Avoiding work-at-home scams

HARTFORD — The Connecticut Better Business  Bureau warns consumers about work-at-home scams they may consider to pay off holiday debt.

These offers often peak after the holidays and appeal to people looking for extra income to reduce a debt burden after the holidays.

“There are legitimate work-at-home offers,” said Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. “The real opportunities require experience, do not make outlandish claims about the potential earning power, and never ask for money in advance.”

The best known work-at-home swindles typically involve categories such as:

  • Medical billing
  • Envelope stuffing
  • Mystery Shopper scam
  • Craft assembly
  • Repackaging and re-shipping

These types of work-at-home “opportunities” promise high monetary return with no required experience and minimal work. Although some consumers report they have made money through work-at-home jobs, most complain the promised returns of thousands of dollars never materialized.

The criminals are looking for money and any personal information they can obtain during the victims’ recruitment. In addition, candidates are usually required to pay up front for training, materials and other fees.

Consumers have complained of phony job offers which involve overpayment scams. They receive counterfeit checks, are told to deposit them in the bank and send back a portion of the “overpayment” by an untraceable method such as a direct wire transfer, cashier’s check or gift card. Even though the checks may be initially accepted by bank tellers, it a matter of days or weeks they will be flagged as counterfeit, and the victims lose any money they deposited or sent to the criminal operation, in addition to related bank fees.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says beware of “…any offers that promise easy money for minimal effort.”

Some of the fake job opportunities don’t make any sense, such as a company willing to pay individuals $100 for every envelope they stuff. Medical billing is specialized work that requires experience and is outsourced to companies that specialize in it – not to inexperienced consumers.

The Mystery Shopping Scam, like several others, relies upon counterfeit check overpayment scams. Repacking and re-shipping can also bring legal trouble. Re-shipping scams require acceptance and re-sending of merchandise to an address that is typically in a different country. If the package contains contraband, the sender can face criminal charges.

The FBI and BBB recommend anyone considering a work-at-home job follow a few steps to protect themselves:

  • Contact Better Business Bureau to determine the legitimacy of the company
  • Be suspicious when money is required up front for instructions or products
  • Don’t provide personal information when first interacting with your prospective employer
  • Do your own research into legitimate work-at-home opportunities, using the “Work-at-Home Sourcebook” and other resources that may be available at your local library
  • Ask lots of questions of potential employers. Legitimate companies will have answers for you

For additional information about avoiding becoming the victim of a criminally-operated work-at-home recruiting scams or want to file a complaint are encouraged to file a report -to the Federal Trade Commissioner (FTC) through its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).