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Work-At-Home Scams

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“Work part time in your own home and make $500 to $1500 your first month! It couldn’t be any easier!”

“A genuine opportunity! Guaranteed income!”

“Work minutes a day at home and earn enough to make your dreams come true.”


Con artists pitching work-at-home schemes rake in $427 billion dollars a year. These scams are a favorite way for con artists to exploit people. They use appealing but unrealistic come-ons to lure unwary people into parting with their hard-earned money with the hope of hitting it big financially.

You’ve seen their promotions pasted on telephone poles, easy reading for walkers or drivers waiting for a light to change. Many have tear-off slips with a phone number to call. The ads also show up on supermarket bulletin boards, in newspaper classified sections, in magazines and on TV.

They’re on the Internet and especially chat rooms, bulletin boards and message boards. Since anyone can post to a message board, the promotions can even show up online at the message boards run by honest organizations that you trust, such as AARP.

Let’s look at a message board posting by a fellow named Bill about a work-at-home business. It had glowing praise from an alleged satisfied business owner. Debbie was assigned a personal coach and found “money coming in right away -- $1500 her very first month.”

What Bill’s promotion didn’t include was any idea of what the business was, what its product might be, how new owners would contact possible customers, or what the total costs might be.

Scam work-at-home schemes never do include such information because the salespersons aren’t interested in you making money. They only want to bilk you out of as much money as they can and then disappear from the scene. Many are more interested in recruiting new salespersons than doing the project. They get a bonus or commission for bringing in new recruits; that’s why they sound so enthusiastic about the money to be made.


Common Scams

Work-at-home schemes come in many forms. They include:


  • Medical Billing Centers. You send money for software to run a bill collection service from your home. The scam artists promise that the “market is wide open” and they have “lined up” clients for you. In reality, you stand to lose your entire $2,000 to $8,000 investment. The software is only an assortment of forms and collection letters that anyone could design. The names of companies they send you are not clients; they just got names and addresses from the phone book.


  • Envelope Stuffing. This is the most common work-at-home scam, says the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You send money and the “business” will send you information about earning money by stuffing envelopes at home. What you actually get are instructions to sell this scheme to others by placing ads in newspapers to illegally entice new victims. You make nothing unless you recruit others to work for you. Called multi-level marketing, this scam is much like an illegal Ponzi pyramid scheme.


  • Assembly or Craft Work. You send money for supplies to assemble into products such as aprons, baby clothes, jewelry, or Christmas decorations. Sometimes you must buy the equipment from the promoter. You’re told that there is a ready market for the products or that the company will buy the products from you. The catch? Your items never meet “quality standards” or you must sell the items yourself.


  • Business Opportunities. You send money for information about starting a business from your home. The details are vague but the promises are big and include claims that “we will provide all the training you need.” The catch? The fraudulent salespersons will constantly try to sell you more information about special “training and support systems” and “your personal coach.” Anyone who really had business ideas as good as these claim to be would never offer this information to thousands of strangers.


And sometimes, those who send money for any of these schemes receive absolutely nothing. They just get their money taken.


What You Can Do

Work-at-home schemes appeal to our desires to earn more money, avoid having a boss, work fewer hours, and stop commuting. Often scammers tap into people’s dreams of being rich and famous. “You too can drive a BMW and vacation in the islands.” “All you have to do is spend a few minutes a day and earn all the money you need to make all your dreams come true.”

But you can defend yourself against work-at-home scams. Start by staying alert and using your common sense. If a particular promotion seems too good to be true, it is. Don’t waste your time or money.

In addition, keep on the outlook for these types of claims:


  • Little or no money needed upfront
  • Work part-time and earn a full time salary
  • No experience is necessary
  • This offer is unique


Questions to Ask

Fraudulent promoters of work-at-home schemes leave many unanswered questions. Don’t send any money until you get clear and complete answers – in writing – to all these questions:

  • What exactly do I need to do to earn money?
  • What will I get for my money?
  • Do I have to purchase anything?
  • What are the total costs to get in on the deal?
  • What quality standards I must meet for the products I produce?
  • Will I receive a salary? Or do I work on commission?
  • Who pays me?
  • How do I get paid?
  • Do I have to sell anything or market the product or information?
  • Do I need to recruit others to the program?
  • How do I get my money back if I am not satisfied?

If the answers you receive don’t really satisfy all your concerns, walk away from the promotion. The chances are good that the promotion is really a scam.

Take Action


  • Learn about finding a job, changing jobs, resumes, tips, and more AARP's Work team.
  • If you have been taken in by a work-at-home scam, complain! Start with the company you sent your money to and make sure to keep a dated copy. Some companies may refund your money.
  • The Federal Trade Commission does not resolve individual consumer problems, but reporting your complaint helps the FTC investigate fraud. The FTC enters fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel®, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide.

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