That Work-From-Home Job Might Be a Scam — and a Crime. Here’s How to Tell

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The benefits of a work-from-home job can be grand.

You can work in your pajamas if you want. You can avoid the hassle — and costs — of commuting. If you set your own hours, you might get to sleep in every day.

But despite the advantages, there could be the risk that your remote job isn’t legit — especially if you’re working with an obscure company or you haven’t met with your employer in person.

Law enforcement officials are warning people to avoid work-from-home scams that could land them in jail by unwittingly laundering stolen money or shipping stolen goods.

How These Work-From-Home Scams Operate

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department recently sent out a press release warning jobs seekers not to become victims of work-from-home scams. Since these crimes start over the internet, they are not localized to any one place.

Det. Tim Lohman gave me a couple of examples of how these scams work.

“The victim will accept packages from shipping companies like UPS, FedEx, etc.,” he said. “The products are all bought with stolen credit cards. The victim is told to apply a new shipping label from the scammers, and the products are sent across the US or out of the country to other criminals.”

Or instead of reshipping goods and packages, maybe your too-good-to-be-true remote job includes “processing payments.”

“The other jobs entail receiving money via check,” Lohman said. “The checks contain stolen account numbers. Upon receipt of the check the victim is instructed to wire money to a different location.”

He said these work-from-home scams are typically a fencing operation for a bigger criminal ring.  

“Although the victim may have no idea they are helping the criminal enterprise, they can be held criminally liable if they continue to assist after being told to stop,” Lohman said.

How to Avoid These Work-From-Home Scams

Unfortunately, these scams end up happening to job seekers looking for legit work-from-home opportunities.

Lohman said the victim is targeted after posting a resume online with services like Monster or Indeed or after inquiring about a job they’d seen on websites like Craigslist.

“The victim is then contacted by text message or email with a job offer without a face-to-face interview or paperwork to fill out,” he said. “The employer rarely will call the victim by phone… [and] will offer a big salary or other flashy incentive.

Lohman offered a few tips for people to avoid these scams:

  • Look for errors in spelling or sentence structure in emails
  • Be wary if there’s no face-to-face interviews or paperwork to fill out
  • Do not comply if the employer asks you to pay money up front or to deposit a check and then wire money

Lohman said if anyone suspects they are a victim of a fraudulent work-from-home job, they should contact their local police department to file a report, especially if they suffered a financial loss.

Victims can also report the crime to the FBI.

For more advice on avoiding work-from-home scams, check out these tips from the Better Business Bureau. You can also learn to avoid mystery shopping scams.

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Your Turn: Have you been the victim of a work-from-home job scam?

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.