August 9, 2009
Too good to be true: Job scams promise big bucks but deliver only dead ends
The ads are everywhere: in your mailbox, online, tacked to telephone poles. They all make similar promises: Earn big money! Work at home!
With unemployment at a 25-year high and even people with seemingly secure jobs feeling uneasy, it can be tempting to respond to offers to turn your computer into a cash machine or help you earn big money for doing simple tasks. There are some legitimate work-at-home opportunities, but there are also countless scams that could cost you money -- and even get you into legal hot water.
Sandie Durham, a legal assistant with a law firm in Nashville, was hoping to find an alternative source of income in case she lost her job. “I’ve been in that law firm for 11 years, but with the economy, people would rather eat than pay their attorneys,” she says. “I was just trying to find something legitimate.”
In June, she clicked on an ad for what appeared to be data-entry work for online search engine Google. “I saw that word, ‘Google,’ and I thought, ‘This cannot be a scam; that is a very well-known name,’ ” she says.
Durham entered her credit-card information, agreeing to pay $1.97 for online details and $2.95 for a CD with more information about the work. She canceled her credit card after four charges plus foreign-transaction fees totaling $163.17 appeared on her statement.
Questions to ask
Legitimate work-at-home sponsors should tell you -- in writing -- what’s involved in the program they are selling. The Federal Trade Commission suggests that you ask these questions before agreeing to any work:
What tasks will I have to perform?
Will I be paid a salary, or will my pay be based on commission?
Who will pay me?
When will I get my first paycheck?
What is the total cost, including supplies, equipment and membership fees?
What will I get for my money?
“We see this over and over and over again,” says Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Better Business Bureau. The BBB has gotten complaints about variations invoking names such as Google, eBay, Craigslist, Facebook, YouTube and, most recently, Twitter, but all rely on people not reading the fine print and unwittingly agreeing to pay monthly fees.
“Google isn’t affiliated with these sorts of sites,” says Jan Nancarrow, a spokesman for the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet company.
In April, the Texas attorney general took action against the operators of several sites, including GoogleMoneyTree.com and InternetIncomeInitiative.com, charging them with running fraudulent sites. The operators have agreed to suspend their activities while a civil case moves forward.
But Southwick says one of the problems with scams is that the operators often simply set up new sites after they are outed with multiple complaints to the BBB, government agencies or on consumer boards.
This is just one type of job scam that law enforcement and consumer advocates see. Another common scheme has unwitting people receive, repackage and ship items, often to overseas addresses. That could result in someone being duped into receiving stolen property and distributing those items, both crimes that could be prosecuted, says Charles Pavelites, a supervisory special agent for the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.
Adding to the confusion, there are legitimate ways to earn money through Google and other sites. Google, for instance, operates a free program called AdSense that enables participants to earn money by displaying targeted ads on their own Web pages or blogs.
Job seekers should take precautions and research any companies they are considering working with before sharing credit card or personal information, says Pavelites: “Anything that looks to good to be true probably is.”
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