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Work-From-Home Job Scams

Beware of Job Offer Scams

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, certainly, anyone needing to make ends meet, 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?

But 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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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that business and job opportunity scams were among the top 10 scams people reported to the agency in 2022, with a total of $367 million lost — up nearly 76 percent over 2021.

The median loss in those cases was $2,000, among the highest for fraud categories tracked by the FTC.

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 up front for supplies, certifications, coaching or client leads — or sent a check to cover such expenses, which turns out to be bogus.

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.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued a warning in April 2022 about a new twist on this con, with supposed job recruiters offering targets an interview if they download a messaging app such as Telegram. After answering a few questions on the app, you get an offer, a contract and a request for your personal data and banking information. 

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.

Other supposed job opportunities actually make you an unwitting money mule, essentially assisting the scammers with their crimes. The BBB says the criminals often will hire people for reshipping scams: They’ll use stolen credit card numbers to order products, then instruct the victims to repackage the goods and send the packages to a new address. “The accomplices who were hired for this fraudulent type of work are never paid,” says the BBB, “and their identities may be used to open bank accounts.”

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

In fact, the BBB warns, sometimes criminals’ apparent goal is identity theft: In its 2020 study of employment scams, the organization found that 34 percent of victims provided their driver’s license number and 25 percent provided their Social Security or Social Insurance number in the process of applying for a bogus job.

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.

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Warning Signs

  • A job ad claims that no skills or experience are required.
  • It offers high pay for little or no work.
  • Your earnings are based primarily on recruiting other people to join the operation. It's probably a pyramid scheme.
  • A company promises that a business opportunity is surefire and will pay off quickly and easily.
  • You're required to pay up front for training, certifications, directories or materials, or you’re sent a check that will supposedly cover such expenses.

How to protect yourself from work-from-home job scams

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Check that job sites specializing in remote work screen the openings and companies listed.
  • 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.

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).
  • Listen to this episode of AARP’s The Perfect Scam podcast for more on employment scams.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.