Your pajamas. Your puppy child. Your couch.
Work-from-home jobs are desirable for all these reasons. And more.
We hear from a lot of you who share your circumstances — your hard times, your children’s needs, your need for a magical money-making side gig. That’s why we love showcasing awesome work-from-home jobs and encouraging you to find the one that best suits your life.
However, if you stumble upon a job that might seem too good to be true, pump the brakes for a second — it could be a scam.
We want to arm you with the best tips to avoid these work-from-home job scams, so we reached out to Katherine Hutt, the national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.
How Frequent Are Work-From-Home Job Scams?
The Better Business Bureau has a nifty BBB Scam Tracker, where thousands of people report scams concerning everything from credit cards to debt collections and employment.
Since its launch in late 2015, more than 5,000 employment scams have been reported in the U.S. and Canada.
These aren’t exclusively work-from-home job scams, but those kind of jobs are especially susceptible, Hutt says.
“It preys on people when they’re at a vulnerable point in their life,” Hutt said. She mentioned those who are fresh out of work, in debt, in need of a second job to pay bills or are caring for a family.
Plus, it’s easier for scammers to extract vital information when pretending to be employers. That’s because a legitimate employer needs your bank account’s routing number, your Social Security number — all of those private numbers.
“There’s other scams where that wouldn’t come up naturally,” Hutt said.
What Can Work-From-Home Job Scammers Do With Your Information?
Because these scammers can more naturally extract your most personal identifying information, the consequences can be terrifying. (Totally not trying to scare you here, but…)
Hutt says work-from-home job scams can fall into two major “buckets”: stealing your money and/or stealing your identity.
Regarding stealing your money, perhaps your “employer” sends you a check for any expenses. (Think mystery shopping: Go out and buy these things and I’ll pay you.) You go to deposit the check, and it’s a fake.
Or maybe the “employer” wants to make a direct deposit. Don’t share that information.
The second bucket includes identity theft. This might occur when you set up automatic, direct deposits for paychecks.
This can also occur when you think you’re filling out routine employment paperwork, which asks for your name, address, Social Security number — everything.
Falling into either scam bucket will leave you with a hijacked identity or a sad bank account.
4 Questions That’ll Help You Detect a Work-From-Home Job Scam
OK, so you obviously want to avoid these nightmarish scenarios. Hutt talked me through how you can avoid falling into these traps.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you being asked to accept or send money right away?
Like Hutt said, don’t accept or send money — unless you’re positive it’s legitimate.
“Even for a uniform,” she said. Say a company needs you to send over $30 for said uniform. That’s not common protocol. Usually, companies just take those expenses out of your first paycheck.
Same goes for background checks, so-called starter kits and other expenses. And never, ever submit your information to the company itself for a background check.
2. Is the job listing generic or too good to be true?
If the listing uses generic language or is super short or vague, this requires some digging on your end.
Common scams can be found in those classic entry-level, work-from-home customer service gigs — no training required.
“If it’s too easy, it’s more likely to be a scam,” Hutt said. “Scammers will go a certain distance, but, at the end of the day, they just want you on the hook.”
That goes for those too-good-to-be-true opportunities, too. Sure, shopping to make money sounds great, but is it legitimate?
3. Did you check the job listing URL?
“Scammers will pretend to be legitimate companies,” Hutt said. “They might steal the brand.”
Don’t trust the job listing just because the little Target bullseye and logo are on the site, for example. Hutt says even the Better Business Bureau has had its brand stolen in the past — same logo, same colors.
Examine the website. Check the URL. It is target.com? If it’s target.jobs.com, that’s a red flag.
It’s best if you go to the actual company’s main website, and look for the link to its employment or careers page.”That way, you can be sure you are applying for a job that really exists rather than a work-from-home scam that mimics a real company,” Hutt said.
You can also stick any URL or email address into Google. Put quotation marks on either side, and search. Articles warning against scams might pop up.
“Google everything,” Hutt said. Also use that scam tracker I mentioned above to search the company’s name.
4. Consider Who You’ve Talked To
Even if you get ahold of the “employer” on the phone, don’t be so sure — especially if it’s only for a five-minute interview.
Hutt said face-to-face interactions are best. Of course, that’s not always the case with work-from-home jobs, so be wary.
Hutt said the more skeptical you are, the easier it will be to detect a scam.
Be Careful How You Find Work-From-Home Jobs
Sure, Craigslist is a great way to find jobs. In fact, several of our founding employees here at The Penny Hoarder found their jobs through a Craigslist ad.
However, because Craigslist doesn’t monitor postings, you must be extra careful. One key is to see if you spot the same listing in multiple cities, Hutt says. It doesn’t mean the job isn’t legitimate, but it means you need to put your detective hat on.
Try instead searching on these 14 legitimate job-search platforms. Typically, these sites screen and even hand-pick the featured listings.
Take, for example, ZipRecruiter. Its first barrier is that it costs employers a monthly fee to post a job listing, weeding out some scammers. It also has a flag tool available to job-seeking users. If a listing looks fishy, flag it. ZipRecruiter’s Trust and Safety Team will hop in a review it.
What to Do If You Find a Work-From-Home Job Scam
Hutt said this is exactly why the Better Business Bureau developed its BBB Scam Tracker.
“People came with complaints, and there wasn’t really anything we could do for them,” she said. “So this provides an outlet for people who want to tell us about the scam.”
It tracks the scam type, the business name used and the date reported, as well as the victim’s postal code, the total dollars lost (but you can report a scam even if you haven’t lost money) and the scam description.
A recent reported scam occurred with “Tnt-Hr” and cost the victim $1,750.
Here’s the reporter’s description:
“These people pray on home makers they claim you will receive pay at the end of the month for receiving packages that they could receive themselves ultimately you will get in trouble and they get away with the goods. They send you a check that messes up your bank account”
So what if you’re like this victim?
Hutt said if you’ve lost money, start by filing a police report.
And if you’ve had your identity stolen — or suspect it — the Federal Trade Commission runs IdentityTheft.gov. Here, you report your theft and get a free recovery plan that’ll outline your next steps.
Your best bet, though? Stash this in your back pocket and look at each job listing with a critical eye.
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
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