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An ad for a work-at-home scheme posted on a pole

A Work-at-Home scheme is a get-rich-quick scheme in which a victim is lured by an offer to be employed at home, very often doing some simple task in a minimal amount of time with a large amount of income that far exceeds the market rate for the type of work. The true purpose of such an offer is for the perpetrator to extort money from the victim.

Work-at-home schemes have been around for decades. Originally found as ads in newspapers or magazines, they have expanded to more high-tech media, such as television and radio ads, and on the Internet.

Legitimate work-at-home opportunities do exist, and many people do their jobs in the comfort of their own homes. But anyone seeking such an employment opportunity must be wary of accepting a home employment offer, as only about one in 42 such ads have been determined to be legitimate [1]. Most legitimate jobs at home require some form of post-high-school education, such as a college degree or certificate, or trade school, and some experience in the field in an office or other supervised setting. Additionally, many legitimate at-home jobs are not like those in schemes are portrayed to be, as they are often performed at least some of the time in the company's office, require more self discipline than a traditional job, and have a higher risk of firing.


Types of Work

Common types of work found in work-at-home schemes include:

  • Stuffing envelopes
  • Assembly of items of some type, such as crafts, jewelry, or medical equipment
  • Data entry
  • Processing medical claims
  • Making phone calls
  • Online surveys
  • Sales of a product or service that is difficult or impossible to sell. This is often done in the form of a pyramid scheme.
  • Legitimate Network Marketing Systems that fall under the Code of Ethics within the Direct Selling Industry (DSA)
  • Some ads claim to offer a device that makes passive sales calls, and the "employee" will be paid a commission of the sales.

Some ads offer legitimate forms of work that really do exist, but exaggerate the salary and minimize the effort that will have to be put into the job, or the exaggerate amount of work that will be available. Many such ads do not even specify the type of work that will be performed.

Some similar schemes do not advertise work that would be performed at home, but may instead offer occasional, sporadic work away from home for large payments, paired with a lot of free time. Some common offers fitting this description are:

  • Acting - seeking extras to perform in movies and television commercials.
  • Mystery shopping - Getting paid to shop and dine. While mystery shopping actually does exist, it requires hard work, is paid close to minimum wage, and most importantly, does not require an up-front fee to join.


The typical victim of a work-at-home scheme may be:

  • A burned out employee of a legitimate job seeking an exit to his/her stressful lifestyle
  • An unemployed person seeking high-paying easy work
  • An uneducated person with few or no skills looking for a job with a good salary
  • An employed person wanting to make extra money to supplement his/her regular income.
  • Senior citizens, disabled persons, stay-at-home parents, and others who cannot easily leave home in order to make a living.
  • Those with busy schedules full of unpaid activities who wish to earn money in their spare time.
  • Those with long or tiresome commutes looking to remain at home and eliminate their travel to work.
  • Someone who doesn't take the time to carefully investigate the industry, job and company.

Signs of a Work-at-Home Scheme

Signs of a work-at-home scheme versus a legitimate job may include:

  • Payment of fee is required prior to starting employment. According to the United States' Federal Trade Commission, under no circumstances should anyone be forced to pay a fee in order to obtain a job. No legitimate employer will require a fee be paid as a condition of starting work (except perhaps a small amount for a criminal background check).
  • Pay is too good to be true. Though there may be legitimate jobs in existence in which employees are paid to perform the particular task in question, even possibly from home, in reality, they would be paid a wage that is fair for that type of work and level of education, not the $40 per hour or $3000 per week that is typically offered in a work-at-home scheme.
  • Employer seemingly will hire anyone, with no experience necessary and no qualifications. Legitimate employers will only be interested in those who have the proper experience, skills, certification, and other qualifying factors, and will give at least some scrutiny to an applicant seeking employment. But the perpetrator of a work-at-home scheme is only interested in the payment required to join.
  • Company is little known, and does not seemingly have a customer base bringing them revenue from which they can pay employees.
  • Company does not appear to have a permanent location. Its address, phone number, and website appear to be centered around recruitment of employees, not customers.


The consequences of falling for a work-at-home scheme may be as follows[2]:

  • Loss of money: It may be only the initial fee to join, say $10, $20, or even $30, or more, for example. Or it may be a lot more. Some scammers will run after receiving just this fee. Others will continue to ask for more in order for the promise of high pay to be fulfilled. Some will act on a two-way street, actually issuing paychecks, all the while receiving payments of greater value in return, which in some cases may exceed tens of thousands of dollars. Yet in other cases, the employer may obtain the victim's personal information and use it to commit fraud against the victim.
  • Loss of legitimate job: Those with a real job may quit in hopes of a better one, only to find they cannot get their original job back after they discover their dream job was only a hoax.
  • Damaged Reputation: Those who engage in sales of a faulty or otherwise controversial product may be tarnishing their own name as the salesperson of such a worthless item.
  • Trouble with law: Some victims may actually receive money. But at the same time, they may be unknowingly breaking the law, on behalf of the perpetrator of the scheme, but will be fully legally responsible. Such violations may be criminal or civil in nature. In other cases, they will not be committing any criminal acts, but they will end up framed in an investigation for the crimes of the perpetrator.
  • Wasted time: Victims will often invest huge amounts of time with no pay in return. This is time that can be spent earning money at a legitimate job.

Combating work-at-home schemes

Various law enforcement agencies work to fight work-at-home schemes. In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established Project False Hopes, a federal and state law enforcement sweep that targets bogus business opportunity and work at home scams. The crackdown involved more than 100 law enforcement actions by the FTC, the Department of Justice, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and law enforcement agencies in 11 states.[3]

External links




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