Work-from-Home Scams in the US: Here's How to Protect Yourself
The pandemic led to many changes in how people worked. With job losses, economic crunches, and stay-home orders, remote work practices have become the new norm. And they bode well for businesses and professionals alike. Companies get to lower their overheads and employee expenses and hire diverse, highly skilled, and geographically dispersed talent. Meanwhile, individuals can access better breaks, save time, and enjoy improved work-life balance.
All these perks have led to a sudden interest in work-from-home opportunities, with more people choosing them over traditional office environments. By 2025, the remote working population in the US is expected to reach $32.6 million—accounting for 22% of the workforce.
However, this shift in work patterns has also given way to a new wave of scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission, job fraud ranked among the top five most reported swindles in 2022. So, understanding these fraudulent threats and taking effective measures to protect yourself is critical for ensuring a safe remote-working experience.
The Rising Threat of Work-from-Home Scams
You can encounter this type of fraud in several ways. Bogus personal assistant work is a good example. This is when you are hired to carry out a few simple tasks. One of them is to bank a check, purchase office supplies, and return the remaining amount.
The check value will appear on your bank balance within two working days after depositing it. So, suspecting nothing, you will make the purchases and transfer the balance of money to your employer. But it generally takes a few weeks for the bank to officially clear the check, after which you find out that the check has bounced. But by then, your employer would have disappeared.
While most work-from-home scams are financially motivated, some focus on identity theft. Scammers could, for example, get you to fill out online forms under the pretext of a job application. Without realizing it is a fraud, you could give out sensitive information, including your contact details, date of birth, SSN, and bank account numbers. You may even have to share copies of your ID and other personal documentation.
Where can you come across work-from-home scams? LinkedIn, in particular, has become a popular platform for bad actors, with fake job offers comprising nearly half of the reported scam incidents on the site.
But you can encounter misleading job posts on Facebook and other social media, too, not to mention freelancer websites such as Fiverr. Scammers could also contact you via direct messaging on these platforms. Sometimes, they could even circulate SMSs and messages on WhatsApp and social media. These can include a contact number or link for you to get in touch.
Protecting Yourself from Remote Work Fraud
The internet has made it easier to implement job-related scams, providing plenty of ways to disguise identities. Scammers are also highly adept at winning trust, using various manipulative techniques to get what they want.
But by adopting precautionary measures, you can safely navigate remote work opportunities and separate genuine jobs from scams.
Here is what we recommend you do:
Trust no one
Most online platforms don’t have adequate verification processes to identify dubious employers looking to mislead unsuspecting job seekers. As a result, anyone can list vacancies online without much trouble.
Treading with caution is, therefore, imperative when applying for remote work. You must conduct your own verifications to ensure you are dealing with a genuine employer.
Google the employer’s name and look for an official website and social media handles. If you can’t find any, there is a high chance it is a made-up company.
Review the employer’s social media profiles. Do they have a reasonable account history and following? Have they engaged online frequently?
Check their job-posting history. Have they posted and hired freelancers before? Have they paid on time? What reviews and ratings did freelancers leave?
When the employer shares a contact number, search it on PhoneHistory and check who owns it.
If the company seems legitimate, contact it directly on an official number, not the one its representative has provided.
Ask for an in-person or video interview. Most scammers will avoid them, opting for text-based communication instead.
Keep your personal details safe
When you join a company as a full-time employee, your employer has an obligation to get to know you better. So, they would require certain personal information from you. But even then, they would only request those details once they conduct a few interviews.
But remote freelance jobs are different. These are temporary gigs carried out over a short period. And there is no reason for employers to request sensitive information. So, if you are asked too many personal questions, let the employer know that you’re uncomfortable sharing those details. You are better off losing a job opportunity than losing your identity to a criminal.
Be wary of upfront payments
Fees and payment requests are a common red flag of work-from-home scams. For example, a business may request you to pay for a certification or purchase office gear before you start work.
Legitimate employers would never expect payments from their employees to access work opportunities. If anyone does, report them to the platform the job is featured on.
Avoid easy money-making work
Fraudulent employers often advertise quick money-making jobs that pay well above the market average. They will claim that anyone can apply, even without experience, and offer appealing perks that are hard to resist. You may also get hired following a surprisingly brief interview, usually held on a messaging board or app.
But remember, no company hires that easily or pays high salaries to perform simple tasks. Any employer that claims to offer too-good-to-be-true opportunities is likely running a scam.
Remote work arrangements have become an attractive proposition for both professionals and employers in recent times. However, they have also given rise to a variety of scams that attempt to exploit some of the glaring weaknesses in the system.
For instance, the internet has next to no regulators to monitor and track unscrupulous activities. This allows fraudsters to imitate reputed employers, populate bogus job opportunities, and target innocent victims for financial fraud, identity scams, and other nefarious activities.
So, minding your safety is critical when dealing with unknown companies in cyberspace. Before you apply for a vacancy, carry out necessary verifications to ensure you are liaising with a genuine employer. Never offer upfront payments or personal information to individuals you meet online, and adopt a cautious attitude towards jobs with unusually attractive perks.