How to avoid work-from-home job scams
Learn how to identify work-from-home scams—even ones that may not be so obvious.
Yes, you can work from home—just beware of jobs that aren't real.
For many people craving a more flexible work schedule working from home is the dream, right?
Even if you don’t get to work poolside with a margarita in hand, working from home lets you balance work and family, create your own office vibe and achieve the kind of autonomy that can bring peace of mind. (Aka, no boss or coworkers breathing down your neck). Plus, it’s not a bad commute!
Today, 43% of the American workforce spends at least some time working remotely, according to a recent Gallup report. That’s partly because technology makes telecommuting easier than ever, and party because employers recognize it’s what workers want.
But with a rising mobile workforce, work-from-home scams are also becoming more common these days, and they come in many forms: wire transfer schemes, claims processing, envelope stuffing, refund-recovery work, and other fraudulent offers.
We want to help you identify the ripoff from the real, so you can focus your time and energy on pursuing legitimate remote jobs you’ll love.
Spot the red flags
Since work-from-home scams have become so prevalent, identifying common signs of a fraudulent job has actually become easier than ever.
“You can root out ninety percent of scams with just a few simple rules, says Rob Holmes, a private investigator at IPCybercrime, a Texas-based intellectual property investigation firm. “If they are using Gmail, it is a scam. If the only interview is done by online chat, it is a scam.”
Never take a job if you haven’t at least interviewed by phone or video conference; and if possible, do your interviews in person. Make sure to ask the name of your interviewers so you can research the people you’ll be talking with to ensure they’re for real.
Make sure the job description sounds legit
Sometimes, the job description is a give-away that the job’s not what it seems. For legitimate positions, job descriptions almost always include a detailed list of responsibilities and required experience to help you determine whether or not you’re qualified (and interested!) in applying.
If the description only includes a few bullet points, or makes it sound like getting the job will be quick and easy, it’s most likely a scam.
“If a potential employer cares very little about your qualifications for the position, they probably aren't legitimate,” says Stephanie Foster, career expert at Home With the Kids, an online resource for stay-at-home and work-at-home parents. “Real employers want highly qualified people.”
Research the company
Before you say yes to any job, whether it’s remote or in a traditional office setting, researching the company is a must. There are so many ways to find out what a company is like (or if it even exists) from review sites like kununu, or you can simply check out a company’s website or social media presence.
“Look at reviews, check online business complaint sites, and try to reach out to people working for the company,” says Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer at BeenVerified, an online background checks company located in New York City.
If the company doesn’t have a website, any presence on social media, or a single review? Most likely a scam.
Ask questions early and often
If you’re invited to an in-person (or video conference) interview and are still uncertain whether or not the position is legitimate, make sure to ask the right kind of questions, so you’ll feel confident about taking the job.
“Learn the exact details of the job and ask a lot of detailed questions about their expectations of you,” says Foster. “Find out how you're earning your pay and how the company makes money. If these don't make sense, there's probably a problem.”
A tactful way to phrase the money questions might be, “What are the company’s top revenue streams?” That way, you’re getting your answer and simultaneously showing interest in how the company operates.
Another non-imposing, smart investigative question to ask is: where is the home office or corpoate headquarters? This will help you research whether or not it actually exists!
Never, ever shell out any money
Don’t forget to ask “What type of training will I receive?” If it prompts a discussion about you, the candidate, paying for your own training, it’s most certainly a scam.
“Any job that requires you pay a fee to get the job should be an immediate red flag,” says Lavelle. “Honest employers train employees on their dime. You don’t have to pay for training or any other fee such as an application fee, or a processing fee. Any job that requires you to give your bank information or credit card or financial information should be fully vetted before turning that information over to them.”
Now, before a fear of scammers causes you to abandon your dreams of working from home, here’s the good news: There are legitimate work-from-home opportunities. And we’ve got a ton that you can check out here.
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That's what Jackie Booley did. In 2007, she retired from her position as an AT&T call center manager. Her husband had recently died from chronic kidney failure, and Booley, then 61, was exhausted from serving as his primary caregiver while holding down full-time employment.
But retirement proved to be short-lived. Two years later, with energy restored and her nest egg depleted, she found a part-time job that allowed her to work from home. Now, when you dial Office Depot's toll-free number, you may be speaking with Booley in the spare bedroom of her Ocala, Fla., home.
She doesn't work for the office-supply retailer, however. Rather, Booley is employed by Sykes Home, a call center service headquartered in Tampa. Incoming calls to Office Depot are routed to her home office. Sykes has 7,500 work-at-home customer service agents in 2,000 cities.
Booley logs in about 24 hours each week at $9 an hour, answering questions and processing orders. Plus, she contributes 5 percent of her earnings to Sykes' 401(k) employee-retirement plan, which her employer matches 100 percent. "Thanks to the plan, I'm now rebuilding my nest egg," Booley says.
"I absolutely love it," she says of her work-at-home job. "It gives me flexibility. I feel like I'm my own boss, and I can fall out of bed and go to work in seconds."
Beware of scams
Working at home has a nice ring to it — sometimes, too nice. Work-at-home scams have been around for decades, but in the past few years, the Federal Trade Commission has seen the number of complaints nearly double.
Two glaring red flags: jobs touted via email that promise to pay more than you ever dreamed, and firms that charge you a fee to obtain more information about a job. "Payment for the privilege of working is rarely acceptable, in our view," says Christine Durst, an internet fraud and safety expert and cofounder of RatRaceRebellion.com, a website that screens job leads on home-based jobs.
That said, there are legitimate work-at-home jobs in customer service and other fields, but you'll need to do legwork to avoid scams. Here are five jobs to consider:
1. Customer Service Representative
The nitty-gritty: You must have an up-to-date computer, a high-speed internet connection, a dedicated landline telephone during business hours, a telephone headset and a quiet place to work.
In general, you'll be answering incoming calls, taking new orders and tracking existing orders. In some cases, you'll troubleshoot and help out with technical support. Online chat sessions and email may be part of the job. You'll need to toggle seamlessly among several computer screen windows at a time. Employers often offer paid training sessions.
The solitary work demands a good dose of "get up and go" and discipline to keep from being distracted. And don't skimp on buying a comfortable, ergonomically safe chair and headset. Remember, it's tax-deductible if you're an independent contractor.
Potential employers, including Hilton Hotels, American Airlines and 1-800-Flowers.com, might hire directly. Others use third-party companies that then hire home-based workers. In addition to Sykes, other virtual call center operators include Convergys, LiveOps, Arise and Working Solutions.
The hours: Full-time, part-time and split shifts are available. Employers may require at least 20 hours a week, plus weekend slots.
Median pay: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015, the most recent data available, customer service representatives earn a median hourly rate of $15.25. Some firms provide health, vision and dental benefits, or access to group plan rates. Paid vacation and matching 401(k) plans may be a perk, but you'll have to clock in enough hours to be eligible.
Qualifications: Job descriptions typically call for customer care or technical support experience. Think broadly. Experience in a retail store, as a bank teller or in sales might suffice. Typically, an online test and a phone interview are required. Background, drug and credit checks are standard. Some firms charge $30 to $45 for such screens.