Robert Stock of Spokane, Wash., also responded to a Craigslist ad for architecture work and got an e-mail directing him to a website where he was told to click on an icon.

"It installed an application I could not get rid of without a professional computer expert's extensive work to clean it up," Stock said. "All total, he had to reformat my computer and start over. I did lose some work and learned a lesson."

Partners in crime

Some job offers may involve you committing a crime. A common solicitation these days asks people to accept and reship packages, which may be high-ticket items stolen by identity thieves abroad.

"I have had more than one job offer to accept packages from overseas, repackage them and reship them domestically," said John Totten of Encinitas, Calif. "Pays about $8,000 a month, for two to three hours a day, for a job that would normally top out at about $10 hour."

At best, you'd open yourself up to theft, since the bad guys would want your bank account number to deposit your "wages." At worst, you could be arrested, because you'd be trafficking in stolen goods.

Other employment scams have you pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for "training" for jobs that never materialize or ask you to cash certified (bogus) checks for businesses and take a 10% "fee."

They'll take your home, too

And then there are the foreclosure rescue scams. Many people who've tried to get a mortgage modification from their loan servicers suspect they're victims of these, but what I'm talking about are the cons run by independent scam artists insisting they can help you save your home. You might:

  • Pay a big upfront fee or divert some of your mortgage payments to someone who promises to stop a foreclosure or win you a modification -- but doesn't.
  • Sign documents that you think are for a new loan but actually transfer title of your home to the con artist.
  • Sign over your home to someone who promises to take over the mortgage but who instead lets it go into foreclosure (often renting it out in the intervening months to tenants who trash the place).
  • Believe a "scamster" who says you can turn over the title to him and then rent back your home. Your rent would be steadily increased until you couldn't pay and were evicted.

Some of these scams echo real-life workouts that some people actually have received. For example, some lenders have taken back homes but allowed the former homeowners to stay and rent for up to a year. But such deals are even rarer than true mortgage modifications, and they're not going to be arranged by anyone who has the time to pitch his services to you. (The real experts in mortgage modification and foreclosure diversion have all the work they can handle.)

If you're trying to save your home, start by talking to a HUD-approved housing counselor; it's free. You might also discuss your options with a consumer bankruptcy attorney.

8 signs you're dealing with a crook

What you don't want to do, advises the Federal Trade Commission, is to do business with any business that:

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  • Makes guarantees about what it can do, particularly before knowing your circumstances.
  • Tells you to stop talking to your mortgage lender, attorney or housing counselor.
  • Demands upfront fees.
  • Will take payments only via a cashier's check or wire transfer.
  • Wants you to send your mortgage payments to the business, rather than your lender.
  • Wants you to transfer your title.
  • Offers to buy your house for cash at a price that doesn't reflect its current value.
  • Offers to fill out paperwork for you or pressures you to sign paperwork you don't understand.

A final note: Don't trust a company simply because it advertises on a local TV or radio station or a trusted website. Typically ads aren't vetted, and I've seen and heard some outrageous cons being perpetrated this way. If you have any doubts, type the company's name and the word "scam" into a search engine, and just see what pops up.

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.