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How to Detect and Avoid Work From Home Scams

By Kaila Kea

What Are Work From Home Scams?

Advancements in technology have made remote work opportunities available to job seekers all around the globe. These roles offer greater convenience and flexibility than traditional office-based positions and are favored by freelancers, employees with growing families, and many others who benefit from the flexible nature of working at home.

But home-based positions can be used as vehicles to carry out scams. Phony employers pretend to have positions available that allow job seekers to work remotely. Instead, job seekers are tasked with facilitating questionable acts that are often illegal.

What Is the Risk to You?

Some people may be willing to “try” a work from home position that seems faulty just because they do not think there will be any real risks posed to them. However, taking this approach may end poorly. Work from home scams have several risks to you, including long-term financial losses. A scammer seeking to make large purchases on your dime might advertise a work from home position and require you to send your credit card information, which may lead to severely damaged credit.

How to Spot Them

Work from home scams often feature “perks” that are too good to be true, such as a large income for minimal work. You might also find that the job posting requires you to call a “1-800” number for more information about the opportunity or that you must pay “startup” fees to begin.

Work from home scams typically encourage the job seeker to move quickly in securing the opportunity. Phrases like, “Call today,” “Apply right now,” or “Make money fast” might be featured because scammers do not want you to have ample time to doubt the opportunity. Instead, they want you to quickly apply, interview, and then hand over your personal information. Job postings that require you to move faster than you are comfortable with cannot be trusted.

6 Major Red Flags

1.  Cashing Bad Checks

This scam requires an employee to deposit illegally-obtained money and transfer the funds to international recipients as an “Account Manager” or "Sales Representative.” It relies on the employee transferring the stolen money from one fraud to another while obscuring the identities of both parties.

2. Return Cash Scheme

In this scam, the scammer will send the work from home employee a very large check to get their office started (i.e. – $3,500 instead of $1,500). The scammer will ask the person to cash the check but send back a smaller check to cover the difference. Eventually, the first check from the scammer will bounce, but the scammer will have already cashed in the real counter check that was sent back by the employee.

3. Stuffing Envelopes

If you’ve ever held an administrative job, you have probably stuffed a few envelopes and would not find this work from home opportunity to be suspicious. However, an opportunity like this should cause concern because employees must pay startup fees. Then, they begin filling the envelopes to earn an income, but find that a series of “loopholes” that the scammer failed to mention prevents them from ever being compensated. Be wary of this classic con and its modern-day cousin, “Forwarding Emails.”

4. Entering Data

Data Entry is another common work function, but no one should be paying you to perform this task. This “paid” opportunity might be accompanied by the promise of training materials and resources to get the employee started, but in the end, employees find that they have wasted their money on supplies they cannot use for a less-than-lucrative job with no leads.

5. Pyramid Scheme

The progression of scams like this actually take the shape of a pyramid. If you answer this job advertisement, you will learn that the only way to earn money is to reel others in and profit from them joining, thus building the pyramid. The problem with Pyramid Schemes is that the product or service being peddled by current members to induct new members is rarely rooted in anything of substance. Job seekers who have become involved in hopes of earning an honest income usually find out about the illegitimacy of the product or service only after it is too late.

6. Sending Packages

Anytime someone asks you to send or receive packages of which you cannot verify the contents, you should note this as a red flag. Most employers, remote or otherwise, are not willing to pay an employee solely to handle packages. Furthermore, the details surrounding the packages are usually murky; you will not know exactly where they are going, who they are from, or what purpose they serve. This scam may require you to pay money to get started and the chances of earning a real paycheck from this job are slim to none. What’s more, your public record might be compromised if authorities can tie you to any illegal activity concerning the packages.

Precautions to Take

Protect yourself from work from home scams by learning as much as you can about home-based work. Reach out to your network of friends, family, and colleagues to gauge their knowledge of companies that offer legitimate remote work. If you come across a work from home opportunity that appears to be questionable, someone in your network may be able to tell you if they have encountered the organization and how their experience went.

Finding reputable home-based work starts with search queries. Working remotely is a convenience offered by many jobs, but searching specifically for ‘work from home jobs’ sends a message to the search engine (and scammers) that working remotely is your primary concern. Scammers include these words in their job titles and postings because they are hoping that people will be so concerned with working at home that they will take any opportunity that comes their way. Try using search queries that target the nature of the work, not just the location. To do this, try diversifying the terms you use. Instead of “work from home,” try search terms like remote, telework, and telecommute.

Trust your instincts. As an avid job seeker, you have reviewed dozens (perhaps hundreds) of job postings. You now have a trained eye when it comes to deciphering what is real vs. fake. This, coupled with your natural instincts that signal you when something is wrong, can help you to defend yourself against work from home scams.

Resources and Reporting

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) not only serves as a useful resource but is also an agency through which job seekers can file reports about work from home scams. You can report fraud to the FTC online. Access the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to verify the legitimacy of companies you find that offer work from home jobs. A company that is listed in the Accredited Business Directory of the BBB has been thoroughly vetted and assigned a letter grade based on its interaction with the public.

Help ZipRecruiter Keep Our Community Safe

At ZipRecruiter, we care about our community and its safety. If you have encountered a suspicious job post, please let us know by clicking the “Report Job” link at the bottom of the posting, or email us to report any spam or fraudulent activity on the ZipRecruiter site at

Kaila Kea

Kaila Kea is a career coach and former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog. She is based in Hampton, Virginia.

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