9 Work-From-Home Job Scams & Red Flags to Watch Out For and Avoid

Working remotely sounds great, full of freedom and flexibility. However, there are a lot of work-from-home job scams to watch out for!

Quartz reports that the U.S. Bureau recorded 8 million Americans worked remotely as of 2017, and that’s pre-COVID-19. Thousands more are working at home now because of the crisis. It’s not just in the United States, as many professionals from around the world are now working at home on a full-time or part time basis. 

With so many professionals joining the remote work bandwagon, you’d think it would be easier to find a legitimate remote position, right? Not exactly. 

A FlexJobs survey showed that 19% of respondents have been a victim of a job scam, while 80% were on guard for scams while scouring job boards for opportunities. The BBB Scam Tracker also received more than 3300 complaints involving employment scams from April 2019 to 2020. 

Yes, there are more legitimate jobs now than when I started back in 2011. More companies are embracing the power of technology and opening up to the possibility of remote work. The reality though is the more people try to find legitimate work from home jobs, the bigger the targeting pool is for scammers. 

This article will guide you how to spot and avoid work from home job scams. 

9 Tell-Tale Signs of Fake Stay-at-Home Jobs

If a job seems too good to be true, it probably is. Back away and run for the hills whenever you sense something odd or fishy with a job opportunity.

If you’re still not sure about a job’s legitimacy, check if it has any of the red flags listed below.

1. Money Upfront

No legitimate company will ask you to pay for your training, background check, or interview. You also don’t need to pay for any equipment, license, or so-called proprietary material needed to do the job. 

Except for laptops and internet connection, legitimate employers will cover the costs needed for you to do the job.

Related Read: How to Calculate Your Rate as a Freelancer or Self-Employed Contractor

2. No Interview or Easy Interview

If you don’t get interviewed, the interview questions were too easy, or if it’s done via chat or email, then something is definitely wrong.

Remote jobs are hard enough, so why would a legitimate recruiter not want to see you—or at least hear your voice? They need to know the person they’re hiring is legitimate and actually understands the job, too. The only way to do that is via an in-depth interview, so be wary of job opportunities with a sketchy interview process.

3. No Qualifications Needed

Have you ever seen job ads that state, “anyone can apply” or “no skills required”?

Opportunities like this are often paired with flexible schedules and no earning caps. This is never going to be the case for a real job. 

Companies look for certain skills or educational qualifications, even in entry level roles. Job offers that look like anyone can do it are often multi-level marketing or direct selling schemes. 

Related Read: Remote Internships: 15+ Virtual Intern Programs Still On Despite COVID-19

4. Wild Claims on Earning Potential or Passive Income

Jobs that claim you can earn a lot for little to no work are scams. If it were true, everyone would be rich! The same goes for passive income opportunities. As a mentor once said, passive income opportunities are only passive because you’ve already done the upfront work. 

These job ads will often include luxurious photos of people in front of sports cars or private jets, boasting about what they earned because of this once in a lifetime opportunity. The reality is someone sold them on it, and now they have to do the same to recoup what they paid. 

5. Personal Emails

Unless the job is for a personal virtual assistant, job listings should be tied to a company or business email. Legitimate recruiters also often include their company’s website, phone number, or address in their signature. 

6. Immediate Job Offer

Some fake jobs might have an interview but then they’d turn around and hire you immediately. 

It’s very rare for people to get hired on the spot, even for entry level jobs or low paying jobs. Even candidates with a ton of experience and qualifications will have to wait a few weeks or months to get a response. 

Legitimate employers will take the time to vet your credentials and compare you with other candidates. So don’t take an immediate job offer as flattery. Treat it with a healthy amount of skepticism. 

Related Read: 10 Cover Letter Tips & Tricks Sure to Score Job Interviews [2020 Ed.]

7. Request for Confidential Information

Don’t believe recruiters that ask for your full social security number, credit card, drivers license, or other personal information. A company that uses a legitimate background check service will only need the last four digits of your social security and month and day of your birth. 

Many fake jobs are just created to steal an applicant’s personal information, so the worst case scenario here isn’t time lost due to a non-existent job. You could become a victim of identity theft. 

Scammers also use fake job application pages to capture an applicant’s personal information. The job site will look legitimate and include typical questions about your qualifications but in reality, they’re just funneling your information into their database. 

8. Vague Job Description and Awkward Grammar

Legitimate job opportunities should include information about the company, the role and how it fits into the organization, and the experience or skills needed for said role. Job ads with bare minimum information, incorrect spelling, and awkward grammar are often scams.

It’s true that some job ads have a vague job description. But a legitimate employer or recruiter will be more than happy to clarify any requirements they have. 

Related Read: 10+ Job Search Tips & Tricks to Up Your Chances of Landing an Interview

9. Non-existent Online Footprint

Almost every company nowadays has a website, Facebook page, and online directory listing. If you research the company on Google and can’t find any trace of them whatsoever, run. 

Granted, some companies aren’t active online because their operations are offline or don’t engage in any online marketing work. This is often the case with some B2B companies. In this case, you can try to find them on company directories like Manta, or search for employees of that company on LinkedIn. 

Once you find the company’s website, go over their pages to see if you can find it’s owner’s name and contact information. If you can’t find anything, that’s a good sign of a scam. Grammatical errors, weird URLs, and strange formatting are also red flags.

You now know the common signs to look for when reviewing remote job opportunities. Let’s now look at the typical work from home scams you’ll see online, so you can avoid them in your job search.

