Work-At-Home Scams – Beware!

Working from Home is Desirable
If you have ever dreamed of working from home, you’re not alone.  You could be a stay-at-home mom (or dad), a retiree, or simply someone who wants to ditch the corporate rat race once and for all.  There is something about that short commute every morning – from bedroom to study, perhaps three dozen paces in all – and the ability to spend more time with your family, that is incredibly appealing.  With the proliferation of the Internet and ever-greater prospects for telecommuting, the time has never been better to find a work-from-home business opportunity.

What is “Employment”?
Anyone who works for a living understands the nature of a job.  You perform work, and someone pays you for doing so.  You may earn money based upon the number of hours you put in, the amount of business you bring in (compensated as sales commission, for example), or a monthly or annual rate based upon a variety of duties.  If you are legally classed as an employee, your company will make various deductions from your wages – for federal and state taxes, FICA, etc. – and possibly also offer benefits such as paid vacation and sick time, or health care.  There is also an employment situation known as the “independent contractor.”  While you fulfill a specific relationship for a business – selling their products or services, contributing articles, or providing maintenance – you are not paid as part of the payroll system and typically bear your own responsibility for paying taxes, health insurance, and so on.  Most work-from-home operations, even legitimate ones, fall into this latter category.

If It Smells Bad…
How many times have we heard the phrase, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”?  This adage is never truer than when looking at work-at-home opportunities.  These days, it’s unlikely that even the least-savvy businessperson believes a Nigerian oil minister needs help in spiriting $20 million out of their country.  Why not apply that skepticism to any online opportunity, especially one that arrives unsolicited in your inbox?  One of the bigger scams these days involves so-called fee processing.  Here’s how it works.  An offshore company claims it has difficulty putting together buyers and sellers, mostly because the country where the orders originate have export restrictions on currency, or some such obstacle.  The company arranges to have its clients send you a cashier’s check, usually drawn on a well-known foreign bank.  Your job is to deposit the check in your bank account, retain some amount as your commission – 10 to 20 percent is typical – and send the remainder via Western Union to the supplier.  Guess what?  The cashier’s check is phony – but usually good enough to fool even an experienced banker upon first inspection – and you are liable for the total amount of the check.  Not only that, but you could also be liable for criminal prosecution for participating in a financial fraud.

Scheme versus Scam
While it may make little difference to you how a bad work-from-home scenario may have cost you money, there are two distinctly different situations to consider.  The scam, as discussed above, is simply a method someone has devised to separate you from your cash.  A “scheme,” on the other hand, may be a perfectly legitimate offer.  However, it ultimately fails to live up to the promises made at the time you got involved, and therefore costs you valuable time – and maybe even some start-up cash – you could have used toward a legitimate and more lucrative opportunity.  Here are just a couple of the more common schemes you’re likely to encounter:

  • Assemble items or products – A potential “employer” offers to sell you a bunch of components, which you then put together and return for payment.  The postage and time you sink into this enterprise amounts to earning pennies an hour, if that.
  • Post ads online – You are “paid” to post comments on blog sites or review products you have never used, generally by copying and pasting material sent to you by your “employer.”  The rate of pay is oftentimes a few cents per entry, and the chance of getting paid may only apply if you manage to recruit others or your messages generate traffic for the home Web site.

What Should I Know?
The best defense against being taken in a bad work-at-home operation is by doing your homework and asking the right questions.  Your first move should be to check out the company by doing a Web search of its name and location, and checking out any of the names mentioned in correspondence.  With the proliferation of scams and schemes of all sorts, the Internet is a great source for uncovering this kind of activity.  If no red flags result, that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement.  Make sure you receive satisfactory answers to your inquiries.  Among other things, you will want to know:

  • How do I get paid, and when?
  • On what terms are my earnings based – per-hour wages, pay-per-piece, etc.?
  • If it costs me money to get started, what am I getting for it and how does this relate to the business at hand?

Only after all your questions are answered will you recognize if the work-at-home opportunity is right for you.  Checking with a consumer protection group is sometimes worthwhile, but note that some companies change their names after receiving a lot of complaints.  If that’s the case, the lack of negative publicity is not necessary indicative of legitimacy.  It also pays to get the names and phone numbers of other workers, if you can.  If the company in question can’t provide references – beware!

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