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 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 scams, so we reached out to Katherine Hutt, the national spokesperson of the Better Business Bureau.
How Frequent are Work-From-Home Job Scams?
The Better Business Bureau released its nifty BBB Scam Tracker at the beginning of last year. Since then, thousands of people have reported scams concerning everything from credit cards to debt collections and employment.
So far, nearly 2,500 employment scams have been reported in the U.S. and Canada.
However, 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 says. She mentions 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 says.
What Can Work-From-Home Job Scammers Do with Your Information?
Because these scammers can 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 to 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 says. 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, “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 says. “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 says. “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 their 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 says.
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 says. Also use that scam tracker I mentioned above to search the company’s name.
4. Who have you 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 says face-to-face interactions are best. Of course, that’s not always the case with work-from-home jobs, so be wary.
Hutt says the more skeptical you are, the easier it will be to detect a scam.
An Extra Warning To Job Seekers on Craigslist
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.
What to Do If You Find a Work-From-Home Job Scam
Hutt says this is exactly why the Better Business Bureau developed the BBB Scam Tracker.
“People came with complaints, and there wasn’t really anything we could do for them,” she says. “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 “S & R Courier” and cost the victim $2,500.
Here’s part of the reporter’s description:
I was contacted by a Mr. Thomas Peterson who offered me a job as a Package Processing Manager. I had a dashboard that I signed into everyday to track the packages that were coming and he would call me to ask me to upload pictures and packing slip information and then he would send me pre-paid shipping labels to send the packages out to the clients. He said that I was on probation for 30 days and I would be compensated after that. I never got paid. I tried to log into my dashboard to contact him and now I can’t log in…
So what if you’re like Mr. Thomas Peterson’s victim?
Hutt says 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.
Your Turn: Have you been a victim of a job scam? What did it teach you?
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.