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7 ways to spot a work-from-home scam

Working from home is the ideal career experience for many Americans. In fact, 3.7 million U.S employees work from home at least half of the time, according to telework research firm Global Workplace Analytics. But, the web is also littered with work-from-home scams. Knowing how to differentiate between legitimate jobs and phony ones can be the difference between earning a steady income and getting taken to the cleaners.

Here are seven ways to spot a work-from-home scam.

There’s no sign of the job opportunity on the company’s website.

Even though you can find many work-from-home jobs on job boards, Craigslist and blogs that round up listings, you need to verify that the company is real and actually seeking applicants. Check the company’s main website – not the links you find in the listing – for any details about available job opportunities. If the work-from-home opportunity isn’t included anywhere on the company website, the original listing could be a hoax.

They use anonymous or unbranded data forms.

If a company requests personal information through an online form without a logo or can’t provide contact information to a real person who manages job inquiries, this opportunity could be a scam. At the very least, you should be able to locate a phone number and email address of an individual managing job postings and inquiries. This might not be on the actual job listing, but some quick online research should take you to a company website with details about how to contact it with employment opportunities.

They offer coaching programs on how to start your own home business.

Be wary of individuals or companies that charge high fees to teach you how to run a home-based business. Watch out for tactics such as overly enthusiastic testimonials, vague descriptions of the business model and promises of quick riches. Be especially suspicious of programs that require you to teach others how to run a home-based business for a fee. That is most likely a multilevel marketing scam.

They promise lists of job opportunities for a fee.

You might stumble across a website or forum that promises to share a list of companies that offer real work-from-home jobs and all you have to do is pay a fee to access them. Unfortunately, many listings are outdated or are simply a poor compilation of available jobs. However, there are some exceptions. Sites, such as FlexJobs, claim they screen all work-from-home opportunities and only provide listings of verified jobs. This can be a worthwhile investment if you are tired of sifting through hundreds of job postings day after day and want to start applying right away.

They ask for banking information.

If a company asks you to share banking details or any other financial account information to verify your application or to set up a profile for access to opportunities, take a step back. No company should request this type of information unless it is getting ready to pay you for your work. If you see this request as part of your initial interaction, be cautious about sharing personal information.

The job description or job requirements are vague or incomplete.

If you only need to be 18 years of age and have an internet connection to qualify for the job, it’s likely the listing is set up to simply collect your contact information. Be wary of any listings that clearly state, “no experience required” and “work whenever you want.” You may think you’ve struck work-from-home gold, but if the offer seems too good to be true, be wary. Legitimate companies seeking qualified job seekers will be relatively transparent about the opportunity and explain clearly what will be expected of you and provide plenty of information about the role.

Email and other communications are unprofessional.

If you do submit your contact information but get an immediate follow-up email without any company names, logos or even the name of a sender, it’s likely that you’ve walked into a scam. Many scammers use software programs to generate generic emails as soon as you submit your email address, and these are often full of spelling and grammar mistakes. Another red flag is an email that asks you to provide bank account information or other personal details over email without a formal interview. Monitor your inbox, so you are aware of what types of emails you receive in response to your work-from-home job inquiries, and filter accordingly.

How these scams can hurt your personal finances.

It’s bad enough to discover that the ad you responded to is illegitimate. But wounded pride might just be the beginning of your troubles. Here are just three ways a work-from-home scam can damage your finances.

Draining your savings or emergency fund. Some of these scams require hefty fees or startup costs. If you provided your credit card number, a scammer may make large unauthorized charges. More importantly, wasting your time chasing illegitimate jobs means you’re not spending time looking for a real job, putting you further behind in your job search. How are you paying your bills in the meantime? With the savings or emergency fund you worked so hard to build, or by running up your credit card balances.
Exposing yourself to identity theft, which may ruin your credit. If you provided personal information to a scam artist, you may become a victim of identity theft. This could ruin your credit as the identity thief applies for credit cards and makes purchases without your knowledge. At the least, you’ll spend countless hours on the phone with your creditors sorting it all out.

Exposing yourself to criminal liability. Some of these scams are actually schemes to illegally launder money or distribute stolen goods. If you get involved, you may also be criminally liable. For example, in California, the fine for handling stolen property can be as high as $10,000. You might even go to jail for a few years, where falling for a work-from-home job scam will be the least of your personal finance worries.

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