Want to get paid handsomely while being your own boss? Rake in thousands of dollars each week? You don’t even need any skills, and won’t even have to leave your home! If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Plenty of people are still out of work and looking for ways to earn money, ideally from their own homes, due to the ongoing pandemic. And data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that work-from-home scams, which really took off at the start of the pandemic early in 2020, are still a cause for concern. In fact, the FTC reportedlyreceived nearly 60,000 fraudulent job complaints in 2020. That’s more than twice as many as in 2019, with a median loss to consumers of approximately $2,000.
“We’ve seen a rise in reports of work from home scams during the pandemic,” says Chris Parker, host of the Easy Prey Podcast, and founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, who is based in Tustin, California. ”These scams are particularly attractive with people out of work, and companies trying to keep distance between their employees.”
To avoid getting swindled by a fake work-from-home gig, be on the lookout for these common scams.
Cashing checks, mystery shopping, and more
Stuffing envelopes. It may sound easy, because you don’t need to have skills, know-how, or special equipment to get started. You’ll be promised extra income quickly. The catch? You’ll usually owe a fee for supplies to get started.
Starting your own business. Examples might include a coaching program that tells you to follow a proven or low-cost system that requires a fee, and personal information, to get started. Another common business hustle is for medical billing, a profession that takes some level of skill. Fraudsters might claim that no experience is necessary, and charge a fee to set you up with fake client lists and software, according to the FTC.
Mystery shopper and order fulfillment scam. The scammer provides details about becoming a secret shopper, or doing order fulfillment from your home. Both involve placing orders online using your own credit cards. Fraudsters will then steal the money, and your personal information. The scammer will promise to reimburse you, which isn’t likely to happen, Parker says.
Fraudsters may also provide stolen credit card information for you to use. “When the credit card details are provided by the scammer, the person is participating in the fraud by making purchases using stolen credit cards,” says Parker.
Payment processing. A scammer might ask you to deposit checks, money orders, or wire transfers into your own bank account, and then send the funds on to someone you don’t know, says Parker. You might be offered a commission in exchange, but the money may be stolen, and the check may bounce, putting you on the hook for fees.
Online surveys. You may be asked to complete hundreds of surveys with the promise of payment later on. However, it may be just a way for the scammer to steal personal information, or sell it to affiliate marketers, Parker says.
Tips for spotting WFH scams
While it’s not always easy to spot a scam, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the FTC offer several warning signs.
Tone of urgency. Some scams, particularly phishing attacks, might urge you to act quickly, and may tap into common marketing techniques. For instance, a job opportunity may be advertised as a limited time offer, or may encourage you to act quickly, or else lose out on a deep discount.
Paying a fee. Before you can take advantage of a work-from-home opportunity, scammers may ask you to sign up for a membership, or pay for initial training, supplies, or products.
Additionally, you may get an unsolicited email, text, or call offering you work. Be on the lookout for texts with spelling mistakes. The job opportunity may also skip the standard application and interview process. “Job seekers should be suspicious when the compensation doesn’t match the experience required for the job,” Parker says.
Steps to Safeguard Yourself
Here are some suggestions for determining whether people or companies offering you work are legitimate.
Check websites and social media. A lack of social media accounts, dormant social media accounts, or accounts that are only a few weeks or months old may be a cause for concern, Parker says.
Look up physical addresses on a map. If your potential WFH employer has no physical location, it could be a red flag.
Check review sites. Sites such as Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit that helps consumers verify the trustworthiness of businesses, and Trustpilot, a consumer review site of businesses can help you understand who you’re dealing with.
Practice security hygiene. Take simple steps, like making sure passwords are unique by using alphanumeric and upper and lower case letters for added strength, says Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in Washington, D.C. Additionally, make sure software is up to date, and consider going the extra mile by installing anti-virus software.
Take a step back. If something seems fishy, then pause and do some further investigating, says Parker. “Job seekers should always do their own leg work to make sure that any company offering them a job is real,” he adds.
Contact authorities. If you think you’ve been phished or scammed, you can file a report on the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov site. Once you submit a report, you’ll receive a recovery plan targeted to different scenarios related to stolen personal information.
Each state also has its own state consumer protection office that may be able to assist you.
Especially as the pandemic continues and many people are under financial pressure, “it’s important to stay vigilant when it comes to suspicious activity,” says Coleman. “The main piece of advice remote workers should follow is to think before you click and stay alert at all times.”