I get a lot of questions about work-at-home opportunities, of course. One of the most common themes to the questions I get is scams. When you’re first starting out, it can be hard to know whether or not any particular opportunity is a scam because you aren’t familiar with “the scene” yet. Especially when some scammers use the names of legitimate companies to lure people in!
I find that there tend to be two types of people who are looking for a way to make money from home: the ones who will follow any lead without thinking it could be a scam, and the ones who think everything is a scam. You don’t necessarily have to be firmly in one camp or another, but you’ll probably find yourself leaning in one direction or another when you start your work-at-home job search.
The truth is, there are far too many online job scammers out there, and they’re taking advantage of newcomers who aren’t going to know enough to identify their sketchy practices as scammy. Today I’m going to help you arm yourself against scammers so you can find real, legitimate work from home — because it does exist, it’s not impossible to find, and I want to help you find it!
Signs Your Job Offer Is a Scam
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen and heard about people who are offered these too-good-to-be-true positions working from home, only to discover (when it’s too late) that they were scams.
1. The “too good to be true” test is a good way to spot scams early in the process. If any “job opportunity” is promising you lots of money for very little work or effort, and in very little time, it’s going to be a scam. Working from home is awesome, but it’s still definitely work. It takes work to find the right job, work to get started, and then once that’s done, you have a real, actual job on your hands that requires you to, you guessed it, work. Easy money isn’t legitimate.
Also, many people who fall victim to scammers do so because they don’t know much about the field and what’s common. For example, if you’re being promised $75 an hour to do data entry, this seems fantastic. But once you’re familiar with data entry jobs and their typical pay rate, you’d know that getting paid $75 an hour is probably going to turn out to be a scam. Most pay only a fraction of that — $8 or $9 is much more typical. Being offered several times the going rate is a big sign of a scam.
2. If you’re asked to set up and pay for an account somewhere (like iTunes), to send money especially wire transfers, to buy a gift card for something, or otherwise pay for anything (that isn’t a background check or other service directly related to the job) during the interview process, you are probably involved in a scam and you should stop all contact with that person.
3. Scammers tend to be very shifty. They will try to keep their identity and origin hidden. They’ll pretend to be working for companies that have big, recognizable names to try to fool you into not researching them. If your “recruiter” won’t give you their name or contact information, he or she is probably a scammer.
4. Another tip that you’re dealing with a scam is if you receive any kind of pressure from them. If you’re asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, and the response you get when you say no to the request isn’t professional, it’s going to be a scam. If you’re sent to a website with lots of screaming capital letters talking about a limited number of slots left, it’s a scam. If you’re being pushed to do anything at all, it’s probably a scam.
5. A legitimate company will NOT contact you via Facebook Messenger to offer you a job. Period.
6. A legitimate company will NOT ask for your banking information – including usernames and passwords – to purchase the equipment you will need for the job. They also will never ask you to share sensitive personal information via a messenger system, Skype or email. Most companies have a secure system that encrypts personal information for your protection.
7. A legitimate company will NOT ask you to cash a check, purchase something and then send them back the remaining balance. Ever.
Common Work-at-Home Scams
One of the common scams I’ve seen is people who are supposedly contacting you saying from legitimate companies (Apple, Belk, etc.). They promise very high hourly rates for very low-level work, like data entry. They’ll also promise to pay for all-new equipment for you (in other words, a new computer). Scammers lure you in with these big promises and then, at the very end, they’ll ask you to do something shady like pay for access to a website or cash a check they are sending you for equipment and then you just need to send back the excess.
Chat-based interviews are another common thing. If your interviewer is only interacting with you online through emails or chats, and you can’t get on the phone and do a voice or video chat, beware. Any time your recruiter hides himself or herself from you or prevents you from making direct contact, you’ll know you’re being scammed.
Emails and things like private messages on Facebook or direct messages on Instagram can also be “phishing” scams, where they’ll ask for your information and promise to pass it along to companies that are hiring. What they really want to do is get as much personal information from you as possible so they can sell it to the highest bidders — and you’ll get inundated with all kinds of spam as a result. Phishing emails (in a job search context) are those emails that come out of nowhere, from people you’ve never heard of, telling you that you’re being considered for an amazing work-from-home job. They just need you to click through to a site that asks for all your personal information, or they want you to tell them your bank account details. You know what to do with these emails, right? Don’t give them any information! Don’t even reply; just delete them and move on with your day. With as competitive as the work-at-home world is, there is no need for companies to start soliciting applications. And where would they have gotten your email anyway? This is a total scam.
Work-from-home scams can often be check-cashing scams in disguise. The “hiring company” might promise to send you a check to cover your expenses. Then they’ll send a check for too much money, and they’ll have you cash it and return the overage to them somehow. This is always, always, always fraudulent and you should never cash that check. You should also never wire money to a potential employer.
What About Identify Theft?