Beware: 5 Scammy Stay at Home Jobs to Avoid at All Costs

Work at home job scams vary because many of them are adaptable to different jobs or industries. 

Job scams also diminish in effectiveness once more people become aware of the trap, so scammers have to get creative in coming up with new ways to lure people. 

1. Business Startup Kits

Have you seen stay at home jobs offering a plug-and-play proven business system? I’ve seen this mostly in build your own travel agency business offers, but there are also variations in coaching, and real estate investment or “flipping.”

In this scenario, the ad promises a tried and tested system that can make you tons of money without leaving your home. 

The catch? You have to pay a hefty fee to get access to their software, training service, and a bunch of other services they deem essential to your success. 

Once you pay, some scammers will simply pocket your money and won’t give you anything in return. Others will merely forward you a bunch of ebooks and strategies that you can find on your own with a quick Google search. 

In some cases, companies that offer business startup kits apply a multi-level marketing scheme to their program. Participants can earn money in two ways: selling the product or building their down line. Either way, these are not legitimate work from home jobs.

Related Read: Top 20+ Job Boards and Facebook Groups to Visit for Work from Home Jobs

2. Medical Billing or Medical Coding 

Yes, there are legitimate work from home jobs for medical coders but the competition is tough and you need experience in the field to get one. Sadly, the popularity of this field has given rise to scammers preying on newbies. 

Medical billing job scams entice victims through high hourly rates and consistent workload even if you have no experience. But first, they’ll ask you to pay for a special software they use, some training materials, and transcription hardware. 

More importantly, medical coders are hired by health agencies, hospitals, and private clinics. If you want to know how to find remote jobs for coders, start there. 

It’s almost impossible to get them by cold-calling leads, as advertised by scammy job offers. There’s really no job, they’re just selling you the equipment and some leads in hopes that you have the spunk and salesmanship to get the job yourself. 

Related Read: Work From Home Jobs: 13 Best Remote & Online Jobs for 2020 & Beyond

3. Career Advancement Grants

This is a spin on the once popular government grants. In this scenario, you’ll receive an email with an offer to apply for a government-funded grant that allows you to study a new degree or certification. 

If you were laid off because of the pandemic, wouldn’t it be nice to get a government sponsored education to change fields? That’s why furloughed workers are often targeted for these scams. 

Below are red flags to watch out for in this scam:

  • You get an unsolicited email yet the subject line makes it sound like you applied for something. 
  • The email address has spellings or weird domains (e.g. @2gov.com instead of @gov.com) and the links don’t lead to any government website. 
  • The email starts with a generic “Hi” or “Hello” and the grammar might be weird.

4. Watch and Like Videos for Pennies

Don’t be enticed by stay at home jobs that claim you can earn money watching videos. Many companies that offer this pay only a few cents per video. Plus, they usually have a threshold that you have to reach before you can withdraw the money. It’s usually $10 so that means you’ll have to watch more or less a thousand videos to earn a measly $10. 

You might think these are legitimate work from jobs, but many of these companies are actually selling exposure, clicks, or traffic to the owner of the videos you’re watching. Unsuspecting video owners might think people are interested in their offers, but it’s just a lie. The numbers are inflated through video watchers and fake likes/comments.

Worse, some of these companies won’t even pay you after all that work. You’re better off finding a job that pays better and doesn’t rely on tricking others. 

Below is a real job ad I found on Craigslist for this type of work.

5. Free Work Sample Scam

Even jobs that don’t ask you to pay upfront, or any of the suspicious signs mentioned above could be fake. The pay is good, about $50 to $200 for an article or piece of artwork. 

One of the requirements, however, is to complete a test, usually a sample work completed according to their specifications. They won’t accept your portfolio and won’t pay you for your effort. 

Enticed by the promised workload and high salary, you send a sample. 

But days pass and you don’t hear back. Meanwhile, the job poster has hundreds of unique samples from you and other applicants. 

Job scammers use this strategy to get free work. One sample request might be a believable and not too unreasonable request for one applicant. To the scammer, though, this is an easy way to build a whole new book or website with little effort. 

As much as possible, don’t agree to start work unless you receive an upfront or partial payment for your work. 

All that said, there are some legitimate writing and design jobs where you may be asked to complete a partial sample to test your skills. 

Some magazines and trade publications also have what’s called “on spec” work, where new freelancers who want to join their ranks submit a complete piece with no guarantee at all if it will be accepted for publication. Because editors have a set budget for all the writing assignments they can assign at a given month, they can’t risk allotting their budget to a newbie who might fail to submit on time or follow their editorial guidelines. 

Related Read: 25+ Global Companies Still Hiring Despite Coronavirus / COVID-19

Don’t Fall Prey to these Tactics when Looking for Stay at Home Jobs

The prospect of falling prey into a work at home scam might seem scary. You could lose time doing work that’s not going to get paid, or you could unknowingly give your sensitive information to a fraudster. 

That shouldn’t stop you from learning how to find remote jobs, as there are real opportunities out there. Just be careful and always keep an eye out for the red flags mentioned here. 

And if you think you’ve been scammed, report it right away to the local authorities.

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Charley Mendoza
Written By Charley Mendoza
Charley is a freelance copywriter and content marketer specializing in career and entrepreneurship. When she’s not stringing words for her latest copywriting project, you’ll find her trying new recipes, or planning yet another trip.

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