Holiday season is officially upon us—typically a joyous time for giving gifts and spending time with friends, family, and loved ones. However, with the expenses of gifts and travel, many consumers may be on the lookout for supplemental income opportunities. Unfortunately, this also means that consumers may be at greater risk of falling victim to a work-at-home scam. This type of scam lures consumers with promises of flexible schedules and extra income, but in reality, they only exist to steal unsuspecting victims’ time and money.
Last year, in the three months immediately following the holiday season, the National Consumers League (NCL) saw nearly a 17 percent spike in complaints from consumers about work-at-home scams. The scams can take many forms, sometimes even spoofing legitimate work-at-home business opportunities. Common work-at-home scams include the reshipment scam, the envelope stuffing scam, the craft assembly scam, the mystery shopper scam, and the medical billing scam.
A complaint we received from a consumer in New Jersey is a common example. The woman saw an advertisement on Facebook for an accounting position. After being pitched a tempting job offer, she expressed concern over the legitimacy of the business opportunity. The scammer informed the consumer that he worked for Chase Bank and that he “did not have time for playing games.” She then gave him her bank account information and he deposited $7,000 into the victim's account. Here’s what she told us:
“The day after he deposited the money into my account, he told me to take out $3,500 and wire the money to his nephew … On that same day he had me withdraw the remaining $3,300 from my checking account and overnight it to him by USPS Express overnight mail in cash. [The following day,] when I logged into my bank to check my accounts, I noticed that all my own and my husband’s money was gone. We were wiped out clean.”
Fraudsters recruit their victims on legitimate online job boards like Craigslist, through ads placed in reputable websites and online social networks, in newspapers, and by email. These scammers often promise easy income with flexible hours. Red flags of fraud often include an ask for victims to pay an “initiation fee” for “training” or to deposit checks and wire the funds back.
Consumers can reduce their risk of being lured into a work-at-home scam by following these steps:
Be cautious with any work-at-home opportunity and always ask to see the company’s earning claims statement. The earning claims statement is a one page document that any business opportunity seller is required by law to provide. This document provides detailed information about how much the typical employee can expect to make. It also allows you to fact check their claims about what range of income you can expect to earn outside of a high-pressure sales environment. If the company can’t or won’t provide the statement, steer clear!
Do your own research. See what other people who have worked at this company have to say about it. Try googling the company's name with “scam” or “review” and see what comes up. Check your local Better Business Bureau to see if the company is listed and what complaints there may have been. Also find out where the work-at-home company is incorporated and check the business records of that state (often available online through a state’s department of state, corporation commission, or other business registry). If you are unable to find records about the company, it is likely a scam.
Get educated on common work-at-home scams. Be a savvy consumer and take advantage of resources like the FTC’s educational materials to familiarize yourself with common work-at-home scams so that you will be ready to spot job offers that are too good to be true.
Unfortunately, sometimes even the savviest of us are vulnerable. Consumers who have become a victim of work-at-home fraud should file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We share complaints with our network of nearly 200 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars.