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Work & Purpose

Danger Alert: Avoiding Work-From-Home Scams

A remote-work expert's cautionary tips on too-good-to-be true lures


A jarring wake-up call for people yearning to work from home landed in late December. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered operators of a work-from-home scheme — Effen Ads — to pay nearly $1.5 million to settle the allegations that they used misleading, unsolicited emails to lure more than 50,000 consumers into buying work-from-home services.

I spoke with Sara Sutton, CEO & founder of FlexJobs and Remote.co for her advice on how to avoid work-from-home scams like this. More on that shortly.

Sara Sutton Fell
Sara Sutton

But first, here’s how the Effen Ads scheme played out, according to the FTC:

From June 2015 through August 2017, the company and its owners Jason Brailow and Brandon Harshbarger e-marketed and sold a supposed work-at-home program. Consumers were told that if they paid an up-front fee (typically $97), they could make significant income with little effort working from home. All the customers needed to do was  post advertising links onto websites. They were given online training videos, but, the FTC says, no advertising links to post or any other work to perform.

“Unfortunately, scams remain a troubling component of the work-from-home job market, even as the number of legitimate remote job opportunities continues to grow.”

What’s more, prospects were sent links to false online stories designed to con them into thinking the work-from-home program had received favorable reviews from news organizations like CNN and Fox News and was recommended by the likes of legendary investor Warren Buffett and personal-finance guru Suze Orman.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True…

Said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release: “Consumers should be on alert for scams promising lots of income for little or no effort — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

I’m a huge fan of remote work; I’m a remote worker myself, writing articles and books from my home office. I love not having to spend time and money commuting to an office, plus the chance to take work breaks to walk my dog.

But the FTC case and others like it are upsetting. It’s easy to dismiss them with a “Who could be so easily duped?” shake of the head. With a growing number of Americans eager to work remotely, though, I think there’s a huge need for people to understand the difference between legitimate work-from-home operations and phony ones.

One way to find a valid job where you can work from home is to search national job board sites such as Flexjobs.com, Remote.co and WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Experts, for professionals 50+ in insurance, accounting and human resources), Rat Race Rebellion and Working Nomads. These sites screen and verifying legitimate at-home opportunities.

For other suggestions, and advice on avoiding bogus work-from-home schemes, read what Sutton told me:

Kerry Hannon: What’s your take on the latest work-from-home scam?

Sara Sutton: Unfortunately, scams remain a troubling component of the work-from-home job market, even as the number of legitimate remote job opportunities continues to grow.

It’s encouraging to see this FTC settlement, but job seekers should not let their guard down — many, many more scams still exist.

This particular scam has all the hallmarks of a typical work-from-home job scam. The scammers used recognizable, well-known media and celebrity names to lure people into assuming it was a legitimate opportunity. Those who were scammed received unsolicited emails and were asked for sensitive information and payment upfront.

Why are scammers able to pull this off?

The ability to work from home would be a dream come true for many people. And because of the value people place on this way of working, scammers are able to take advantage of folks who want to find this type of job.

Do you have any good news about working from home?

Real, professional remote jobs offered by legitimate companies are more common than ever. The key is knowing how to find those real jobs and how to avoid the scammers.

What are your best tips?

Never respond to unsolicited emails or LinkedIn messages about work-from-home opportunities, because they are almost always scams. Legitimate remote jobs are posted by companies to various job boards online, and the process for landing a remote job is very similar to a traditional job search.

Also, there is no such thing as a “work from home kit” or any other product you need to pay for, or invest in, to be given a remote job.

Keywords like ‘work-from-home’ and ‘work-at-home’ are most commonly used by scammers. If you’re looking for a real remote job online, use keywords like ‘remote job,’ ‘virtual job’ and ‘telecommute job’ as part of your search. Those words are most often used by real employers.

A simple Google search for the company’s name or the job title and the word ‘scam’ may help you determine if you’ve found a scam. The results may turn up news reports, Better Business Bureau complaints, court rulings and online reviews where people warn others about that scam.

What do the work-at-home scammers say to lure people?

They promise jobs, money or other big perks in exchange for very little work, or for some sort of payment or investment. They send unsolicited messages, emails and other communications. They ask for personal or sensitive information like Social Security numbers and bank accounts very quickly in the process.

They don’t give you time to think through your decision to accept the job; they often demand an answer immediately.

Their supposed jobs often don’t require experience, and anyone can start right away.

Any final thoughts?

If you’ve found a work-from-home job that seems fishy or not quite right, follow your instincts.

Kerry Hannon
By Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life, Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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