Work-at-Home Scams Draw FBI Attention

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Hot on the heels of the Welcome to the Poorhouse post that included shady work-at-home offers in the email inbox, the FBI posted a story today warning of the same. (Note to self: when Clockwork and the G-Men are in sync, time to weatherproof against frogs falling from the sky.)

The FBI expands its warning beyond emails to include "seductive work-at-home opportunities" hyped in newspaper classified ads and fliers tacked to telephone poles. These promise earnings of hundreds or thousands of dollars a week for typing, stuffing envelopes and processing medical billing. (One WttP example involved posting crap for Google.) Riches are just a phone call or mouse click away, claim the ads. Though tempting in these dark economic times, many are scams, according to the FBI, which goes on to list the most common.


$$$ Advance-fee: Starting a home-based business is easy! Just invest a few hundred dollars in inventory, set-up, and training materials, they say. Of course, if and when the materials do come, they are totally worthless . . . and you're stuck with the bill.

$$$ Counterfeit check-facilitated "mystery shopper": You're sent a hefty check and asked to deposit it into your bank account, then withdraw funds to shop and check out the service of local stores and wire transfer companies. You keep a small amount of the money for your "work," but then, as instructed, mail or wire the rest to your "employer." Sound good? One problem: the initial check was phony, and by the time your bank notifies you, your money is long gone and you're on the hook for the counterfeit check.

$$$ Pyramid schemes: You're hired as a "distributor" and shell out big bucks for promotional materials and product inventories with little value (like get-rich quick pamphlets). You're promised money for recruiting more distributors, so you talk friends and family into participating. The scheme grows exponentially but then falls apart--the only ones who make a profit are the criminals who started it.

$$$ Unknowing involvement in criminal activity: Criminals--often located overseas--sometimes use unwitting victims to advance their operations, steal and launder money, and maintain anonymity. For example, they may "hire" you as a U.S.-based agent to receive and re-ship checks, merchandise, and solicitations to other potential victims . . . without you realizing it's all a ruse that leaves no trail back to the crooks.

The FBI adds that crooks behind work-at-home add something else nefarious to the mix: identity theft, using personal information you provided them for their bogus wares to steal from your bank accounts or establish new lines of credit in your name.

The bureau continues to investigate these scammers. Victims can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. But the best defense is not to fall for scams in the first place. The FBI suggests withholding personal information from the prospective employer, being wary of any company requiring money up front for products or instructions and contacting the Better Business Bureau to determine the legitimacy of a company.

Also keep in mind you can conduct research on work-at-home jobs on your own. Often, you can find opportunities without a middle man or the costly "training" free on the internet or your local library. The key is to ask a lot of questions of the company as the legit ones will have answers.
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