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Scammers target those who hope to work from home
The effort to earn money while you stay home to care for the kids or simply avoid the commute could end up costing you a lot. Sometimes, even jail time. - photo by Lois M Collins
When Whitney Teuscher's youngest child, now 2, needed surgery and the medical bills started to pile up, the Bluffdale, Utah, mom decided she might want to find work she could do from home on a flexible schedule to augment her husband's earnings as a teacher.

She'd been out of the workforce for four years, since the birth of her oldest son, now 4, and they were getting by. But a little extra would be more than welcome.

She investigated several possibilities for stay-at-home work and rejected a few. Some weren't that interesting; some felt like a bad fit or seemed like they could be a scam. Several months ago, she started selling skin care products for a company and she's been delighted with the job. But she knows that not all folks who grab a work-from-home opportunity fare well.

While she's one of thousands of happily employed folks who joke they can work in their pajamas, the desire to work from home provides a broad target that has would-be scammers celebrating. There are so many phony job offerings that target work-from-home moms and dads, in fact, that consumer-protection organizations and legitimate companies that offer opportunities to work from home routinely warn would-be at-home employees to be careful.

The number of potential "marks" is substantial. According to the Pew Research Center, the past decade has seen a slight decrease in moms who work outside the home. The 2014 report said that 71 percent of all mothers work away from home. That leaves a large number of moms at home and an unknown percentage of them try to augment family income with jobs they can do from there. That doesn't count the growing number of would-be dads.

"Unfortunately, scams are a big part of work-from-home job listings online," said Brie Reynolds, director of online content for FlexJobs, a job search company that vets listings and specializes in telecommuting, part-time, freelance and other flexible jobs. "People are familiar with the emails that go straight to your spam folder because even the robots know those are scams. These are more sophisticated. Scammers are real people, posing as real companies that you interact with."

Three scams are hitting stay-at-home folks hard right now, joining a long list of bogus opportunities. FlexJobs estimates that for every legitimate work-from-home job listing, there are 60 to 70 scams. Its own survey found that 17 percent of job seekers have been scammed at least once and 81 percent were "very concerned" or "on guard" because a listing or offer didn't seem right.

Watch out

Three new scams actively recruiting right now include "repackaging/reshipping" jobs, help getting jobs that don't actually require special help, and online "interviews" with fake employers who use a real company's good name to swipe personal information.

The repackagers who take the bait could even get into legal trouble, in some circumstances, said Reynolds. She describes the basics: Someone gets hired to receive goods and repackage them to be shipped somewhere else, usually overseas. The problem is, the goods are often stolen goods and that worker could be charged in connection with the theft. "Reshipper" in the job listing is a clue to be wary. Newer verbiage includes "merchandising manager" or "package processing assistant."

Instead of being paid, one might even be required to provide some upfront money to get started. That money's probably never coming back.

What's being called the "Post Office" scam targets people who hope to find lucrative federal jobs. Scammers advertise in newspaper classifieds or online that, for a fee, they can help job seekers find and apply for federal or Postal Service office jobs. Some sell study materials to prep for the exam that's required an offer that sometimes comes with a money-back guarantee. But the money's not returning.

Reynolds said it's an example of promising to make getting a job much easier. It preys on the feeling people have that acquiring a job somewhere like the U.S. Postal Service must be complicated. Scammers may promise to reveal "hidden" jobs that the public doesn't know about. Such help is not needed, however, and often doesn't deliver on the promise. And there are no hidden postal jobs. Job listings are all online. "It's a complete waste of money," she said.

Note that these listings sometimes use sound-alike or official-sounding titles, like "U.S. Agency for Career Advancement" or "Postal Employment Service." No such agencies exist.

The third scam circling the job-hungry takes advantage of legitimate companies and their good reputations. The scheme consists of an online interview process using a spoofed website that may look just like the real deal. Once someone is "hired," they provide Social Security number, bank information, etc.

GE features information on its website to warn people about these scams that can facilitate identity theft and use applicants' bank accounts to move money or stolen goods around, which Reynolds said can result in federal charges.

To avoid it, don't click any links provided. Use a search engine to find the official website for that company and see if such a job is listed. Search for the job online, too. "If the result comes up in other cities with the exact same post," a FlexJob advisory warns, "it is likely a scam."

Those are just three scams.

Not all bad

Many work-at-home jobs provide good employment opportunities for those who seek them. Building an income is very possible, but care is needed.

The Better Business Bureau offers advice to identify probable scams and avoid being ripped off in a work-at-home job hunt:

Promises of big pay with little effort. "Those who succeed by working at home have several things in common," the BBB said: They have training or experience in what they are doing; they work hard and efficiently; they work for a salary; or they spend time and money developing the market for their work. They have not stumbled onto a magic formula for getting rich quick. Even in this new world of telecommuting, the same old rule applies: to be successful, you must work hard and work smart."

Claims of no experience needed or offers to provide inexpensive training. "Only $29.95 will bring you thousands in earning power!"

Pressure to sign up right now, without taking time to think about it or vet the offer.

No regular salary.

The BBB said scam promoters don't offer a salaried job. They will use testimonials from supposedly successful workers, but not provide the means to check with them. They often require an applicant to pay something up front and provide sketchy or few details about the job. warns against companies that give you an "advance" on your earnings. That gives them access to one's bank account information. Chances are, too, the person will be asked to refund some of the money; too much was paid. After that, the check may bounce, creating double harm and a mess to sort through.

Teuscher said she's happy working from home in part because she trusted her instincts as she explored opportunities to work from home. She skipped any that made her feel uneasy and loves the company she works for.

FlexJob's Reynolds said trusting your instincts is a good idea, but even if a job fails to set off your internal warning system, investigate a little to be sure there's no problem. It's often not hard. If you search online for keywords like the job description and "complaint," information often pops up immediately.
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