Telecommuting and virtual offices are becoming more popular, but unfortunately, unemployment and underemployment are still very common as well. With the two worlds colliding, people looking for work or extra cash are becoming increasingly vulnerable to work from home scams and get rich quick schemes.
When trends like these emerge, new scams surface to take advantage of people — trying to rob you while you’re just trying to make a living. You might think you’re smart enough to detect obvious scams and ignore them, but schemers have mastered manipulation techniques. They know exactly what to say to victims to get in your pockets. By staying on top of the latest specific scams and signals, you can stay out of trouble.
5 Common Fraudulent Offers
Don’t get caught in the traps of work from home scams designed to take your money and leave you to blame in the eyes of the law. These top five job descriptions are almost always signs of fraud.
1. Package Forwarding
This con hurts victims twice over. Its artists will cheat targets out of their own money, and then bring the police to the door to question a suspect, not help a victim.
A thief will steal your credit card (as many identity theft victim stories begin) and use it to purchase goods. The thief knows that he can’t ship them to his own address without attracting attention, so he sets up phony ads on Craigslist and other online boards promising payments for forwarding packages, often under the guise of helping a neighbor who’s traveling or an overstocked business.
The scam victims then receive the package, along with instructions on where to send the package next. After re-mailing the stolen goods — with your own money — you’ll supposedly get a check for your services. Sometimes payment comes, and sometimes it doesn’t. In either event, it’s usually the police who show up wanting to know why you received stolen goods at their own address. Try explaining that one.
2. Email Forwarding
This hustle puts a modern spin on the old envelope-stuffing scheme, which surprisingly still finds victims today.
You’ll get an invitation or job offer to make money by forwarding emails on behalf of a company. On the surface, it might look like a marketing job or entry-level position in online media. You’d think it’s easy to see through a scam like this from the beginning, but for someone desperate for work, it’s easy to miss some warning signs.
The “company” informs you that to get started, you just need to submit a fee for materials or software you’ll need. Once the cheats have the cash, however, they’ll either never send the materials, or even worse, the “material” is just a letter that tells you how to run the same scam on other unsuspecting potential victims.
3. Work in Crafts
This hoax is another one that’s been around so long it’s a wonder that it has any victims left. But it does, and people are losing thousands of dollars to it.
Instigators begin by advertising online or in print media, announcing a search for workers who can assemble crafts or other items for them. They promise payment on a per-piece basis, saying that they only accept high quality goods, and that workers will have to purchase top-notch sewing machines and other equipment from them. The investment is worth it, they say, because the piecemeal work they do will quickly have the equipment paying for itself.
Of course, these specific machines can only be bought from the craft company, and soon the checks and credit card orders start rolling in. After targets have spent thousands of dollars, the “company” simply closes up, the scammers pocket the cash, and the victims never hear another word.
Alternatively, some advanced con artists, knowing that people may be wise to the scam, will go so far as to send some equipment out. In this longer game, they reject all of the crafts the victims send on the grounds that the products don’t meet standards. Duped, the would-be craft workers never see a dime and may not even realize they’ve been tricked.
4. Incoming Jobs
Especially in this market, the “You’ve got a job!” scam is gaining ground. In this one, unsuspecting victims receive an email with the good news that a job offer awaits them at a certain website that has more information. Following the link, they see instructions to enter their mailing address and other personal information for permission to see if jobs are still available. Surprise! They still qualify, but only two jobs remain, and they need to quickly claim one before another applicant else gets it.
To claim the role, they’ll need to provide more personal information, including valid credit card data. “Why do I need to provide a potential employer with my credit card number?” a desperate job seeker may ask. And the cons have an answer: For job training of course! This particular (mandatory) training will cost, say, $200, and the job starts after successful completion of training. In the end, there’s no training, no job, and the victim gave up $200 – and a credit card number. This can potentially open you up to identity theft and separate credit card fraud and scams.
5. Data Entry
While there are plenty of legitimate data entry jobs, there are also a lot of sham employers who exist only to bilk work-from-homers out of thousands of dollars. They’ll post a job for data processors who can work from home. When an applicant contacts them, they put them through an interview and make a job offer.
But wait, all employees must use specific software to work on their system. The applicant doesn’t have it (no one does) because it’s only made by the company, who then sells it for thousands of dollars – yes, really. Applicants are happy enough to have the chance to work from home, so they bite on the offer. As with similar scams, the job seeker has just spent thousands, and, not surprisingly, after the check clears, the data entry job never materializes.
4 Scam Signals
Knowing common specific scams is a start, but how can you stay ahead of innovative criminals? A lousy job market creates a ripe pool of targets for scams, since so many people are struggling to earn an honest buck. If you notice one of these four characteristics in an offer, you’re probably looking at scam bait:
1. Overseas Company
This should usually be a deal breaker for any income-earning online job. How can you work for a company that holds an ambiguous address or doesn’t even have a phone number to call? When you see an address from an obscure country name, the red flags should go up. If you can’t call or email your supposed employer directly, move on!
2. Absurd Offers
Online scams typically try to sell you the dream lifestyle: laying on the beach all day in Cancun surrounded by dozens of beautiful women while you generate hundreds of dollars a day of passive income. Who doesn’t love passive income opportunities? Who doesn’t enjoy the beach? Who doesn’t love beautiful women? Is it too good to be true? Absolutely. It’s always too good to be true. The more absurd the offer, the higher are the odds that it’s a big fat work from home scam.
3. Vague Payment Structure
The payment plans with these get rich quick plans are typically poorly defined. You need to completely understand how you’ll be paid. Will you get paid biweekly? Will you get paid monthly? How will you file your taxes? These are all basic payment issues that you need to address.
4. Heavy Upfront Financial Investment
You have to invest a boatload of money for an income-generating opportunity. A couple of hundred dollars upfront or a long-term commitment to an ambiguous work from home business on the Internet is always a poor choice.
Recent Get Rich Quick Scheme
A recent high-profile and frightening example that should act as your reminder to always be on your toes is marketed as Goog Cash4u, also known as Internet Wealth Builder.
Around September of 2009, this get rich quick scheme hit the Internet market quickly and affected a lot of unsuspecting people.
The “company” promised that individuals could make anywhere from $250-943 a day. “Wow! Sign me up,” plenty of people thought. Unfortunately, there were many obvious flaws with this plan.
Among other things, their payment plan was the real killer. Participants had to pay $1.97 for their “free trial kit” (this was just to cover the shipping costs of course). After the seven-day trial was over, they would automatically charge $69.97 per month to remain a part of the service as well as an additional $29.95 per month for “alternative funding.”
Unfortunately, all of these schemes find their victims. One reader emailed me and explained to me how he was a victim of this get rich quick scheme. This individual had just lost his job and was highly vulnerable. He needed to earn money to pay the bills. He thought that he has found his solution. What he got instead was a big fat scam.
Con artists spend hours trying to figure out how to cheat people out of their money, and they know that by appealing to the human tendency to get something for free — or in this case, earn a lot of money by not doing much — they’ll always have victims.
There are valid ways to make money from home, but most of them will require lots of hard work. You simply won’t be able to make $10,000 per week doing them. I’m just pretty sure that nobody will ever offer you lots of money without you having to put in a lot of time and effort.
Please be very skeptical of any plan that ever uses the terms “guaranteed” and “lots of money” in the same sentence. The only people getting rich are the ones selling these plans! Don’t give up your search, but be smart about it. Work on making yourself more marketable in the job market and know where to look for a job.
Have you spotted a tempting work from home scam? Share your warnings and cautionary tales in the comments below.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)