National Consumers League

Personal Finance

NCL Personal Finance Issues

Beware fraudulent work-at-home offers

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The advertisement says you can make lots of money working from the comfort of your home. But if this were true, wouldn’t we all be doing it? There are legitimate home-based businesses out there, but also numerous scams – enough to make you think twice about “working from home” offers.

Know who you’re dealing with. The company may not be offering to employ you directly, only to sell you training and materials and to find customers for your work.

  • Don’t believe that you can make big profits easily. Operating a home-based business is just like any other business – it requires hard work, skill, good products or services, and time to make a profit.
  • Get all the details before you pay. A legitimate company will be happy to give you information about exactly what you will be doing and for whom.
  • Find out if there is really a market for your work. Claims that there are customers for work such as medical billing and craft making may not be true. If the company says it has customers waiting, ask who they are and contact them to confirm. You can also ask likely customers in your area (such as doctors for medical billing services) if they actually employ people to do that work from home.
  • Get references for other people who are doing the work. Ask them if the company kept its promises.
  • Be aware of legal requirements. To do some types of work, such as medical billing, you may need a license or certificate. Check with your state attorney general’s office. Ask your local zoning board if there are any restrictions on operating a business from your home. Some types of work cannot be done at home under federal law. Look for the nearest U.S. Department of Labor in the government listings of your phone book.
  • Know the refund policy. If you have to buy equipment or supplies, ask whether and under what circumstances you can return them for a refund.
  • Beware of the old “envelope stuffing” scheme. In this classic scam, instead of getting materials to send out on behalf of a company, you get instructions to place an ad like the one you saw, asking people to send you money for information about working at home. This is an illegal pyramid scheme because there is no real product or service being offered. You won’t get rich, and you could be prosecuted for fraud.
  • Be wary of offers to send you an “advance” on your “pay.” Some con artists use this ploy to build trust and get money from your bank. They send you a check for part of your first month’s “pay.” You deposit it, and the bank tells you the check has cleared because the normal time has passed to be notified that checks have bounced. Then the crook contacts you to say that you were mistakenly paid the wrong amount or that you need to return a portion of the payment for some other reason. After you send the money back, the check that you deposited finally bounces because it turned out to be an elaborate fake. Now the crooks have your payment, and you’re left owing your bank the amount that you withdrew.
  • Do your own research about work-at-home opportunities. The “Work-At-Home Sourcebook” and other resources that may be available in your local library provide good advice and lists of legitimate companies that hire people to work for them at home. You may discover that these companies hire only local people and that there is nothing available in your area.