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FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

Work-From-Home Scams

En español | Identifying work-from-home scams can be tricky, especially as they often appear alongside legitimate opportunities on popular job-search websites. And if you’re a retiree looking to supplement your Social Security or a worker left reeling by a late-career layoff, it can be awfully tempting to follow those leads. Who wouldn’t like to earn big money stuffing envelopes or posting online ads from the comfort of your couch or get all the tools and training needed to start a lucrative home-based business?

Few of these offers ever lead to actual income. Instead, they’re liable to leave you with a lighter bank account or even heavily in debt.

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From 2015 through 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 58,000 consumer complaints about sham opportunities to work from home or launch a business. The median loss for victims is about $1,200, according to the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Scam Tracker, which says employment frauds pose the highest scam risk for military service members and veterans. Federal officials have raised alarms about such scams spiking amid the coronavirus shutdown, as millions of people who've lost jobs search for new opportunities.

Typical ploys invite you to get to work stuffing envelopes, processing billing forms for medical offices, filling out online surveys, doing typing or data entry, or assembling crafts. The common thread is that you’ll be asked to pay something upfront for supplies, certifications, coaching or client leads. In return you may get a load of useless information, or nothing at all, or a demand that you place more ads to recruit more people into the scheme.

More involved cons promise to set you up in an online business — again, for a price, which can rapidly escalate into the thousands of dollars as one paid “training program” leads to another. One such operation, a Malaysian company called My Online Business Education, agreed in February 2020 to pay more than $17 million to settle claims that it defrauded thousands of would-be entrepreneurs with costly business-coaching programs before being busted by the FTC.

There are genuine work-from-home jobs out there. The trick is knowing how to spot the real opportunities in a sea of empty — and costly — promises.

Warning Signs

  • A job ad claims that no skills or experience are required.
  • It offers high pay for little or no work.
  • A company promises that a business opportunity is surefire and will pay off quickly and easily.
  • You're required to pay upfront for training, certifications, directories or materials.

Do's

  • Do check out the company offering the job with your state consumer protection agency, and with the Better Business Bureau in your community and the area where the company is located.
  • Do learn about the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, which requires companies to disclose key information about business opportunities they are selling, to provide references and to back up claims about how much you can earn.
  • Do ask detailed questions, such as these that the FTC recommends:
    • How will I be paid? By salary or by commission?
    • Who will pay me, and when will the checks start?
    • What is the total cost of the program, and what will I get for my money?
  • Do check that job sites specializing in remote work screen the openings and companies listed.

Don'ts

  • Don’t assume a work-at-home offer is on the level because you saw it in a trusted newspaper or on a legitimate job website. It could still be a scam. If you spot a suspicious listing, report it to the publication or site.
  • Don’t believe website testimonials. Fake work-at-home sites are full of personal stories of people (often struggling single moms) making thousands of dollars a month because they took advantage of this amazing opportunity.
  • Don’t sign a contract or make a payment without doing homework about the company making the offer.
  • Don’t stick around if there’s any suggestion that your earnings are based primarily on recruiting other people to join the operation — it’s probably a pyramid scheme.

More Resources

  • If you believe you have been exploited by a work-at-home job scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC online or by calling 877-382-4357. You can also report the scam to your state's attorney general.
  • The Better Business Bureau can tell you if it has received complaints about a particular work-at-home program (although a lack of complaints doesn’t guarantee it’s not a scam).

Updated May 7, 2020

About the Fraud Watch Network

Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.

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