How to spot a scam

Want to earn some extra money for simple tasks like stuffing envelopes, assembling products or processing insurance claims? How would you like to earn hundreds of dollars per week from the comfort of your own home?

There’s a reason offers like these sound too good to be true. Work-at-home scams are a pervasive subset of employment scams, and money and time aren’t the only things you could lose. You could also become a victim of identity theft if you’ve given out personal or financial information. Worse yet, you could face legal action for perpetuating a fraud or being involved in an illegal pyramid scheme.

There are legitimate opportunities out there, but to protect yourself you need to spot the scams.

Here’s what you need to watch out for:

Known scams. There are certain opportunities you should automatically be suspicious of because they’re known scams (or scams imitating real opportunities). Typical cons include assembling products, addressing or stuffing envelopes, mailing out marketing materials, chain letters, processing medical or insurance claims, forwarding cash or goods and data entry.

“Work from home” is the title. According to experts, scams target people for whom a work-at-home arrangement would be convenient — such as seniors, people with disabilities and stay-at-home moms. Fraudulent ads often focus on the convenience factor but are short on essential details like what the position is, what tasks are involved and for whom you will be working.

"No experience necessary."  Another favorite target is people who think they don’t have the skills or experience to get a good job. A job that requires no skills or previous experience is therefore appealing. However, legitimate postings will list required skills and qualifications — and you’ll have to submit a resume.

Too-good-to-be-true promises. Scammers are looking for people who dream of a “get rich quick” solution. The reality is that companies can’t stay in business by paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a few hours of work each week. Watch out for claims that simply aren’t financially sound.

A machine could do it better. Consider: major companies use machines — not people — to stuff envelopes and assemble products because it’s cheaper and more efficient. Envelope stuffing and product assembly are two of the oldest schemes around.

Paying for more information. Do you have to call a 900 number for more details or pay for a list of companies that hire home workers? You should be able to get more information about the position without having to pay for it.

Payment is required up front for materials, instructions, training or equipment. Most work-at-home scams are schemes designed to make you pay a fee upfront or to sell you something — whether it’s materials to assemble products, “essential” equipment or software, training materials or access to special websites and databases. Also, beware of any “good faith” payments or requests for you to handle cash. In general, a new job shouldn’t cost you money, and you shouldn’t have to purchase anything from your new employer.

Promises of guaranteed customers or a market for your work. While it’s true that certain skills and jobs are in demand, don’t take the posting’s word for it. Ask for proof: is there research to back up their claims? Can you talk to references and clients to verify their testimonials? Is the information supported by current job trends?

Beware of the latest tricks

Scammers know that you’re probably aware of the classic warning signs, so the cons are getting more elaborate and complex. Some of the latest tactics you might see include:

Questionable endorsements and experts. Don’t get taken in by pictures, voices, names and signatures of “real people”. Endorsements, testimonials, experts and company executives can be fabricated — and stock photography makes it easy to put a face on the fraud. Just because a company executive, expert or “satisfied customer” is featured on a website doesn’t mean that person exists.

False reviews. In addition to paid or placed reviews, there are a variety of websites that claim to have completed “extensive research” or “hundreds of evaluations” on work-at-home opportunities. Their results claim that “95 to 97 per cent of all opportunities are scams”, but they have been able to find the two or three that are legitimate. You’re invited to try them for yourself, and even sign up for a free report or newsletter.
What these websites are really doing is sending you to specific websites and services — and someone on the back end is earning a fee or commission. Those free reports and newsletters could be an attempt to get your personal information.

Questionable awards and endorsements. Fake review and company websites try to make themselves look legitimate by posting awards and recommendations that don’t exist. Claims like “Voted #1 review site” or “the leading site for work at home jobs” are meaningless if the organization they’re from isn’t reputable or well-known, or the claims aren’t backed up by industry research.

As seen on… Everyone loves good press coverage, but that too can be faked. It’s easy to copy and paste logos from popular media sources, but if you visited those sources could you find the article? A link should be provided, and you should be able to find the reference by searching the publication’s archives.

Protect yourself

Other than knowing the signs, there are a couple of simple steps you can take to protect yourself:

Evaluate offers carefully. There are legitimate offers out there, but scammers rely on people not looking closely enough or asking the right questions. Look for inconsistencies and watch out for missing or incomplete information. Make sure you get the full details of any offer in writing.

Ask who is accountable. Content and opportunities don’t appear out of nowhere. Who is responsible for the information? (Or conversely, who would get in trouble if there was a problem?) If you can’t figure out who “is behind the curtain” then chances are they don’t want to be found — and there’s a reason.