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6 ways to spot work-at-home job scams

Working from home takes research, effort, some capital, and the desire to see success. In other words, it's hard work.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 23, 2011 10:00AM

This post comes from Linsey Knerl at partner blog Wise Bread.


I've been working from home for more than three years. While I haven't paid a penny for online programs designed to teach you how to work from home -- or that promise to help you get rich quick -- I can smell them from a mile away.

Many of the letters I get from Wise Bread readers inquire about specific work-from-home programs, and while I don't have experience with any of them, it's usually possible to tell at a glance if they are legitimate. Examples of programs that get asked about most often include those that promise money for being a billing processor, Internet sales specialist or blogger.


In addition to perusing this fantastic collection of tips for finding legitimate work-at-home opportunities, here are my suggestions for spotting the scams:


You receive unsolicited information about the program. Whether it arrives in your e-mail box or as an invitation through your favorite social networking site, if you have never signed up for more information or didn't receive the offer from a friend, it's unlikely the offer is "real." Legitimate marketers usually get info from mailing lists you've opted in to or signed up for, and e-mails should always follow CAN-SPAM rules that require their subscribers to opt in to e-mail newsletters. If something pops up in your e-mail that doesn't ring a bell, you can most likely delete it.


Common scams that come to you through e-mail include this payment-processing job. They usually have misspellings or have a subject line with random characters or capitalization to help get the message through e-mail spam filters.


The program landing page has bold promises and even bolder highlighting. Many of my blogging friends offer legit programs, e-books and offers via landing pages. In fact, much money has been made by teaching well-meaning business people how to create the perfect landing page. That being said, the scammers almost always show a landing page with red, blue, pink or yellow highlighted text, photos of past customers holding up wads of cash, testimonials that seem too good to be true, and the like. If you see an offer with a gaudy landing page that just doesn't seem right, leave.


Other warning signs that a program won't be worth the investment include:

  • Images and logos of legitimate news sites that appear to convey they endorse the plan. Look carefully: The wording usually says "ads seen on" -- not "as seen on."
  • The photos of customers are stock photos or headshots of models purchased from a commercial site.
  • The low-cost trial period is very brief (often as short as three days). After that, the charge is high -- $100 or more -- giving you little time to cancel if you are not satisfied.

The offer is limited in the number of customers and time to act. "Hurry now, this offer is going fast!" How many times have you heard this in commercials, offering to allow the special promotion only to a select number of customers? While this is a common tactic designed to get people to buy -- today -- without giving them a chance to listen to their instincts, it can also be a sign of a subpar product (one that wouldn't pass the sniff test if you took more time to investigate).

Many work-at-home job scams rely on this type of predatory emotional manipulation. They will sometimes invoke a fake number of "original" available program spots, which is usually crossed out and replaced with a "new" number. It's designed to put pressure on buyers to make them think the product will not be available much longer. It is also a weak way to do business.


Online searches turn up bad news, again and again. Some programs are the same old programs, cleverly disguised as something new. A quick Google or Bing search of a few of the programs a reader recently asked me about alerted me to a scammer that has been operating for years, changing the name of the program every so often to cleverly stay under the radar. As more and more work-at-home sites, bloggers and forums got wind of how bad the opportunity was, the scammer would go into hiding again, only to pop up with a rebranded opportunity for a new batch of victims.

If you catch a work-at-home opportunity being discussed online, take the feedback with a grain of salt. It's possible the program didn't work because the person wasn't qualified to take advantage of it (see the next section below). However, if you do hear about multiple or unauthorized credit card charges, sneaky sales tactics, or a complete lack of delivery on the promised product, run.


The opportunity requires no skills, knowledge or effort. Common sense would tell you that if you don't have the skills or patience to complete a business task, you might not do well at that particular business. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many of the job scams appeal to people who wouldn't be qualified to run an at-home business -- and they have little chance of succeeding in this (or any other) home business endeavor.

I agree that most anyone can learn a task. Many can also perform that task, unsupervised, day after day until a profit comes in. A few can also take that money and reinvest it wisely in their business -- all the while balancing family and other obligations to form a romantic work-at-home picture.


In a typical sales pitch, these job scams place the romantic picture far before the work required to achieve results. That's why they are so appealing. If a home business program swears that it will be effortless, it's likely not legit. (Even larceny -- the most lucrative career I know of -- takes effort.)


No one else has succeeded. Most work-at-home opportunities pony up plenty of testimonials. But do you know any of those people personally? And could you track them down to ask them questions if you wanted to?


Franchises and other ground-floor opportunities offer potential investors access to others in the business, because they understand that a significant amount of money and time will be put into the business. Online opportunities aren't so forthcoming, and the legit ones should point you in the direction of real customers who are willing to share their stories. (You wouldn't care about the rave reviews on the backs of new books if they were all from people you had never heard of, or worse yet, cartoon characters, would you?)


It's also very important that consumers read the fine print at the bottom of these offers. Common legalese that you should be on alert for includes:

  • Earnings disclaimers: These should include warnings that the level of success will depend on time devoted to the program, your own ideas, techniques used to build business, your own financial situation, and skill level.
  • Income-claim warnings: These will convey that testimonial results are not likely to be your own. They should also tell you that the people and images are not of actual people who have used the program, and there should be a note that some individuals who invest in the program will make little or no money at all.

Bottom line

Working from home takes research, hard work, some capital, and the desire to see success. This may mean working at 2 a.m. when your newborn has colic, skipping that night out with friends to do inventory, and sending notice after notice to late-paying clients. It's not a glamorous life, but those who do it usually love it. Before you play into the next "best thing," ask a home worker what to expect, and avoid anything that seems counter to reality.


More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:

Feb 24, 2011 8:15AM
Unfortunately, those who push either scam companies or are scam artists themselves ruin it for everyone.
Rule of thumb - if it costs money as a 'sign up' fee, or they make you buy a bunch of product, RUN!
Other opportunities, like in Personal Franchising, may require you to make a personal commitment - but there is no FEE to represent the company, and the monthly requirement is like $30.
These jobs represent the opportunity to make good money from home, while giving you the opportunity to control your time- well worth the investment.
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