During tough economic times, when there is higher than average unemployment, more people look to online job sites for help finding work. Maybe you have been there and noticed postings looking for individuals available to "work from home." You may have received an email, gone to a website, or even seen a sign on the road that promoted the benefits of a work-at-home job. No matter where you have seen it, probably one thing caught your eye: You can become rich working out of your home. Or can you?

Common Work-at-Home Scams
It seems that every day you see more and more home-based work opportunities. According to the FBI, the most common work-at-home scams are advance-fee start-at-home businesses, mystery shoppers to help counterfeiting, pyramid schemes, and perhaps the most dangerous one of all involves becoming part of unknown criminal activity. (Learn more in What Is A Pyramid Scheme?)

Advance-Fee Businesses
Advance-fee businesses involve paying for a home-based business. They advertise calling to find out how you can earn big bucks without having to leave your home, and once you buy in and pay the setup fee, you find that the materials that show up, if they show up at all, are garbage. Not only are you out of a job, but you are even worse off financially.

Mystery Shoppers
The mystery shopper job allows you to get paid to shop. Sometimes it legitimately works that way. What unfortunately happens, some of the time, is that these companies send you a check to deposit and have you withdraw funds. Shoppers are supposed to use some of it for the purchase and send the rest back to the employer. By the time you have done this, your bank is probably calling you telling you that the check you deposited was a counterfeit. (Find out how to protect yourself and your loved ones from financial fraudsters, see Stop Scams In Their Tracks.)

Pyramid Schemes
Pyramid schemes have become very popular. Someone you know may have been fooled into being part of one of these scheme. The scheme involves people inviting you to join them in an opportunity to become filthy rich. What actually happens, however, is that not only do they get conned, but they have included you in their unfortunate choice. The person(s) that started the pyramid can sometimes make a profit, while those below them can end up alienating friends and family, and losing out financially while the scheme collapses.

Criminal Activity
One of the most dangerous schemes actually involves criminal activity. You may get hired to receive and send out either merchandise or even checks. Be very careful about sending out anything for anyone. Many times, all that you are doing is involving more unsuspecting people into the scam, while the crooks get away. (More than 30 million people were victims of fraud in 2007. Will you be next? Check out Credit Scams To Watch Out For.)

These scams are especially successful when people are desperate. It all sounds like you are going to be able to have "dream money" that you never thought was possible. Not only are they targeting the desperate, but the sick, the stay-at-home parents, the low-income and the uneducated.

Evaluating Job Listings
There are things you should do if you suspect a scam. Find out more about the company and job. What kind of contact information do they supply? Use search engines to research the company's history. Make sure you know what the job details are including how much and how often you'll be paid. Check out scam lists. If they ask for money to work for them, beware. You can ask for references but even these can be questionable. (Find out how to spot internet fraud and protect your hard-earned money, see Avoiding Online Investment Scams.)

There are some things you should never do.

  • Deposit money and pay it back to them
  • Send merchandise or checks out in the mail
  • Spam others with email
  • Call a 900 number for information - you will end up paying for that call which is how that scammer makes the money.
  • Assemble crafts or other items - they will probably tell you that you have not met specifications and end up not paying you.
  • Stuffing Envelopes - this scam that can be illegal.

Researching and Reporting Issues
To find out where you can go to research and report problems, check out the following:

  • Better Business Bureau – enter the company name into the organization's site to see previous complaints. (The BBB is one resource to help you connect with the best product/service providers in your area, read The Better Business Bureau's Tool Belt For Saving Cash.)
  • Federal Trade Commission – you can go here to find out if a company has had illegal pyramid schemes.
  • Scam.com - check out this company's bulletin board to see home scams and ask questions about companies you suspect.
  • Google - do research on the companies' background to see what others have to say.

Other Online Career Scams
In your search for the ultimate work at home job, you may have placed your resume on the internet. This may leave you open for another problem. Consulting and recruiting scams are on the rise. A career consultant may contact you saying they found your resume online. Chances are this person may try to get you to pay for updating your resume or other job-related help. A recruiter may call to send you on a job interview. Later, you may find that there is not a job opening, and the company just wanted to sell you services.

There are many ways for others to take advantage of you during your employment search. Be careful regarding jobs advertised that don't actually exist. If you get an email from someone who is very impressed with your qualifications, be careful of phishing scams, and can result in distribution of your information to other companies. (Looking to land your dream job? Skip the entry-level position by avoiding these common errors, check out Top Job-Search Mistakes For Finance Grads.)

Unfortunately, with all of the unemployed out there, there is always a threat of an increase in the number of unemployment scams. Keep your guard up. Go to the above mentioned sites and check everything out. Do not pay anyone up front, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. (To bamboozle someone out of their money is an age-old ruse. Learn about some of the gimmicks modern-day swindlers use and avoid becoming a statistic in Online Investment Scams Tutorial.)

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