When the unemployment rate rises, so does interest in work-at-home possibilities. And so do work-at-home scams.
It's despicable, but real, that the Internet has made it easy to prey on people seeking a way to earn money.
"It's Whac-A-Mole for the government to try to shut down all these fraudulent sites," said Jeremy Gin, CEO of sitejabber.com, which provides an online community forum to report work-at-home scams. "It's only with the experience of others that we can help stop this kind of consumer fraud."
Scam offers take many forms:
• Job offers that ask you to purchase a startup kit.
• Multilevel marketing pitches that require you to sell questionably priced or unneeded products.
• Appeals to earn money by filling out surveys, clicking on websites, doing data entry or setting up your own e-commerce business.
• Promises of easy access to government grants.
• Access to a "hidden" job market for a fee.
• "Market research" that asks you to enter personal information; they might be identity thieves or they might be selling your contact information to other organizations.
"Legitimate jobs don't ask for money up front," Gin warned.
In addition to sitejabber.com, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer organization, provides tips to avoid work-at-home scams at privacyrights.org.
There's also a section about online job scams at about.com.
"Maybe once upon a time, before off-shoring and cheaper labor overseas, you could make money envelope-stuffing," Gin said. "Don't count on it now. We've never seen a legitimate one lately."
Before you enter any personal information or pay a dime to pursue any online, e-mailed or phone offer, check it out. Search for complaints online.
Try to verify that the entity exists in good standing. Check with the relevant state attorney general, secretary of state, Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at the Kansas City Star.