Work-from-home jobs: real or scam?

December 29, 2015

Dear Consumer Ed:

I am a college student and I’ve been looking online for part-time work so I can make a little money.  I see work-from-home jobs advertised, but my friend says most of them are scams.  How can I tell if a job posting is legitimate or not? 

Consumer Ed says:  

It can be difficult to distinguish legitimate online job offers from those placed by people who are just out to get your money, especially when it comes to work-from-home jobs.  Scammers advertise jobs where real employers and job placement firms do, like the Internet and online job boards, newspapers, TV, and even the radio.  For every legitimate job posting out there, there are plenty designed to steal your identity and cheat you out of your hard-earned money.  But there are certain aspects of an offer that can help you spot a potential scam:

  • Requests for payment.  Legitimate employers and recruiters don't charge to hire you, whether through a fee for certification, training materials, background and credit checks, or their expenses for placing you with a company.  Real placement agents or employers don’t require payment from applicants for the prospect of a job.
  • Requests for sensitive financial or personal information.  You should be suspicious of any company that requests via phone or email your social security number, driver’s license, bank account, PayPal, or credit card information as part of the initial application process.  Scammers may try to elicit this information from you so that they can steal your identity and your money.  Legitimate employers will typically ask for this information after you have been hired and are setting up payment and tax information.  You don’t want to grant any organization access to your information until you know it’s completely trustworthy.
  • Offers high salary for simple tasks or minimal experience.  A legitimate employer will evaluate your experience and abilities before deciding on what to pay you.  If the company offers you a big income that is far beyond the type of task involved, or is completely out of your range based on your education and experience, the offer is likely a scam.  Before trusting an offer, do a little research on what the position you’re applying for generally pays. 
  • Communicates via non-business address.  Any company that communicates from a free email account such as Yahoo, Live, Hotmail or Gmail is likely a scammer. Legitimate job-related emails will come from corporate email accounts.  Also, carefully examine links in emails to guarantee they are linking to a legitimate website, rather than some fake site.  If there’s a phone number in the email, call it to see what information the person on the other end gives you.
  • Immediately offers job.  Actual employers take their time to research and get to know potential job candidates before offering a position.  Be skeptical of a job offer that has come via email, when you’ve never had a telephone or in-person interview.

Additionally, you can avoid being a victim of an online scam by being proactive in your search:

  • Research the company.  Visit the company’s website.  If they don’t have a website, or if the website company listing doesn’t match the job description, consider it an indication that the job might be a scam.  Check with the Better Business Bureau or the FTC to find out if any complaints have been filed about a company.  Keep in mind that a lack of complaints doesn’t mean the business is legitimate.  You may want to do an Internet search with the name of the company and words like “review”, “scam”, or “complaint.” 
  • Ask questions. Legitimate work-at-home employers should be willing and able to answer a variety of questions about their programs.  The FTC suggests you ask the following:
    • What tasks will I have to perform? (Ask the employer to list every step of the job.) 
    • Will I be paid a salary, or will my pay be based on commission?  
    • Who will pay me?  
    • When will I get my first paycheck?

And don’t be afraid to ask for references if you're not sure if the company is legitimate. Request a list of other employees or contractors.  If the company isn't willing to provide references (names, email addresses, and phone numbers), be skeptical of the opportunity.

  • Know the common scams. Some industries are more likely than others to offer real opportunities for at-home work. Many legitimate employers utilize home workers to take orders over the phone or as customer service representatives.  But other job offers, like envelope stuffing, at-home assembly work, medical or claims processing, and refund recovery, are commonly used by scammers.  Additionally, be on the lookout for scams that request that the applicant or employee accept payment to his or her own bank account and then wire money on behalf of the company. Almost always, the money the victims are transferring is stolen, and therefore, the victims are committing theft and wire fraud.  

Finally, as a rule of thumb, avoid offers that seem too good to be true.  If you think you’ve been targeted by a job scam, you can submit complaints to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit