Right now is a pretty good time to get a job in America. Our nation’s 4% unemployment rate in June 2018 was down from 4.3% the same month one year prior. Economists tell us that there are about 6.6 million people not working right now, compared to 7 million last year at this time.
Yet even though the jobs picture is pretty rosy, that hasn’t stopped criminals from pushing job scams that can easily separate you from your money if you’re looking for new work.
Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.
Job scams tend to fall in certain categories. Here are some of the most popular..
Work-at-home job scams
The types of scams you’ll encounter in this area are many. Here’s a look at some of the most common.
The gist of this scam involves you buying a software package in order to process medical paperwork from home. There’s a small kernel of truth here because some longtime employees of doctor’s offices do this kind of work remotely, but the way it’s usually being sold is a falsehood.
There are some legitimate mystery shopping sites out there like Volition.com, but most others are a false lead. The key rule here is never pay anything upfront in order to do mystery shopping or get information about it, no matter who is offering you the supposed “opportunity.”
One hallmark of the secret shopper scam involves you getting a huge check made out to your name. In one case, a man received a check for almost $2,000 purported to be from Walmart’s secret shopper division. It looked completely real — with Walmart’s logo, watermarks, a perforated edge and routing and account numbers.
Fortunately, the man knew not to take the bait. He wasn’t looking for work so he knew something was fishy when it showed up unsolicited. Walmart, meanwhile, says it does not use secret shoppers.
Had the man deposited that check, it would have initially appeared to clear before bouncing…and leaving him on the hook for the rest of the money.
Rebate processing is a high-volume, low-margin business that’s done at big processing centers and usually handled internally. This kind of work is generally not farmed out. If you see a pitch for earning income doing this, run the other way.
eBay Power Sellers
This scam promises you instant credibility on eBay and the opportunity to make a fortune selling from home. In reality, there’s no instant solution to building a business when it comes to eBay. As a seller, you sustain yourself over time frequently by specializing in a niche market.
Likewise, the road to riches by selling on Amazon is a long one, and it’s not something that can be neatly taught in a hotel ballroom seminar.
People will certainly try to rip you off with roadshows that promise you can be your own boss by selling on Amazon. One group of alleged shysters duped unsuspecting victims into paying anywhere from $1,495 to as much as $35,000 for an Amazon Riches Home Study System.
Work-at-home tech scams
There’s a distinct subcategory of work-at-home scams that focuses on the idea that you can do remote technical or billing support for some big-name companies.
For example, The Kansas City Star has reported on an unsolicited job offer making the rounds that invited you “to become part of the official staff of Microsoft” as a work-from-home financial agent.
The starting salary this particular scam was purported to be $5,000 a month minimum, plus commissions. Your job? To “receive and process” e-payments sent by Microsoft customers.
The key rule here is unsolicited offers for jobs that will make you fabulously wealthy don’t just show up in your box. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Social media job scams
As social networking continues to gain in popularity, so too does the prevalence of scamsters pushing supposedly amazing work-at-home opportunities.
In the past, we’ve heard about a variety of companies with similar names (usually involving ‘make money’ or ‘make profits’) that promise big riches from online marketing. One such company was Easy Tweet Profits that claimed you can make up to $873/day online. Among the other claims they made was that one person earned $400,000/year using their method of tweeting your way to success.
The catch? In signing up for their program you agree to be charged $40/month! So, don’t fall for the idea that social networking can be a cash cow. Whether you’re talking about something you see on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or whatever the next hot thing is, you’ve got to be wary.
Multi-level marketing schemes and pyramid schemes
Multilevel marketing pitches that require you to sell questionably priced or unneeded products aren’t automatically scams, according to money expert Clark Howard. But they are when they cross the line into being pyramid schemes.
The test that can help you tell the difference between the two is simple, Clark says.
“If the big push is about recruiting other people into an organization, if that’s where all the money is made, then it will tend toward being a pyramid,” the consumer champ notes. “On the other hand, if the real money is made selling products or services to those not involved in the organization, then it is likely a legitimate multi-level marketing organization.”
Fake government jobs
There are a lot of bogus websites that are in the business of luring you in with promises about having the inside track on federal hiring, usually for a fee.
Know this: There is only one legitimate site for federal government hiring and it’s free — USAJobs.gov.
“Once you apply for a position, the federal screening process begins, and it can be very confusing to those in the private sector,” Clark says. “I recommend networking with anyone you can find — a relative, a friend or even an acquaintance from church — who is already in the system.”
Child modeling and acting scams
This job “opportunity” is typically pushed in hotel ballroom seminars that are designed to introduce you to the glitzy life of child modeling and acting.
