By Ria Fulton, Forsyth County Aging Services Planning Committee
Work from home! Make money in your free time!
We’ve all seen the ads and signs, and for many seniors, working from home sounds like a perfect opportunity. Working online can be easy, flexible and rewarding—but there are many scammers who are out to fill their own pockets instead of yours! So how can you be safe and smart about working online?
Here are some common warning signs you should look out for. Beware of any online job opportunities where…
You’re asked to pay any money up front, whether for “training,” a “starter kit,” or any other resources. The kit may never come, or may be of limited value. Worse still, you might find that you never have the opportunity to re-make the money you’ve sunk—or that your job is to peddle the same starter kits you were tricked into purchasing. The FTC states that under no circumstances should anyone be forced to pay a fee in order to obtain a job, and online employment is not exempt from this requirement.
You are asked to advance checks or wire money, keeping your “earnings” and forwarding the remaining funds to the business. Legitimate companies do not conduct business this way, and the check you cash is likely to bounce. If it does, you’re the one who will be on the hook to pay it back. In a worst-case scenario, you could be prosecuted for money laundering or writing worthless checks
You are asked to reship or repackage merchandise. If a “job” consists solely of reshipping goods, then it’s likely that these goods were stolen or were otherwise obtained through illegal means. Once again, you’ll be the one who does the time for the company’s crime.
The pay is just too good to be true. Working from home can be a good way to earn extra income, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll “get rich quick” doing it. Research the standard wages for the kind of work you’ll be doing – jobs promising $40 an hour or thousands of dollars a week are classic signs of a scam.
The company is hard to research or locate. Companies that hire online should have a professional web presence, and should list information for prospective customers or clients as well as prospective employees. Unprofessional websites that don’t reveal much information, or that are littered with typos or dead links, are big red flags. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to start your research. It may sound obvious, but Googling “‘name of company’ + scam” is a great way to see if anyone else has complained or reported the business.
The company does not appear to have a permanent location—PO Box addresses, disconnected phone numbers, and personal rather than company email addresses can all be signs of a scam.
The company seems desperate to hire anyone, and uses language like “no skills needed” or no experience required!” The company might also resort to strategies like pop-up ads, spam email, or repeated phone calls. Legitimate online work opportunities have hiring processes much like traditional work places, and require you to apply and perhaps even interview or complete a skills assessment.
You are asked for financial information or sensitive personal information during the hiring process. Beware of companies that immediately ask you for bank account information for “direct deposits.” Many legitimate online companies use trusted and secure services like PayPal to pay contractors and freelancers, so they never have access to your bank account information.
You are asked to complete a credit report. A popular scam on Craigslist involves asking you to visit a website to obtain a “free credit report” as part of the hiring process. In best case scenarios, these reports aren’t free at all, and often contain a hidden monthly charge. In worst case scenarios, the websites are a front for harvesting personal and financial information. Legitimate employers will conduct a credit check themselves if it’s required for the position. If an employer pushes you to visit a specific website to fill out a credit report, it’s likely a scam. Free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus are available at annualcreditreport.com.
While the world of online employment may feel very different from searching for jobs elsewhere, it’s important to remember that legitimate online businesses shouldn’t look that different from legitimate brick-and-mortar companies. If you have questions during the hiring process, legitimate employers should be happy and willing to have a discussion with you. Seek out opportunities to communicate with current employees or customers to get a feel for the company—if the company is evasive or vague, alarm bells should go off.
Just like old-fashioned job searching, the best way to get a legitimate work-from-home job is to do your research and your due diligence. If anything feels suspicious, always trust your gut and walk away. Don’t forget that there will be other opportunities from good companies that are looking for your unique skills, background, and expertise!