Image: Businesswoman using laptop and telephone © Terry Vine, Blend Images, Getty Images

Working from home is something many people are interested in doing these days, and that desire isn't limited just to those who are out of work. The U.S. Labor Bureau reports that in 2010, "multiple jobholders were nearly twice as likely to work at home as were single jobholders." With almost everyone looking for a way to cash in at home, it's important to be able to identify common job-scam scenarios and learn to protect yourself from unscrupulous individuals offering work-at-home riches.

Types of scams

While the number of ways scammers lure in unsuspecting victims is almost unlimited, there are some common job categories that are more likely to be illegitimate. Leslie Truex, the author of "The Work-at-Home Success Bible," says that these usually include:

  • Envelope stuffing (mailing programs)
  • Assembly work
  • Gifting programs
  • Email processing
  • Rebate processing
  • Repackaging
  • Payment processing
  • Jobs that ask for money to hire you
  • Businesses that don't have an evident product or service

Do your research

Regardless of the type of work you are curious about, though, there are ways to be certain you don't fall prey to shady practices. The most obvious is to become as informed as possible about a new opportunity, either through sites like the Better Business Bureau or through interviews with people listed as successful participants in the program. Due diligence is almost always the most effective way to stay out of trouble.

Avoid high-pressure pitches

Truex also recommends that job seekers be wary of any business that seems overly aggressive with its sales pitch or requires an immediate decision for enrollment. "Anytime you want to sign up to work at home today, you're at risk for being scammed," she warns. Some websites lure in the unsuspecting by insisting that an opportunity is available only to a select few job seekers, leading interested parties to jump at the position without studying it carefully. Any supposed opportunity that features a countdown timer or promises a "last chance" sale on start-up kits, for example, is likely to be a fake.

Keep your cash

Perhaps the best way to tell if an opportunity is a lie is by how much money it requires upfront. Truex and most other experts say that any cash you give up in exchange for more information on a job, a kit or a list of organizations that are hiring will most likely never be used for legitimate business. In addition to skirting inflated fees for things such as envelopes, CDs and access to databases, job seekers should steer clear of offering their own financial accounts or cash. "Never use your personal bank account to help a company do business," urges Truex.

Pursuing the job of your dreams

So as a job seeker, what should you look for in a work-at-home opportunity? Keeping your skills and interests in perspective is one way to keep your options reasonable. If a job is for shipping and receiving, but you have no logistics training and the company is still pursuing you, for example, that's not likely to be a good (or reputable) match. Start by doing an assessment of what you're already good at, then research to see if you can sell a related good or service that is in high demand. Also, check reputable websites that offer work-at-home jobs from reputable companies on a regular basis. For example, Work at Home Mom Revolution regularly highlights openings for home-based customer service representatives, auditors and designers, with no money required to apply.

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The bottom line

Being informed is still the best defense against fraud. Don't rush into any job without evidence that it's a good fit, and never jump at a promise of fast cash or unrealistic earnings in exchange for little time or skill investment. Good jobs are out there, but as with any employment opportunity, they require talent and effort to obtain.

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