With the rise of the Internet, work-at-home scams have morphed from false promises of easy money to real threats of jail time.
Mundane varieties have always been promoted in small type in Popular Mechanics and women’s magazines and on lampposts. Old school work-at-home scams, such as envelope stuffing and medical billing pyramid schemes, were (and still are) more “get less poor” than “get rich quick” enticements.
But with the wildfire of social media, the would-be rewards and potential personal disasters have become eye-popping. Instead of offering prospects in the low hundreds of dollars, fraudsters dangle thousands all at once.
Instead of going after hundreds of dollars in fees from victims, the perpetrators use them as unsuspecting prey for identity theft and work with accomplices in money laundering and criminal bank fraud.
An Internet keyword search for “work from home” results in more than 1,000 listings.
Unsuspecting victims fill out employment applications with a treasure trove of personal information, including names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, said Patricia Oliver, fraud operations leader for identity theft protection services company IDT911. These scams have infiltrated legitimate job sites, she noted. She added that most consumers who have been victimized by work-at-home schemes found their jobs on Craigslist.
“We get a lot of calls from people who fall for this scam,” she said. “They are told they got a job and receive their first paycheck for $2,500. But the scammer instructs them to keep only $500 and return $2,000 to another location. Once victims deposit the check and follow the instructions, they’re done for.”
A Monster.com spokesperson acknowledges that fraudster job ads also surface on that company’s site Jobs.Monster.com, which is aimed at the home-bound.
While he said Monster can’t prevent every bogus operator from listing there, he noted the company looks more closely at ads for work-at-home employers because of their long history of scams.
“We have a much more mindful eye,” he said.