How to Protect Yourself from Work-From-Home Scams

online scams
By Ben Hartwig
13 February, 2020

The idea of working from home sounds like a dream come true to many Americans. Some work-from-home jobs are completely legitimate, but some are not. Scammers target these hopeful job hunters with promises of little work and big pay and end up duping them instead into working for free or even worse, handing over their hard-earned savings. 

What Are Work-From-Home Scams?

Remote jobs have become very popular because they save employers a ton of money, and statistics show that remote employees are often more productive than on-site staff. However, like anything, the idea of remote work can be exploited, and many scammers are using this as a lure to draw in potential victims.

Experts advise job seekers to avoid any job that asks you to pay up-front costs. The idea is you are looking to get paid not to pay out to scammers.

Return Check Scam

The return cash scam is where you are sent an initial check for setting up your office. It may be a large sum, such as $3,500, then your employer will ask for a portion of it back, so you send a check for the difference. The problem is, the initial check bounces, and now you are out the cash you sent them.

To protect yourself, never cash or deposit any checks sent to you up-front.

Stuffing Envelopes


An old but still viable scam is the stuffing envelopes scam. You may be asked to send a fee of $15-$50 for supplies, and all you will get in return (if anything) are instructions on how to scam others into sending you fees. You will never end up actually doing any work. To stay away from this one:

  • Never send a fee upfront for anything.
  • If it sounds great, it may just be a scam, walk away.
  • Be careful of placing any ads, you could be held liable for illegal activity.

A variation on this one is home assembly kits, where you are asked to purchase materials and assemble products. Once you do and mail them off (at your expense), you are told they are unsuitable or not good enough, and you never get paid. You are now out the postage and cost of materials, not to mention your time.

Starting a Business or Pyramid Schemes

A lot of work-from-home scams are either pyramid scams or starting a business scams. With both, you are sold training, startup products or services, or even coaching, and by the time you are done shelling out the cash for all these investments, you don’t have anything to show for yourself, and you aren’t even a legitimate business. Some tips to stay safe from this one are:

  • Stay away from any offers that stipulate you must “buy” anything, whether it is a service or product. Starting a legitimate business does not work that way.
  • Anyone who promises that you can work only a few hours a week and earn a significant return on your investment is scamming you. 
  • If the job requires you to sell the “job” to new investors or business owners, it is a pyramid scheme, and you will never see any real money after working hard to build wealth for the scammers.

Medical Billing Scams

medical scams

Although medical billing is a legitimate job, rarely does anyone unskilled get hired to do it. Many scam ads offer medical billing work for great pay; you don’t even need experience. The catch is, you have to buy expensive equipment and training before you can start. Watch out for this scam by:

  • Never purchase equipment or training.
  • If you see a job that requires specialized skills and it says: “no experience necessary,” it is probably a scam. Walk away.
  • Legitimate jobs do not hire people off the street to do complex tasks for big money without any experience. Use common sense when scanning ads.

Surveys and Mystery Shopping Scams

Taking surveys all day long or shopping online to make money sounds easy and fun, right? Not if they are scams. Many legitimate companies do pay token prizes for taking surveys. You can earn maybe $25-$100 here and there for taking surveys from real companies. However, scammers use survey jobs to elicit fees from you! If you are asked to become an “elite member” and have to pay to take surveys, it’s a scam.

The same with mystery shopping. If you have to pay for anything upfront and it’s not clear how you will get paid, you are being duped.

Never pay for any out-of-pocket expenses, no matter how good it sounds.

Scammers use sophisticated language to trick you and get you excited so that you will hand over your wallet.

Other Ways to Protect Yourself

security checklist

Some other ways to protect yourself from work-at-home scams are:

  • Ignore emails and offers that come in from places where you did not apply. These are almost certainly scams.
  • Always verify the sender’s email address. Sometimes scammers will spoof an email. You can contact the company and the person directly to ensure they actually sent you the offer.
  • Spend some time online researching the company and reading reviews to make sure they are legitimate before accepting any offers.
  • Watch out for the terms “work from home jobs.” These are specific words used by scammers to lure in desperate people.
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