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.
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.
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. Note that this is not the same thing as having you set up a profile on a job site, which is typically legitimate.
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.
How to Avoid 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. You can also find work at other job boards like Indeed.com.