How to Spot Work from Home Scams

work from home scams

One day, I received a message from someone on LinkedIn. A company I’d never heard of offered me a work-from-home position. The pay was phenomenal. All I needed to do was turn in my first assignment quickly, I’d get my first paycheck, and then we could settle in for a more regular agreement.

Now, I’ve been offered legit opportunities through LinkedIn before and even done work (and been paid!) as a result of connections through the site.

Unfortunately, this was not one of those situations.

I re-arranged my schedule, turned down other work, and found myself out $800 when the company, which called itself “Write Stuff,” disappeared after I submitted my writing assignment.

Did my spidey-sense go off during any part of this interaction? Sure it did. But it’s easy to get swept up in the idea of making a lot of money quickly, and I ignored some red flags. Don’t end up like me. Here’s how to spot work-from-home scams.

1. Amazing income claims

One of the biggest red flags is the idea that you can solve all your money problems with this one work-from-home system, said John Rampton, founder of the freelance invoicing and payment-processing app Due.

“In the back of our minds, we know there’s no such thing as easy money,” he said. “But our common sense tends to flee when offered the potential for big gains.”

If someone offers you a large sum of money for relatively little work, or if they have a “system” that promises to replace your day-job paycheck within a few weeks, run the other way.

“There are legitimate ways to make money online from home,” continued Rampton. “But just like anything else, they require that you put in time and effort. Don’t believe someone who claims that you can see instant income.”

work from home scams

Image taken by author

2. You have to pay something up front

Some work-from-home scams prey on the unsuspecting by asking that you foot the bill for “upfront costs.”

According to Rampton, some of these costs seem reasonable. “Maybe they tell you to pay for a background check, or insist that you send money for a special piece of equipment you need for your job,” he said.

But most legitimate businesses won’t ask you to cover the expense for these things. They pay for background checks and send you any custom items you need for the job.

Additionally, Rampton warned, don’t send money via Western Union or wire transfer. “Maybe you’re told to wire $500 for a specialized headset,” he said. “You send the money, but the headset never comes, and the company disappears, leaving you poorer.”

The same is true of ordering special work from home kits. Back in 2012, the Federal Trade Commission helped consumers get back more than $2 million after they were scammed by fraudsters using names such as “Google Money Tree” and “Google Treasure Chest.”

Consumers purchased $4 kits, providing personal credit card information, only to find out later they had also signed up for recurring monthly charges of $72.21. Consumers were told the kit would help them make $100,000 in six months.

Stay away from work-from-home kits or systems. They cost money, and rarely work as promised.

3. Worthless contact information

When you look at the contact information for a work-from-home opportunity, is it helpful? Or is it useless?

“Many scammers set up legitimate-looking websites, but when you look for contact information, all you end up with is a submission form,” said Rampton. “That’s a major red flag. There should be an actual email address for a point person.”

You also have to watch out for scammers posing as real companies, Rampton added. Take the information you receive, and compare it to what you can find for the company through a separate online search.

Another course of action — instead of taking a company’s word for it — is to check the database on FlexJobs. These are legitimate companies with flexible work-from-home opportunities. You can cross-check what a company sends you with the database.

4. Questionable URL

Increasingly, scammers are becoming more sophisticated. They offer URLs that seem legitimate and spoof official websites, said Rampton. Some of the ways scammers do this include:

  • Adding an “inc” added to the company’s name in the URL
  • Using a “.net” version of a company’s URL
  • Switching two letters, with your eyes skipping over the error

Carefully vet the URLs of work-from-home jobs you see. If the work claims to come from a specific company, compare the listing with the careers section of the company’s official website.

5. Very few details

Work-from-home scams tend to provide scant detail about how the job works or what you’ll be doing. In my case, the “recruiter” just told me they needed something, stat, and that I’d get more information after finishing the first piece. They dangled the fabulous payment as a carrot, and I went along.

If you aren’t being offered full details ahead of time, take a step back. “When someone is trying to hide what’s happening or gets skittish about going into depth, that’s a sign you could be dealing with a scam,” said Rampton.

6. You’re contacted out of the blue

This one is tricky. As a freelancer, I’m often contacted with work offers. However, there’s a difference between being offered a freelance job and a work-from-home scam where someone offers you a full-time job — without you applying.

“It’s true that you might be headhunted,” Rampton said. “However, once the initial contact is made, you need to be alert for other red flags. Be skeptical of someone who just offers you a job you didn’t apply for without asking for an interview or going through some other process you’d see with a normal job.”

7. It just feels sketchy

Beyond any specific warning signs, Rampton said, you should trust your gut. “We all have this voice in our heads telling us something just isn’t quite right,” he said.

If it feels a little off, it probably is. When something seems too good to be true, that’s a sign you could be looking at a scam.

Avoid work-from-home scams

Most work-from-home scams have at least two or three red flags, said Rampton. “If something isn’t sitting quite right with you, investigate further,” he suggested. “There’s a good chance you will find other signs that this opportunity really isn’t one.”

Instead, if you are looking for a legitimate work-from-home career, check out some of our articles on real home-based jobs:

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