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Work from home scams have been around for a long time.
Take the “envelope-stuffing” scheme, which first appeared during the Great Depression. People paid a fee so they could stuff envelopes with flyers that advertised this envelope-stuffing “job” to other people. The scammers behind it collected the fees, but lo and behold, they vanished before paying anyone for their work.
Unfortunately, work at home schemes continue to plague the internet, going after not just your hard-earned money but also your sensitive personal information. If you’re on the hunt for a remote job, you might be especially vulnerable to these types of scams.
So what can you do to protect yourself from these sketchy, if not downright dangerous offers? Here are seven steps you can take.
1. Learn what red flags to watch out for
One of the first steps toward safeguarding yourself against a work from home scam is learning how to recognize the signs of one. Here are a few red flags that could mean the work from home job offer you’re considering isn’t so sincere.
- It promises you a bunch of money in exchange for little work. Your earnings would be way above the typical market rate.
- It pushes you to act fast so you don’t lose out on a deal. Scammers often create a false sense of urgency to get you to make a move before thinking it through.
- It offers you the job without any interview process whatsoever. Or you never actually speak with a human over the phone or through video chat.
- The job description is super vague, and you can’t find out much about the company either.
- You’re asked to wire money or pay fees upfront. They’re supposed to be paying you, not the other way around!
Although these signs don’t necessarily mean a work at home job is a scam, they should certainly raise some alarm bells.
If something feels off about a job offer, trust your instincts. Avoid sharing any personal information until you’re 100% sure a job offer is legitimate.
2. Research the company online
Any time you’re applying for an online job, it’s a good idea to research the company online. Head to their website to make sure they have an online presence, and track down reviews that people have left online.
If you’re feeling suspicious, you might google the name of the company with the word “scam” to see if anything pops up.
If you can’t find a website or any information, the company might not really exist. Or if they do have a site but it’s full of unrealistic rags-to-riches stories, it might also be trying to deceive you.
Finally, make sure to check that the URL matches what it’s supposed to. Some phishing schemes involve copycat websites that look identical to the originals, except a letter in the URL is different.
These scammers are counting on the fact that you won’t read the URL closely or notice that it says “.net” instead of “.com.” If you’re already feeling unsure about a company, take a look at the URL to make sure it reads how it’s supposed to.
3. Make sure you speak with a human
Chances are, no one’s going to hand you a job without speaking to you first. So if a job offer is moving along into the hired stage but you still haven’t spoken to a human, it might be time to pump the brakes.
Even though online jobs don’t necessarily involve an in-person interview, they should at least entail a phone call or more likely, a video interview.
Of course, that’s not to say a scammer won’t get on the phone with you to convince you the job offer is real. I once had someone speak with me for 20 minutes on the phone about renting an apartment, and it turned out they were a criminal completely unaffiliated with the house (which, by the way, was for sale, but was most definitely not available for rent).
Work from home scams over the phone do exist, so don’t necessarily assume that a phone call is a sign that a job is real. But if you’re getting a job offer without any of the usual interview procedures, you might want to turn it down and keep looking elsewhere.
4. Don’t let hope get the better of reason
Hindsight is 20/20, and we often regret certain past decisions and wonder why we didn’t see the red flags. But when you’re feeling desperate to get a job or worried about where your next paycheck is coming from, it’s easy to let hope win out over reason.
You want so much for an offer to be true that you turn a blind eye to all the worrying signs and ignore that voice in the back of your head telling you to walk away.
If you find yourself getting your hopes up about an offer, take a second to ask yourself if there’s anything you should be concerned about.
Root out the emotional triggers that might be acting on your decision, and consider whether an offer is using certain tactics (high pressure sales pitch, overblown promises of earnings, a false sense of urgency, etc), to get you to act in a certain way.
By stepping back and reflecting on your reactions, you’ll be better equipped to see through a fake offer and defend yourself from manipulative scammers.
5. Be wary of unsolicited offers
Although headhunters might reach out to you on LinkedIn or a job board where you’ve shared your resume, you also want to be careful about offers that come to you, especially if such offers are rare.
I knew a writer who was accustomed to having clients come to her, so she didn’t realize when one turned out to be a scam. She wrote a lengthy article for a client, only to have them disappear without paying her.
But in retrospect she said the offer was a little too good to be true, and she should’ve been wary of the inflated compensation. Next time, she’ll look out for those signs and pay especially close attention to offers that come to her out of the blue.
If someone is contacting you and offering a job you never pursued, make sure you have your guard up. Otherwise, you could end up wasting your time and energy, or worse, sharing private information that could pave the way for identity theft.
6. Don’t share your personal data if you have doubts
So if these work from home scams aren’t actually offering jobs, what are they after? In most cases, they’re looking for your private information or your money.
If you share sensitive data, you could become a victim of identity theft. Scammers steal personal data to commit fraud, open accounts in your name, or drain your bank account.
With so much of our personal and financial lives online, it’s more important than ever to protect your online data. So make sure to do your due diligence on a company before sharing any personal information that could be damaging if it fell into the wrong hands.
7. Never pay upfront fees or wire money
It might seem obvious that you shouldn’t have to pay upfront fees for a job, but unfortunately lots of scammers have gotten away with this scheme.
They insist that the small fee is worth it, because you’ll get an even better return on investment. But like the envelope-stuffing masterminds of the Great Depression, the scammers disappear after collecting your money.
You should especially avoid anyone asking you to wire money, since once you wire money, you’ll probably never see it again.
That said, there are some multi-level marketing (MLM) companies that ask their salespeople to purchase a product and then sell it directly to others. But actually making your money back through these companies is hard, if not impossible, and often they end up being pyramid schemes with sketchy or even illegal practices.
In most cases, you should avoid MLM companies where you’ll likely spend far more than you make.
Protect your privacy and money from work at home scammers
Unless you’re 100% sure a company is legitimate, protect yourself by,
- Recognizing the signs of a work from home scam
- Ignoring unsolicited offers that are too good to be true
- Protecting your personal information online
- Refusing to pay upfront fees for a so-called money-making opportunity
If you’re pursuing a remote job, stick to job boards with legitimate work from home roles, such as the Remote Bliss job board or one of these other sites.
Less-vetted sites like Craigslist have some real remote jobs, but unfortunately scams do sneak into their listings from time to time.
There are lots of opportunities to make money online, whether as a freelance writer, working for a remote company, or selling your stuff on reputable marketplaces.
As long as you stick to the legit opportunities and avoid the scams, you can enjoy the perks of working from home.