Looking to make some extra cash, all while working from home?
Many ads say you can set your own hours and earn big bonuses, but while it sounds tempting, it's often a bad idea. Just ask Kelly from Kentucky, who went to jail for her part in a scam that she thought was a work from home job.
Here's what she told LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com, a website developed and maintained by a joint federal law enforcement and industry task force.
"The job was to receive cashier's checks and money orders and cash them at my bank and wire the money to another country," says Kelly, who received the job offer via email.
"I took the checks to my bank and deposited them, and the bank called me and told me that they were fakes, and I was shocked."
Kelly says she was arrested a few months later on seven counts of "criminal possession of a forged instrument" and ended up serving 150 days in jail.
*Is It a Scam?
"Many scammers can look really legitimate," says Katherine R. Hutt of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., an organization that tracks consumer complaints.
Just because a work from home position is listed on a website or in a publication you trust doesn't mean it's a good deal. Scammers often post bogus jobs in legitimate classifieds.
"When the economy dips, scammers come out of the woodwork," says Hutt, who explains work at home scams have "gotten more sophisticated."
The Federal Trade Commission reports that they received 36,111 complaints for "Business Opportunities, Employment Agencies and Work at Home Plans" during 2011.
One common work at home scam involves repackaging items sent to an "employee" by the "employer."
But if an employer asks you to resend items to another person, be careful. Hutt says you might be "repackaging stolen goods and could be an accessory to a crime."
Another bogus work offer is known as the secret shopper scam. They give you money to shop online or in person and evaluate the retailers. For example, they may give you a check for $1,000, tell you to spend $500 and wire the leftover $500 to them. But their check will bounce, and you may already have spent the money!
"A check that's too big is a tipoff," says Hutt.
*New Work-From-Home Scams
Scammers also are using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to lure prospective employees, promising to pay you for posting links on your social media accounts. The problem? Most of the links are fakes and may redirect you to a scam website, send you spam messages or even install viruses on your computer.
At first glance, this particular work at home opportunity may seem like a good thing. A company makes you a job offer and then asks you to go to their website to fill out hiring information such as your Social Security number. "Essentially, you're giving them everything they need for identity fraud," says Hutt.
Never fill out forms online. Always look for "https" on a Web address instead of "http," because "https" indicates better online security.
Some work from home jobs are legitimate, including many blogging and freelance writing opportunities, as well as jobs working in customer service by phone or email.
Remote sales jobs exist, too, meaning you can work from home, but many of those jobs pay on commission.
Most direct marketing jobs, such as selling cosmetics, jewelry and home products either online or in person, are legitimate work at home opportunities.
"Your best cure is prevention," says Hutt.
Do an Internet search for the company's phone number and the business owner's name and address. You can verify a company's background by checking them out with the BBB online at http://www.BBB.org/search.
The FTC urges jobseekers not to pay for job placement and not to pay for information about jobs, since most job information is available free of charge.
They also recommend that work from home job seekers ask potential employers questions like: What will I be doing? Will I be paid on commission? When will I receive my first paycheck? Do I have to pay startup costs, such as supplies or membership? If so, what will I get for my money?
The employer's responses should help job seekers figure out whether the job is valid.
If you've been scammed, you can file a complaint with the BBB, the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/complaint) and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://www.ic3.gov).