Have you always wanted to work from home? It's possible to do that if you become a freelancer or an independent contractor in your field. It's also possible to find a position with a legitimate company that will let you work from home. Unfortunately, though, many work-at-home scams exist, and untold numbers of them are lurking on the Internet and in people's inboxes. To protect yourself, consider these tips.
1Check out the company. Take time to research the business offering the work-at-home position. (Note: If you can't find a company name anywhere, run away!) A quick online search may lead you to dozens, if not hundreds, of complaints. In addition to doing a general Internet search, you can visit the Better Business Bureau's Web site (www.bbb.org) to view complaint histories.
2Don't spend money to get a work-at-home job. View it as a huge red flag if the would-be employer expects you to pay for assembly or craft supplies, photocopies, envelopes, labels, software, or training sessions at a "special rate." Don't pay for the privilege of being interviewed for a job, either.
3Stay on high alert for hype. Many fraudulent schemes promise to pay thousands of dollars for a minimal amount of work per week. They also may stress that you don't need any special skills or experience. All of this falls into the "too good to be true" category.
4Ask important questions. Get answers to these questions from the employer: What exactly will I be expected to do on a daily basis? Will my pay be salary-based or commission-based? Who will be paying me? Does your business have a Web site where I can learn more about this position?
5Be wary of at-home offers from overseas businesses. If such businesses exist at all, they may be based overseas to escape prosecution from U.S. authorities. Follow the steps in Tip No. 1 to research any potential employer.
6Protect your personal information. If the employer asks you for your Social Security number, bank information, credit card number or driver's license number early in the process — say, before you've been offered a job, or before anyone has interviewed you — DO NOT share the information. Only provide your Social Security number to an employer for tax purposes once you've been hired and you know the business is legitimate.
7Recognize other red flags. They include: being alerted to a job through unsolicited e-mail (i.e., spam!); the job description is extremely vague; or the position involves depositing a check from the company into your account, keeping some of that money for yourself and wiring the rest to other sources.
8Be aware of common scams. Some widespread work-at-home scams ask you to: stuff envelopes; do data entry or process claims or rebates after you've paid money out of pocket; do assembly work after you've bought supplies to make crafts; recruit others to join the business; repackage and ship items to overseas addresses; or make copies of a chain letter and send it along after you've paid for a mailing list and labels.
9Consider subscribing to a service. If you really want to work from home, check out FlexJobs.com (www.flexjobs.com). By subscribing to this Web service for $14.95 a month or $49.95 a year, you'll have access to online telecommuting job listings that have been screened. Just be sure not to keep paying recurring subscription fees after you no longer need the service.
10Take action if you've been victimized. File online complaints with the Better Business Bureau (odr.bbb.org/odrweb/public/GetStarted.aspx) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (www.800helpfla.com/complnt.html). You also can contact the state consumer affairs department, state attorney general's office and county district attorney's office where the company is located, as well as the advertising manager of the publication that ran the employment ad. If mail fraud was involved, report that to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at: postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactUs/filecomplaint.aspx.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Better Business Bureau; CareerBuilder.com; FlexJobs