Work-From-Home Scams Exploit Holiday Need for Fast Cash, Officials Warn

Business Man Displaying a Spread of Cash

As people look to alleviate the extra costs of the holiday season, officials are warning against sophisticated work-from-home scams that are costing consumers thousands of dollars.

“It’s a time of year when people could use extra cash,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement last week. “But if you have to send money in order to make money, it’s probably a scam.”

In his state alone, DeWine said he’s gotten about 100 complaints regarding at-home employment or investment scams, with each person losing an average of $1,300.

In a recent article for Forbes, employment expert Laura Shin also concluded that these scams pose a substantial danger to job seekers — even sharing that two of her personal friends were recently caught up in one. “It looks like the old ‘$$$ WORK FROM HOME!!! $$$’ scam is alive and well, if no longer as obvious,” she wrote.

But the challenge in many cases, she continued, is that people who think they’re savvy enough to spot illegitimate dealings online actually aren’t. “Because of how unsophisticated past schemes were, job seekers may not know how to spot the newest evolutions,” she warned.

What to Look For

While scams may take on numerous forms, Shin compiled a list of five of the most insidious techniques job seekers should be wary of:

    • Fake URLs: Scammers use a variant of a well-known company’s website address, adding only a few numbers or letters or changing “.com” to “.net” so that job seekers think they’re giving information to a legitimate business.
    • Cold Contact: Businesses contact a job seeker on LinkedIn, offering a substantial pay increase and a short deadline to discourage further research.
    • Chat Interviews: While some real companies do use chat for interviews, scammers will use only chat, in order to disguise their identities.
    • Contact Forms: Scammers will set up pages with contact forms so that job seekers can’t compare contact information to that found on a main company website.
    • Kit or Setup Fees: Scammers will offer job seekers the opportunity to make thousands of dollars a week, provided they pay for a startup kit (that never arrives).

All of these scams try to prevent the in-depth research and verification that are part of a normal job search.

Safer Opportunities

Of course, that doesn’t mean all business opportunities that offer at-home work or flexible scheduling are scams.

Virtual offices, which connect workers electronically, first debuted in the commercial workplace in 1994. Many companies now use such solutions to control overhead costs and offer workers the option to work at home.

Ongoing education is the key to finding good opportunities without putting oneself at risk, according to Sara Sutton Fell, the founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a site that compiles telecommuting, freelance and at-home listings.

“In order to ensure a safer online job search experience,” she said, “today’s job seekers need to be aware of how job scams have matured so they can adequately protect themselves.”

Shin recommends double-checking information in job listings with that found on reputable company websites, requesting phone interviews instead of web communication, and just generally being wary of giving out personal and banking data.

And, she says, stick to conventional wisdom: “Being asked to make a small investment in order to receive a large sum of money sounds too good to be true — and it is.”

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