Preying on the Desperate — Work-From-Home Scams to Avoid

John Krautzel
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Job seekers actively looking for opportunities often find work-from-home opportunities as the most attractive positions. Working from home affords you with the privilege of saving on commuting costs and allows you to set your own work pace. Unfortunately, there are many work-from-home scams, and manipulative business practices can wind up costing you in the long run. Learn how to reduce your risk by recognizing unethical practices.

The Get Rich Quick Scam

Avoid spending time entertaining job ads that promise instant riches with a work-at-home opportunity. The reality is that hefty paychecks are not distributed after a few hours of work. Companies promising $1,000 a day for stuffing envelopes or making cold calls to a list of leads are not being truthful with you. You may even find that the leads you are calling are derived from a list generated from the phone book or pulled from online directories. Reduce your risk and your frustration by spending your time on job leads from reputable companies that recognize that hard work pays off in the long run, not instantly.

The Pay Up Front Scam

You should never have to pay money for the chance to access work-from-home opportunities. Companies that request you to invest in a work opportunity are likely to keep your money and rob you of any chance of gaining on your investment. Perform thorough research before applying for any work-from-home job. Check the company's rating on the Better Business Bureau, and conduct an online search for input from people who have worked with the business. And most importantly, do not spend any of your own hard-earned money for a job opportunity.

The Online Business Scam

Job advertisements promising a lucrative paycheck from starting your own online business can be tempting. These ads outline how you can manage a website and sell products without the hassle of hosting the inventory. Be leery of these opportunities. What typically happens is that the company asks you to pay upfront for a brochure or booklet that provides information you can easily find online for free.

The Medical Billing Scam

Many scams target people trained as medical transcriptionists and billers. Job advertisements from what seem to be reputable companies promise you thousands of dollars to process insurance claims from physicians. However, the reality is that these companies send you marketing materials, software and a list of leads - for a fee - when you could seek out your own clients and purchase similar software for much less at local retail outlets. Before jumping into a work-from-home opportunity that may seem appealing, research the company and ask questions about the type of leads they send. Do not pay for any type of job opportunity.

The Mystery Shopping Scam

Avid shoppers may think they have found the ultimate job as a mystery shopper, but unfortunately, these opportunities are often a scam. Mystery shopping companies require you to make purchase at local stores and then evaluate your experiences after you have paid a registration fee. The bottom line is that reputable companies do not require a fee or ask you to become certified as a mystery shopper. If this line of work is appealing to you, inquire with national chain stores to apply directly instead of working through a company that claims to manage accounts with a variety of stores.

The Check Cashing Scam

A position as a financial manager may be right in line with your experience and education, but if you are asked to deposit checks from people who live abroad, you are not managing financial information. Instead, you may be roped into an illegal scheme to cash counterfeit checks. As a result, if you agree to cash checks, you may find that the checks are returned within a few days, which ultimately costs you fees, time and money.

Avoid work-from-home opportunities that seem too good to be true. Do your research and investigate companies before committing to something that may ultimately turn out to be a scam.

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  • Tara Y.
    Tara Y.

    I wanna learn how people can hack my phone

  • Jean M Anderson
    Jean M Anderson

    Thanks for sharing

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thank you @Troy. So sorry that you went through it but a great lesson for the rest of us!

  • Troy L.
    Troy L.

    I was scammed a few times a while back. I was a 'mystery shopper'(the real mystery was this opportunity). I was to go shopping with roughly $1200.00. I was to receive $300.00 for a couple hours of work. Sounded simple. So two weeks go by, then I get this UPS or FEDEX parcel. I found four money orders $300.00 each. I was to deposit these in my account. I keep $300.00 and use the rest to shop with. Realize I have written many checks, and knew the security on them. M.O.s were another thing. So I went to a place that sold them and asked if I could see one and that I had some I thought were real. They were kind of leary at first. But I found them to be the real deal. So of course I deposit them and sure enough they bounce. Now I am mad. More so at myself than anyone. I realized that they can get a hold of bonafide checks just like you and me. They can also get a hold of Money Orders and print anything they want on them, they just have to pay for them at places like Checks Unlimited. The thing is they put bogus or fake account numbers on them and the check numbers are relatively legit, as is the routing numbers since those are not secret. They can look up the owners or CEOs or CFOs of companies, forge their signatures and scan them into the check printing software. Sometimes they are good, other times they are lazy and the printing font and size is off and maybe bold. If it doesn't match that could be a tip off. Now the scammers spend a little bit of money to scam several people a month, it's like fishing spend a little to get a lot. If you and me are on to them, that's okay for them, they can scam someone else. Last of all check out the email address the body of these emails, and those contact emails and the people mentioned in them. I saw one with the Secretary General of the UN several times and the Director of the FBI as well. Be careful when answering these emails. You can report them to your local District Attorney, I've done that, also to my bank. All I do now keep the checks and money orders and send back an email saying how they wasted their money on me. I know, but it makes me feel a whole lot better! Troy Lawson

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Hema there certainly are work from home jobs that are totally legit. Yes, of course, there will always be the scammers - companies that promise big and deliver little or nothing including paying you for the work that you did. As long as you take your time and really check them out, you should be okay. Always make sure that everything is spelled out before you accept an offer and that includes any software or other items that you will need to complete your job. @Jane other than doing your due diligence by really checking the company out, there really is no way to know. You could receive a job posting today from a legit company - ABC company - today and tomorrow receive another job posting from ABC Company that is a scam. These scammers come and go so quickly that it's hard to keep track sometimes. I know I have reported my share of scammers in the past several years. Always best to keep your guard up until you know for sure that the company is legit and not just out to get your personal information. Don't be afraid to apply for work from home jobs. Just make sure that you take the time to check them out.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I like the idea of working from home but there sure are a lot of hurdles, not the least of which are the scammers, trying to dupe newcomers to the work-from-home experience. After looking over your list of different types of scams, I was wondering if there are any work-from-home opportunities that are always legitimate? Are there jobs out there where a seeker doesn't have to always keep her guard up?

