How Tell if a Work-at-Home Job is Scam

Woman With Credit Card Using Phone On Table At Office
••• Atit Phetmuangtong / EyeEm / Getty Images

Work-from-home job postings are everywhere. Legitimate job listings include positions in industries ranging from customer service to software development to healthcare.

Then, there’s the dark side of remote job listings. These include a variety of ways to make money fast, including suspiciously high-paying data entry jobs, research positions, and multi-level marketing opportunities.

Unfortunately, most of those positions aren't what most people would consider a real job – and many of them are outright scams. There are no benefits, no hourly wage or salary, only a promise of making money. Sometimes, you’ll be charged a fee to get hired or acquire a kit to get started … later to discover that the only money to be made is from other would-be entrepreneurs.

So how can you tell if a work-from-home job is legitimate? Learn how to research companies and spot scams.

Red Flags That Indicate Possible Work-at-Home Scams

1. It seems too good to be true. Your mother was right: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. No one is going to pay you thousands of dollars to do something that a machine could do for pennies. So ignore any ads that promise you a six-figure income for stuffing envelopes, entering data, or assembling kits.

2. You have to pay money to get started. Legitimate employers pay you, not the other way around. If the ad mentions paying a fee to get started, it’s a scam.

Some legitimate work-from-home job boards do charge a monthly fee to access listings, but you won’t find their ads tucked into listings on other job sites.

3. They want a lot of personal data right off the bat. Real employers don’t need your bank account information and social security number before you’ve even been offered a job. If you’re asked to give up this information, the product is you and the service is identity theft.

4. The employer has no digital footprint. At this point, nearly all employers have websites and social media presences. If you can’t find the company by Googling – or if the information you find is presented in a less than professional manner – beware.

5. The company’s URL seems off. Don’t trust links embedded in job ads. Go to the corporate website and navigate your way to the ad. If you can’t find it, look at the URL again. Does it seem … slightly off? Scammers often buy up URLs similar to those of legitimate businesses. So, you might think you’re applying for a job at XYZ Corp (URL: XYZCorp.com). But the scammy listing will ask you to go to XYZCorp.jobs.com – which will turn out to be a funnel into a work-at-home scam.

Examples of Job Scams

Now you know what you’re looking for in general terms. But will you recognize a fraudulent work-at-home ad when you run across it in real life? These real ads from scammers will give you a sense of what you’ll see in an “opportunity” that isn’t.

The “Get Paid Every Day” Scam

$1000 A Day From Home
Automated - No Sales
Cash Money Every Day
Get Paid Daily via ATM

The “Part-Time Work for Overtime Wages” Scam

Work from Home Part Time
Earn $10K or more a month

The part-time job ad had a disclaimer in a tiny font at the bottom of the page which said there is risk involved and you might not do as well. The "might not do as well" part was repeated at least four times in the disclaimer.

If you think about it logically, the chances of making money doing a minimal amount work simply aren't high – other than, perhaps, for the people making money scamming others. Again, think twice before you click on anything that sounds too good to be true – it is.

Find Company Information

If you're still not sure — and remember, companies can be very creative about how they advertise their opportunities because they want you to think that the position is legitimate — there are places to research work-at-home jobs at legitimate companies.

  • Better Business Bureau (BBB): Enter the company name or the website into the Better Business Bureau search box to find out whether there have been complaints and whether the company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau. I entered the name of a company I was interested in and found there had been seven complaints, all of which were unresolved.​
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC provides information on commission actions. For example, operators of online malls that disguised themselves as legitimate business opportunities settled Federal Trade Commission charges that they were illegal pyramid schemes.

Be wary and be careful. Despite the best efforts of computer systems and staff, it's hard for job sites to stop work-at-home scams from being posted. Posters are creative and sophisticated and are continually coming up with new ways to advertise their information.

How to Report a Work-at-Home Scam

If you uncover a work-at-home scam – whether you identify it right off the bat or extricate yourself after the fact – you can help prevent other workers from being taken in. Report the scam, and do your part to make job searching a little safer for everyone.

File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center or the FTC, report the company to the Better Business Bureau, or report a phishing scam to Google. But speak up: if you were fooled, even for a moment, others will be, too.