The Internet can be a dangerous place. I’m sure that comes as no surprise – we’ve all heard nightmare tales of identity theft, data breaches, and even malware that takes your computer data hostage and makes you pay to get it back. (That last one is called Ransomware and, yes, it’s a real thing.) Essentially, the Internet is the new Wild West, and you must be prepared to face these challenges. You need to protect yourself, especially during the work-at-home job hunt when you’re sharing such personal data as your name, address, and social security number with companies you may have only been in contact with online. Let’s look at the steps you can take to stay safe.
The very first step you should take before ever browsing the Internet is installing and running antivirus and anti-malware software. If you don’t, you might as well be wandering around in a thunderstorm with a lightning rod – you’re going to get hit with something unpleasant. Most new computers come with trial versions of either McAfee or Norton. You can also find fantastic free antivirus programs like Avast Free Antivirus, AVG Enterprise FREE, or Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. For protection against malware, try Malwarebytes or Cybereason RansomFree.
Now that your computer is protected, here’s the next big rule for using the Internet: be extremely cautious about giving out personal information. When you’re job searching, you may be tempted to upload your résumé to any number of job sites to make filling out applications easier and to help prospective employers find you. Unfortunately, it’s not always a good idea. Generally, your résumé will include your name, address, phone number, email address, details about where you’ve worked and lived – in other words, a wealth of personal information that someone can use to steal your identity. Make sure you only provide the bare minimum of personal data when sharing your résumé online, and that you’re dealing with a reputable job board or employer when you give out more specific information (including your date of birth). You can do this by editing your résumé to redact sensitive info, or reworking a chronological résumé into a functional résumé.
There is some information you should never give out, unless you’re certain it’s being used by a reputable employer for legitimate reasons. These include your bank account number, your driver’s license number, and your social security number. A real employer may use this information to set up your direct deposit and deal with taxes. A scammer will use it to steal your identity.
Pro Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft
Let’s look at a few ways to level up your personal protection practices online.
Do you know what an EIN is? It’s an employee identification number issued by the IRS, and you can get one for free. If you’re primarily a freelancer or independent contractor, it’s often a great idea to start a small business for your work. And, if you do, you can get an EIN which you can provide to the companies you work for in place of your social security number. This offers another layer of protection between you and potential identity theft.
Many companies will give you several options for getting paid. Choosing PayPal or check will allow you to keep your banking information private. Because PayPal is required to send a 1099-K to all persons earning over a certain amount and/or receiving a certain number of payments, some companies using PayPal for payments won't ask for a SSN/EIN. Therefore, choosing this payment option may be something to consider.
Speaking of keeping your identity safe, it's also a good idea to sign up for a service like Credit Sesame that will notify you of any changes to your credit profile or new accounts opened under your Social Security Number. Head off any nefarious inquiries before they get out of control. Zander Insurance offers Identity Theft Protection insurance.
In order to avoid giving out your personal phone number, get a Google Voice number or sign up for Skype instead. Google Voice is a robust and free program that will give you a local number and incredibly useful tools to use in managing your phone calls and conversations. You can even forward calls received at your Google Voice phone number to your personal number! You can also get a phone number from Skype that people can call from any phone, though note that this is a paid service. You can make Skype to Skype calls for free.
Another effective way to protect your personal information is to familiarize yourself with and use available security settings at various job sites. You can entirely hide your résumé on sites like Indeed and Monster. Indeed only shows your phone number and email address to employers you’ve applied to, and they never share your address. Even with your résumé set to private, you can still use it to apply to jobs you find on CareerBuilder, Monster, and Indeed. Your résumé just won’t be searchable for any employers, which helps protects you from the scammers.
You’re all set to get a safe start online! Just remember to be cautious with your personal information, trust your instincts, and always verify that a company is legitimate before speaking with them or sending them additional information.
How to Protect Yourself from Work-at-Home Scams
The main rule for avoiding a work-at-home job search scam is to follow your gut. Your intuition works in ways you don’t necessarily understand, and it’s important to listen to your gut when you’re looking for an at-home job. Take the stance of doubting everyone and everything that comes your way, and make sure you feel confident that any potential employer has proven itself beyond a shadow of a doubt before you hand over any sensitive information.
Check the Better Business Bureau for the company’s name and see what their rating is. Read reviews on BBB as well as sites like Glassdoor.com, and watch review videos on YouTube. One caveat: take the unhappy employee reviews with a grain of salt — happy people are quiet people. Pay close attention to what the reviewers are actually complaining about, and keep digging for more information about those specific aspects.
Don’t stop with the company, though. Dig into the recruiter’s information, too. Make sure you have your contact’s name and make sure that person works at the company — you can do a Google search or look at LinkedIn to figure that out. Legitimate recruiters have nothing to hide and will be very forward with their identity and contact info. Make sure to verify everything they tell you by doing your own research.
Scammers are after your money. Don’t pay for anything up front in the job search. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t need to pay for anything to get hired (with occasional exceptions for things like background checks, which some companies will require you to pay for).
Finally, the best way to avoid scammers (other than following your gut) is to keep your job search contained to legitimate sites. FlexJobs is my favorite job board for finding work-at-home opportunities. They vet all of their job leads for legitimacy so you can apply with confidence.