scammer encourages them to purchase more materials to try again.

Pyramid schemes: We’ve written about illegal pyramid schemes before, specifically how they share similarities with legal multi-level marketing companies. In both cases, you are encouraged to recruit new people to join the organization, which often entails them paying money for a license or starter kit. The person who recruited you earns a commission from the money you make, and the people who you recruit earn you a commission for money they make. The key difference between a pyramid scheme and a multi-level marketing company is that, in a multi-level marketing company, you are encouraged to sell a product as well as recruit. Pyramid schemes heavily emphasize recruitment over selling, or may not even have a product to sell at all, and are eventually doomed to collapse. It should also be noted that many of the more popular multi-level marketing companies skate the line between legitimacy and pyramid scheme, and some have recently come under fire for predatory business practices.

Money muling: On the surface, money mule scams seem like simple jobs where you just get paid to conduct money transfers. You give someone your personal information, they set up a financial account for you and you forward any funds that get transferred to that account in exchange for a percentage of the money. In actuality, the transfers you’re making are laundering money for criminals, and they’re only involving you so they can deny culpability. If the authorities start investigating the criminals, you may be implicated in their crimes and prosecuted, which could result in your personal bank account being frozen, or your bank holding you personally responsible for paying back the illegally-transferred money you received.

Spotting a legitimate work from home opportunity

Even with all the scams lurking out there, it’s still possible to find real jobs that let you work from home or work according to your own schedule, but many of them require specialized skills or training. Accountants, web developers and IT specialists all have a high capacity for finding remote work, though those jobs require degrees, certifications or extensive self-motivated training to attain. Virtual assistant, virtual call center and translation jobs are easier to get, though they require expertise in administration, customer service and fluency in multiple languages, respectively. While you can sometimes find these jobs using social media or Craigslist, you have a much better chance of finding legitimate opportunities if you research established companies that hire workers and contract them out, such as American High Tech Transcription and Reporting Incorporated for transcribers and translators. As noted above, if you’re interested in being a secret shopper, you can contact the MSPA to find legitimate mystery shopping companies and networking conferences.

Ultimately, it comes down to trusting your gut. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to do your research and take time to think through a decision, and avoid any potential employer that puts pressure on you to make an instant decision. If working from home is your goal, stay sharp and don’t let scammers take advantage of your dream. For more advice on how you can avoid common cons and swindles, follow our scams blog.