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Awesome Job or Devious Scam?

Kate Lorenz,

Anyone who has ever looked for a job has certainly seen countless ads that simply sound too good to be true. What do these ads look like? They probably included phrases such as:

Make $4,000 a Week from Home — No Sales!

No experience necessary!

Earn $35,000 – $50,000 a year working part-time!

Sounds great, right? Well, like most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. From envelope-stuffing schemes to mystery shopper promotions, the world of scam ads is wide and complex. The problem with many work-at-home schemes is that they require the worker to spend their own money to get started, and once they do, there’s often no return on investment. In many cases, you will have to foot the bill for supplies, starter kits, training and more. Other situations that claim to be “easy money with no sales” often do involve a great deal of sales work in challenging environments.

Sheila Adkins, spokesperson for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, says that while there are some credible work-at-home opportunities out there, many of these ads are not the real thing. “It’s very hard to find a legitimate work-at-home opportunity through an ad like these.” Adkins says there are clues that can help you figure out if an ad is a great opportunity or a dangerous scam.

1. Be Alert for Red Flags.
“One sure red flag is when you review the ad and it does not say specifically what the work will be,” she says. Another, is the phrase “no experience necessary,” especially when coupled with the promise of big money. Promises like these should tell you right away that the opportunity is not legitimate. Be cautious, too, of any companies that operate outside the country.

2. Do Your Research.
If you are trying to sort the good from the bad, Adkins says you have to do a little investigative work. She suggests checking with the Better Business Bureau, your state’s Attorney General, and other state business offices to see if the company is licensed and registered to do business in your state. Most fraudulent companies will not go through the work of filling out the paperwork and registering with the appropriate organizations.

3. Insist on a Face-to-Face Meeting.
If the company representative wants to conduct all business with you via e-mail, phone and fax, look out. Adkins says you should always ask for a face-to-face meeting before taking on a business opportunity.

4. Don’t Give out Personal Information.
Many con artists use business opportunity schemes to gather personal information for identity theft. You should never give out information like your Social Security number or bank account number, especially over the phone or online.

5. Look Out For “Pay to Play” Opportunities.
“Beware of any company that requires money to be sent or involves large startup costs,” Adkins says. Yes, there are some work-at-home opportunities that are legitimate and require an initial investment, such as selling Mary Kay cosmetics or Avon products. But Adkins points out that these are established companies that have been around for years and have positive reputations.

6. Ask lots of questions.
If you have found a possible opportunity and have scheduled a face-to-face meeting, Adkins says you need to be prepared to ask many questions, including:

  • Who will be paying me?
  • How often will I be paid?
  • What exactly will I be doing?
  • Is this contract-based or permanent work?
  • Where is your company’s physical location?
  • Does your company operate under any other names?
  • What is the total cost for me to participate in this program?
  • What is your company’s privacy policy?
  • If you are not satisfied with answers to any of these questions, then simply walk away. Even if you are, take time to verify what they told you. Yes, many people do earn a living working from home. But it is important to understand that most of these individuals are working in a field in which they already have experience. Establishing a home-based business takes a lot of work, dedication, contacts and time. If a company tells you that you can make it to the top immediately, you are probably better off moving on to the next opportunity.

    Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She’s an expert in job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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