When these scam operators pull into a new city, they’ll do saturation bombing advertisements that push their upcoming “talent call.” If you show up, you’ll hear a spiel about the limos and the lifestyle, the glitz and glamour…along with a warning that not everybody has the look or the talent they want.
Then they do this selection process where they send people away and tell those who remain that they’ve made the first cut. Great! But to proceed any further, you have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an evaluation, head shots, tuition fees for classes and other services.
A member of Team Clark once received a text message from some unsavory players in the modeling and acting business. Here it is reprinted in its entirety with the original spacing and misspellings left intact. Pay close attention to how it references legitimate businesses like Barbizon Modeling and Acting, Macy’s, Old Navy and Target.
Now that you know what one of the pitches looks like, you can be on your guard!
Online surveys and focus group opportunities
Most solicitations you see in your inbox or on a banner ad on a website claiming you can make big money taking online surveys are bogus. That’s not to say there aren’t a few select legitimate opportunities in this space.
In the past, we’ve noted some of the better options include eJury.com and OnlineVerdict.com. Both reward you for providing your opinion to attorneys as they test legal arguments while they’re preparing for big cases. It’s kind of like a cross between taking an online survey and participating in a focus group.
Speaking of focus groups, they offer a better way to make a little extra money than doing online surveys. With legitimate focus groups like 2020 Research and others, you get paid to share your opinion about new products. Here’s how to get set up with a legit operator in your area.
The thing to keep in mind is none of these options will make you rich. “These are not ‘get rich quick’ opportunities,” Clark says. “Think instead about these sites as a way to earn some spare cash in your spare time. But anybody who promises huge money in your spare time, I hate to say it, but they’re lying.”
Prospective authors are no longer at the mercy of the publishing house if they want to get their work published. There’s a vast self-publishing industry, but you’ve got to know how to separate the good guys from the bad guys.
During his more than 25 years on radio, Clark has had to repeatedly warn hopeful authors away from all of the self-publishing scams out there. In the past, the so-called “vanity press” industry would charge people outrageous sums to publish a book. It wasn’t unusual for someone to pay $8,000 to $12,000 in an effort to get published through these phony publishing houses.
The best advice Clark can offer is be skeptical in this filed. Use the collective wisdom of the Internet to help you steer clear of rip-off artists. AbsoluteWrite and Preditors & Editors are both great resources to vet potential self-publishing businesses.
Phony inventor scams
Phony invention groups prey on enterprising, hard-working people who could enrich their own lives and the lives of so many others with a unique idea or product. Their scams usually work in three steps.
First, they send you a free information kit. Then, they hit you up for $500 to $700 to do some “preliminary research” into the viability of your idea. After a few weeks, you receive another, thicker package saying your idea is a hit and the company needs more money to start a marketing campaign. This time, they hit you up for $5,000 to $10,000.
Don’t allow yourself to be taken in this scam! Find legitimate groups instead on InventorEd.org, which is an informational site for inventors. Or visit the International Federation for Inventors Association (IFIA) at IFIA.com. The IFIA even has information specifically for women, who tend to experience some discrimination in the inventing world.
You can stay out of harm’s way by being educated. And when you see those ads on late night TV promising to take your invention and make you rich, you’d be wise to steer clear.
If you’re looking for some general rules of the road to follow so you can avoid being scammed, take this advice to heart.
Amazing job opportunities don’t usually just fall into your lap or into your inbox. As said before, if it seems to good to be true, then it probably is. Use your best judgment.
Be wary of job offers that ask you to purchase a start-up kit. You may be lured in by promises of big money, but the only ones making the real money are usually the promoters selling these things.
Beware of pitches to be your own boss that you find on help wanted sites. You may find an opportunity that looks good and then contact the supposed employer only to find out that it turns out to be a pitch for owning your own business, complete with all the promises about huge money. But you know who’s making the real money…
Never pay to access to a “hidden” job market. During the recession of last decade, there were reports of college graduates paying thousands of dollars to get hooked up with unpaid internships! That was the level of desperation out there among the young and unemployed at that time.
Never reveal your Social Security number and birthday. This is especially true if you haven’t ever had a formal interview or met the employer face-to-face. Chances are crooks will take that info and steal your identity. Likewise, be wary of “market research” jobs that ask you to enter personal information; the promoters might be identity thieves or they might be selling your contact information to other organizations.
Whenever you’re looking for work, you’ve got to be wary and careful about giving money when the whole goal is to get somebody to pay you for an honest day’s work!
“Here’s my simple rule: Anytime you apply for a job and the next step involves you paying money, that’s when you should be skeptical,” money expert Clark Howard says.
“Some of the companies on my work-at-home guide do charge small fees for verification and background check, but they’re minor in comparison to what the phony baloneys want from you.”