Q: I retired two years ago, and the money is going faster than planned. I would like to find a “work-at-home” job to subsidize my income while allowing me to travel and spend time with my grandchildren. I have been checking online to see what is available and can’t figure out which are scams and which are not. Can you point me in the right direction?
–Mary, Algonac, Mich.
A: Mary, yours is the single question I receive most often, and I believe its worthy of a comprehensive reply. It’s also important because you describe a personal financial situation that is only going to become more common. Fixed pensions, personal savings, and Social Security incomes will simply not keep pace with energy, food, housing, transportation, and health care costs. Employer-sponsored post-retirement health benefits are vanishing rapidly, and Medicare alone will simply not be adequate.
This leaves a paid job as the only way to make ends meet for millions of us. By my calculation, you worked 46 years before retiring. That’s a pretty long time to be up at 6 a.m. and home nine to 10 hours later. Your goals to travel and spend time with the grandchildren seem pretty reasonable and well earned.
So how can you make money while preserving your ability not to be tied to an employer’s schedule? The plain truth is that advertised work-at-home arrangements are seldom legitimate! There are a very limited number of exceptions (more on that in a minute), but you should start with the assumption that work-at-home offerings are a scam.
Ask yourself this: If it’s possible to make $1,000 working 10 hours a week stuffing envelopes, why would a company offer that to you instead of hiring people for $10 an hour and keeping the rest as profit? You’re right! They wouldn’t.
Other common work-at-home opportunities to be wary of include:
Light assembly and envelope stuffing
Medical or commercial billing
Telemarketing and customer service
Sales-lead generation and follow-up
Participation in marketing surveys
So what should you do to protect yourself?
Never send money or divulge personal information. Anyone requiring money or personal financial information in advance is almost certainly a con artist.
Don’t invest—unless, that is, you can afford to lose your money. Even reputable businesses, such as those that sell home and beauty products, have a fairly high failure rate and are not a good idea for people trying to limit their commitment of money and time.
Understand precisely what you’re being asked to do. Know that you may not get an answer.
Research the business. Verify the existence of the company with government agencies, the Better Business Bureau, friends, or family. Don’t accept “testimonials” from perky smiling people who say, “We made over $4,000 the first month.” Always ask the opinion of someone you trust.
Don’t trust everything you read in the paper (or on the Internet). Scammers will often establish independent Web sites that promote and endorse their empty offerings. Don’t believe everything you discover on a Google search.
Finally, the most important, if it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is!
Scammers and con artists prey on our trust, vulnerabilities, and desire to believe that all things are possible. They particularly target age 50+ people, who are often in financial distress and don’t have the resources to research companies’ offerings.
Are there legitimate work-at-home arrangements? Yes, and after working in this field for a long time, I can count them on one hand. One notable example is Jet Blue Airways. A fair number of their customer service agents work from home with equipment provided and maintained by the company. As you can imagine, they have a lot of applicants. If a customer-service position is offered by an established, reputable, and verifiable company, it might be legitimate. Remember, though, scammers often trick people by impersonating real companies.
My best advice on work-at-home schemes? Stay away! If you cannot meet and check out the people and organizations offering the work, walk away. Don’t give the “opportunity” a second thought. (I’m sure I’ll hear from people and organizations who will contradict me, but they won’t change my advice one bit.)
So now that we’ve burst the work-at-home bubble, what can you and countless others in your situation do to make some money without getting totally tied down? Here are some suggestions:
Become self-employed. How about starting a modest child-care business? Would you like to work as a home-care aide? Do you have any special talents that others will pay for, such as sewing, crafts, pet care, tutoring, a telephone answering service, or light landscaping and gardening?
Approach local small businesses. Ask if they could use some light-office help, possibly even done from your home. Grocery stores and small retailers are good possibilities.
Contact temporary staffing firms. You may be able to find short-term jobs requiring only a few hours each day.
Register with personal-service agencies. Check out Care.com. This organization lists the names and talents of people it has screened for clients looking to obtain personal service help from reputable individuals.
Check reputable job-posting boards online. Even here, be cautious. The most responsible job boards cannot screen out all the scammers and con artists, but you will find may find pleasant and rewarding part-time jobs at job sites like the one on AARP.org.
Note from Bob: I have received many questions since the first “Ask Bob About Jobs” column. While it is not possible to answer everyone personally, I try to select questions with the broadest interest and importance. I am also likely to answer questions that lend themselves to meaningful answers.
Regrettably, I cannot respond to questions that simply ask, “I need a job. What can I do?” Please try to give me some background so I can frame helpful answers.
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