Work from Home: Real or Fake?

Fake work-from-home jobs generally fall into five categories.

Mothers with small children. Retirees. The physically challenged. Students. People looking for a second job they can do from home in the evenings. These are the preferred targets of work-from-home scams.

Given the sudden rise in unemployment and underemployment that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, work-from-home scams grew exponentially to take advantage of those who desperately sought to compensate for their loss of income. In North America, the Better Business Bureau counted more than 13,000 fake job listings in the first four months of 2020.

Even in the best of times, however, it’s tempting when you receive an offer out of the blue with an annual salary of $85,000 plus 10% commission in exchange for one day a week of work. That was an actual offer sent by email that was received in October 2020 by a journalist in Wisconsin.

Typically, purveyors of fake work-from-home jobs initiate contact with their intended victims by email. Some prefer to find their victims on LinkedIN, Facebook and other social media platforms. But at least 300 of them around the world actually maintain their own websites even though the jobs they advertise are all phony. Most of these scams generally fall into one of five categories:

  1. Upfront payments
  2. Money laundering
  3. Reshipping
  4. Man-in-the-middle scams
  5. Pyramid schemes

Advance Fee Scams

Upfront payment scams promise employment to job seekers in exchange for a commodity that is required for the position. The victim then pays for the commodity and one of several scenarios occurs:

  • Neither the commodity nor the job ever arrives
  • A real commodity arrives and the work exists but you cannot be hired
  • A fake commodity arrives and the job is fake

Whatever the scenario, these jobseekers have spent hard-earned savings to obtain the commodity. They will never see it back and will not find gainful employment as a result.

For example, the offer to work-from-home requires you to enroll in an internet-based preparatory course. It will cost a few hundred dollars. And you’ll be promised that once you successfully complete the program you’ll get a job doing who knows what from home. So you pay using a credit or debit card and wait, but there’s no course. Nor is there any job. Apart from losing your money you inadvertently provided your credit or debit card number to the scammer. Of course, he knows what to do with it.

Fake Work-from-Home Jobs that Will Never Exist

Alternatively, the scammer may claim that work-from-home employment is readily available as a data processor for institutions like hospitals. But this type of work cannot be done without a special software application that only the scammer sells. The victims then invest in the software (which can be priced in the thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars) and it actually arrives. But when the victims contact hospitals to offer the new service they quickly discover that the jobs don’t exist. Hospitals don’t contract out billing services to an external party.

Another version is the old envelope trick. The scammer tells you that you can earn $2, $3 or even $5 an hour for addressing and sending out envelopes. However, you’ll probably have to buy them from him. They’re a special size or feature a logo or who knows what. Or you’ll need special software. Whatever the case may be, you invest the money and then the instructions arrive. Your job is to send the envelopes to all your friends telling them that they too can work from home by addressing envelopes. Don’t even try. You won’t get $2, $3 or even $5 an hour. You’ll get zippo. And you wind up losing money too since you bought the envelopes and the stamps, not to mention the software or whatever.

Money Laundering

Some fake work-from-home jobs will offer a work-from-home job, ostensibly in the import/export business. It will require you to use your bank account to make and receive payments on behalf of a foreign company. The scammers promise you a percentage commission for each payment you pass on. This is a telltale sign of money laundering, which is a felony. Moreover, the scammer can use any personal account details you pass on to steal your money or commit other fraudulent offenses, such as identity theft.

Fake Work-from-Home Jobs Involving Reshipping

A scammer who has used a stolen credit card for purposes of identity theft and uses it to make major online purchases cannot have them sent to his own address without giving himself away. Instead, he may place messages in social media advertising a work-from-home job that requires victims to agree to have the packages delivered to their own homes. The scammer may claim that it’s his merchandise he’s ordered for his business, but since he’s frequently out of the office or out-of-town on business, he has no way to accept delivery. He may even claim that it’s for a friend who is in that position.

The victims are instructed to forward the packages using their own money, which they’re told will be reimbursed. It rarely is, however, since the police may knock on your door first and arrest you.

Man-in-the-Middle” Fake Work-from-Home Jobs

Criminals who offer fake work-from-home jobs who don’t want to use a stolen credit card, or don’t have access to one, will employ a slightly different method to make you pay for their expensive merchandise. They’ll advertise that a respectable nationwide or international company is looking for part-time employees who can work from home. They may even mention in the ad that the position involves purchases. And you’ll be promised a huge salary.

If you check them out, you’ll see they have an impressive website. So you inquire. They’ll first tell you that capital expenses for items like computers, printers and wide-screen TVs vary across the country. You know that so what comes next sounds legitimate. Your job requires you to look for the best prices in your area and update them on a regular basis. You’ll be what is known as a “mystery shopper,” since you won’t know until they tell you which items you’ll have to hunt down. They’ll promise to send you a company credit card to make the purchases and shipment charges to their headquarters.

You’ll soon receive a list of items they require immediately. But you’ll have to use your personal credit card because the corporate one you’ve been promised isn’t ready yet. Or that company regulations require you to complete a probation period before being provided with one. At any rate, you definitely will receive reimbursement for the purchases you’ll be making for the company once they receive the items. Except that you won’t. You’re being used as a mule. Once they get the equipment you bought they’ll disappear, website and all, and you’ll be stuck with the bill.

Pyramid Schemes

Certain fake work-from-home jobs may actually involve some form of employment, but simultaneously function as elaborate pyramid schemes. New employees (who typically will work as distributors or door-to-door salesmen for a certain product) are promised financial rewards every time they recruit a new member to the team who sells a certain minimum number of products over a specific period of time. The more salesmen there are in the immediate vicinity, however, the less likely any of them is to sell enough of the products to make a living. In all  likelihood they also will first have to purchase a significant investment beforehand by purchasing sample product kits, which is how the scammer makes his profit. In 2016 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Herbalife, which was operating its business as a pyramid scheme and fined it $200 million. The company paid partial reimbursements to 350,000 people who ran Herbalife businesses. In 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined Herbalife an additional $123 million for corrupt practices.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a work-from-home scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack