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Money May 2012

Dollar Sense

Work-at-Home Job Offers? How to Identify the Scams

By Teresa Ambord

If you know what to look for, the scams are not hard to recognize. They have many aspects in common, like the promise of high pay for few hours of work and no skills or experience required. In reality, few if any businesses post notices recruiting people to fill jobs like that.

Many people dream of being able to make a living by working at home. And it is true that more and more employers are allowing staff members to do just that. Unfortunately, as the economy continues to sputter, a lot of unscrupulous work-at-home job offers are also rising up. Scam artists use anonymous e-mail messages and even social web sites like Facebook to try to con people into their schemes. While scam artists do tend to target certain groups – like those in areas of high unemployment or industries that have been hardest hit, or people with family obligations that make it hard for them to leave home -- the fact is, many individuals at all education and income levels fall for the scams. If you are one who has taken the bait, don’t feel bad. You are far from alone.

The Better Business Bureau warns that not only can these scams waste your time and take money you can’t afford to lose, but they may get you into selling products and services that are substandard, or that don’t even exist. And, says the Better Business Bureau, you could even be subject to legal action for participating in a fraud or an illegal pyramid scheme. And in the process of signing up, you may have to provide personal information just like you would on a regular job, like your Social Security number and date of birth.

If you know what to look for, the scams are not hard to recognize. They have many aspects in common, like the promise of high pay for few hours of work and no skills or experience required. In reality, few if any businesses post notices recruiting people to fill jobs like that.

How can you tell the difference between real opportunities and con games designed to make only the con artists rich? Here are some points to consider:

  • Real jobs specify the skills, qualifications, and education needed. Fake job offers are heavy on convenience, and light on details of the work. They may ask you to send money to find out more. Even if they are only asking for a few dollars, this should be a red flag.
  • Scammers like the ease and anonymity of e-mails to attract victims. They may seem to be from someone with a name that is common to make you think it is from a person you know. For example, the message might start with “Hi, it’s Jennifer.” If you are not sure it is from someone you know, it’s probably a fake.
  • If you’re tempted to check out the opportunity, consider this: If there really was easy money to be made, the people offering the deal would not have to advertise. Instead they’d be trying to fend off hoards of people eager to get in on it. And that was true before the economy went south.

 

Jobs’ Commonly Advertised by Scam Artists

Here are several that have been around for ages, but keep in mind, this list is ever-growing.

  • Stuffing and or addressing envelopes.
  • Assembling products.
  • Processing legal, medical or insurance claims.
  • Data entry.
  • Forwarding cash or products.

More recently:

  • Survey sites
  • Misc. “freelance” opportunities.

 

Fake ads use buzz words, like these:

  • “Work from the comfort of your home.”
  • “Six figure income possible.”
  • “Make more in a few hours a week than at a full-time job.”
  • “No experience necessary.”
  • “We will provide training.”

 

Clever Fraudsters

Recently fraudsters are taking advantage of the popularity and social nature of Facebook to perpetrate their scams, not that Facebook is to blame. The ads are no doubt purchased legitimately. They target geographic areas where unemployment is high, and claim to tell the personal story of someone in your area.

Here’s an example of fake job ads that have appeared recently on Facebook: In the “ad” section on the right side of a Facebook page, a story may appear about a woman in your town. She’s an average woman, someone you may stand in line with at the grocery store, someone whose kids may know your grandkids. She (listed by name) says she cannot believe her good luck… she has stumbled upon a goldmine, an incredible opportunity for making money from home (sometimes these “local” ads are testimonials to sell products like teeth whitening kits, but that’s a different story). In a few hours a day, she says, she is making more from her home computer than she used to make in a full-time drudge job.

The story gives enough information that you believe she is someone just like you, someone you might pass in the grocery store, someone you can trust.

 

The Bottom Line Is… Does the Job Offer Make Sense?

Does the offer involve work that can be done faster and cheaper by machines? If so, why would any company recruit workers? In this economy, real companies are having trouble paying even minimum wage. What are the chances that an employer could survive, paying hundreds of dollars for a few hours of work? If the job offer does not make financial sense from the employer’s perspective, scratch it off your list.

With all this said, there are many employers who do use at-home workers. That makes the issue even more confusing. Before you get onboard with any at-home job offer, check out the company as thoroughly as possible. Call the Better Business Bureau and talk it over with them.

 

Working From Home is Possible, If You Know Where to Look

There are legitimate jobs that allow you to work from home. Keep in mind, these are jobs that pay similar to what you would make doing the same work in an office setting. They may require you to come into the office part of the time to work or check in. The benefits of working at home are many… no traffic, no fuel cost, more family time, no need for a work wardrobe. And employers benefit by needing less office space and in general, at-home workers tend to be more productive than worksite employees.

Where do you find these jobs? One great example is Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They allow data entry operators to work from home. For employers and employees, this can be a real win/win. Another job that lends itself easily to telecommuting is customer service. If you currently work as a customer service rep in an office, you might approach your employer about the possibility of doing your job from home. Offer to do it on a trial basis if necessary.

 

Transcription

Transcription is a rising profession that can be done from home or an office. The Department of Labor stated on their web site that medical transcription is a profession that will continue to grow, an estimated 11% by 2018. Legal and medical transcription does require training and, to do it efficiently, some special equipment. You may be able to get this training through your community college.

Two caveats: You will need a quiet atmosphere where you can concentrate. This is not a job you can do with grandkids around, or while you watch “The Price is Right.” And, transcription jobs are advertised by the amount of recorded material you will transcribe, and that can be misleading. An ad that says $75 per hour of audio or video means you will be paid $75 after accurately transcribing an hour of material, and that could take you several hours to accomplish.

 

Bookkeeping/Accounting

Are you an experienced bookkeeper? A trained accountant? Every business needs to have financial books, and many business owners would rather have someone come in, pick up the records, and bring them back, in order. How can you find these jobs? Get together your references and resume and send them around to small businesses in your area. You might offer a flat fee for services which will give you more flexibility and a reliable income.

 

Writing/Copy Editing

There is a saying, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” This will not likely be a high-paying gig, but you can supplement your income by writing short articles for a content web site. You do need to be able to put together a short, coherent article, but with a little practice, you can get there.

One such site that always seems to be hiring is Demand Studios (demandstudios.com). They will pay for articles and for blogs. Will you get rich? Probably not. The pay is fairly low, about $15 to $25 per article. Not only can you make a little extra money, but each article represents a published clip that can eventually lead to other writing jobs.

Demand Studios also has freelance copy editor jobs. Don’t confuse this with proofreading. It does require some experience and some knowledge of grammar and style. Again, you might be able to satisfy the requirements with an online course at your local community college.

A word of caution: content mills are becoming common as more and more people go to the Internet for information. But not all of these mills are legitimate. Some will request several article samples, take your work, and you’ll never hear from them. They may be using your work without paying you. Stick with sites like Demand Studios or other well-established publishers.

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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