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    Is there a good way to find out if a company offering work-from-home jobs actually pays its workers? Some companies may not ask for upfront payments, but they may hide their payment policies. Workers may have to work for months before they see a payment and that’s not a position anyone who’s unemployed wants to be in.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    There are no get rich quick "programs" that work. I like to read reviews when I'm contacted about work at home jobs. Most of them are scams that will take your money or just plain get you into trouble with the law. A lot of "work at home" job offers are Ponzi schemes in disguise. Sadly, people lose the small about of money they have to finance someone else's riches.


    I agree with Lydia. For every company that you are interested in working for, do a simple background check on Google and read about what current or former employees have to say about the company. If the company is a scam, it will be very clear in the comments of former employees because they will outright warn others against taking a position with this company.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @William do your due diligence if you are considering applying for a work from home position. Do a Google search on the company. You would be amazed at the ones that look so legit turn out to be the worst scammers. They build wonderful websites only to take your personal information out for a spin. @Jacob it is true that not all mystery shopping ads are scams. There are some good mixed in. Not sure how you could really make a living on it but so people do. If you like shopping, eating out, going to the movies, etc. it might be a viable option for you. And so very true - NEVER pay anything and never purchase anything. If you take just a few minutes to research the company, you will find out all that you need to know to make an informed decision.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    This article raises some good points. I would disagree, however that mystery shopping companies that manage multiple national accounts are always a scam. If they are asking for fees up front, that is likely a scam, but requesting people buy a product at the shopped location is not unreasonable. MarketForce, for example, is a company that provides shopping opportunities wherein the shopper makes a purchase and is reimbursed to a preset amount and paid for their time. It may not be a lucrative line of work, but it is far from being a scam.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    How do we tell which work-from-home opportunities are legitimate? There are so many companies out there that promise to train people to do data entry, medical transcription, writing and filling out surveys. There must be some kind of way to tell the good ones from the scams. With the freelance economy changing so much, the scammers will surely increase.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kellen if you are filling out a W9 for a company and you have truly verified that the company and the job are both legitimate, then certainly you can. I had to fill out a W9 and give my bank account information for the position I have now. As long as you know for absolute sure that it's a valid company and position. @Lydia you are so right. It doesn't take long to discover a scam. If they are scamming you it more than likely means that they have already scammed plenty of other people. It only takes a minute to type in a company name or phone number to get millions of results. And, if the company is a scam, that will show up in the first few results from your search. Move on!

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I find that just taking few minutes to background check the company or organization before you respond to an ad can save you from handing over data to unscrupulous people. If the ad has a phone number or other contact information, google it. Your search results might inform you in a minute or two if the ad is a scam. If you know the company name, search for reviews. Another option: log into to an active job search forum and ask posters if they've heard of the job/opportunity. Again, you should have helpful responses within minutes.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    Everyone always says to never hand over your social security number or bank information, but some companies want to offer a W-9 and pay you via direct deposit for at-home work. This means revealing your social security number and bank info! Should you never work for such a company? I know some legitimate companies that seek this info. Freelancers might find direct deposit desirable to avoid PayPal fees, so this is pretty common.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. So very true that if it were legitimate, the company wouldn't need to be beating the bushes to find applicants as they would be banging down the door. Sounds to good to be true? Probably is. Yes, research, research, research. Can't tell you now many times I have seen a posting for a work from home job that sounds great only to do a search and the first result is "ABC Company Scam"! @Tara there are plenty of work from home jobs that are posted that are valid jobs. Again, if it uses the word "legitimate", it probably isn't.

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    I definitely think the old "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" adage comes into play when it comes to work-from-home opportunities. I think there's increasingly legitimate work-from-home opportunities available (telecommuting to save on office costs, etc), but thorough research should be done. Even a simple "Is X-Company legitimate or a scam?" Google search can prove illuminating.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The thought of making loads of cash in little time certainly does sound appealing, but as the article states, it's not realistic. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the jobs were really as lucrative as the job posters make them sound, other people would be gobbling them up. Also, why would a company be willing to pay a person so much money for such an easy task? They could easily hire entry-level workers to do these tasks. Be very careful when you come across a job posting such as these.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Katharine totally agree. I actually am a member on a paid freelance site because I found that I could get job postings that were only listed on their site. @Shannon there are many sites out there that have legit work from home jobs and they don't require any upfront payments. Check out our site at You will find many work from home and freelance type positions and it's free to use. Or you can search the internet. Too many possibilities to list here. Yes you could spend hours going through site after site. I just did a "work from home jobs that are not scams" in Google and received 24,000,000 results in 1.39 seconds! Boggles the mind.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I agree that having to pay for job listings is usually a scam, but I know of one such company- basically a paid freelance database- that has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. I haven't used this company personally, but friends have recommended it because it is within my line of work.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I know from personal experience that working from home is very convenient. However, I have wasted countless hours sorting through work-from-home scams that request up-front payment or promise unrealistic wages. Can you recommend some ways to find reputable work? Are there any job boards, companies or websites you recommend to find work-from-home opportunities?

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