Rarely has there been a riper time for con artists to come out of the woodwork to lure unsuspecting victims into their lairs, with such advertisements as "easy ways to make money", "quick money", and "how to earn money fast." The reason: The U.S. unemployment rate has been hovering around 9.6% and millions of Americans are currently out of work, desperate for any sort of employment.
"In a time of high unemployment rates, con artists exploit the vulnerabilities of unemployed Americans by falsely promising to deliver what these folks need most: a job that will enable them to put food on the table and pay the rent," says Monica Vaca, Staff Attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.
Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission announced a new crackdown and that it is redoubling its efforts to shut down con artists who are operating bogus job-placement and work-at-home schemes, many of which are advertised online or in local newspapers. As part of the law enforcement sweep dubbed "Operation Bottom Dollar", the FTC has filed numerous cases against operators of deceptive and illegal job and money-making schemes. In addition, the Department of Justice and state attorneys general have pursued criminal actions.
The top ten job scams include:
The "Envelope Stuffing" Scam
Scammers charge a fee (often between $44 and $64) for the envelope or postcard mailing opportunity. After paying the fee, consumers receive a package of materials, including postcards or envelopes, brochures and pre-printed address labels. It looks very official, but the postcards and brochures advertise work-at-home and other money-making opportunities, which are additional scams run by the same organizers.
The "Promise of Employment with the Federal Government" Scam
Beware of deceptive ads on job web sites promising careers with such Federal agencies as the U.S. Postal Service, Border Patrol and wildlife jobs in addition to clerical and administrative support positions. One such organization told people they could get these jobs if they paid $119 for study materials, which would allow them to pass any required test with a score of 95% or better. But those who paid the fee found that there were no exams for the positions they sought, or that the supposed job vacancies did not exist. The scammers also hawked career counseling services, charging $965 for services like resume editing and employment exam preparation.
The "Apply for Government Grants" Scam
Unsuspecting victims often fall for booklets sold by scammers that explain how to apply for government grants for work at home mailing out postcards and envelopes. These direct mail campaigns often target the elderly.
One such company allegedly conned more than 100,000 people by selling booklets for $9.99 to $99.99. Using a direct mail campaign, the scammers lured consumers with deceptive solicitations such as "Collect up to $9,250 with my simple three minute form" or "All I do is mail 30 postcards everyday and I make an extra $350 a week!"
The "Work from Home Assembling Crafts Scam"
Sounds simple enough: You see an ad explaining how you can make money assembling crafts or other products at home, such as "Enhance your income by hundreds of dollars a month..." These scans often ask for money upfront for equipment or supplies. The company promises to buy the goods that you produce.
But after you've paid money and done the work, the company doesn't pay you, supposedly because your work isn't "up to standard."
The "Rebate Processing" Scam
Scammers place an ad telling you how to earn money by helping to process rebates. There is typically a fee for training, certification or registration. What you receive in exchange for a fee are useless training materials. There will be no rebates to process.
The "Online Search" Scam
Beware of ads promising the ability to earn thousands of dollars each month by running Internet searches on prominent search engines and filling out forms. The truth is, these scammers are not connected with any well-known search engine. According to the Federal Trade Commission, they are just trying to trick you into giving them your credit card or banking information. If you pay them even a small fee online, they will use your financial information to charge you recurring fees.
The "Medical Billing" Scam
Scammers run ads promising full- or part-time work processing medical claims electronically with no experience needed. When you call the toll-free number, a sales rep tells you doctors are eager for help, and in exchange for your investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars, they promise to give you everything you need to launch your own medical billing business, including the software to process the claims, a list of potential clients and technical support. But the reality is that few consumers who pay for medical billing opportunities find clients or make any money. Doctors who contract out their medical billing use established firms---not inexperienced people who work out of their homes.
The "Pre-Screened" Lists of Jobs scam
Scammers are selling lists of supposedly pre-screened lists of work-at-home opportunities.These lists don't come cheap. They go for a fee ranging from $29.98 to $89.99. Scammers, in return, promise unlimited access to thousands of job lists and say that buyers of these lists will get their money back if they do not get a job. Often, the scammers will promote on search engines such search terms as "jobs for moms" or "work at home scam free" to attract unsuspecting victims.
The Mystery Shopper Scam
Scammers make false earnings claims by selling the opportunity to be a mystery shopper. Stay-at-home mothers and single mothers are often the targets. The scammers claim to represent thousands of retail establishments. Scammers charge a fee, typically around $34, and then send a package of materials with a pre-printed list of companies and addresses. Consumers are told to contact the companies directly to ask for job applications.
The "Money Laundering" Scam
A scammer wins the trust of a job seeker, then asks for his or her bank account numbers, perhaps under the ruse that it is need for the direct deposit of paychecks.
According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the "job" typically involves forwarding or wiring money from a personal bank account, a PayPal account, or from Western Union to another account, which is often overseas. As part of their pay, the job seeker is instructed to keep a small percentage of the money as their payment. Almost always, the money the victims are transferring is stolen, and therefore, the victims are committing theft and wire fraud. Usually, this kind of scam involves at least two or three victims.
Be wary of any ad, even if it is published in a reputable publication or website, if it promises a substantial income for work from home, especially if it requires an up-front fee or your credit card information. If you suspect you may be the victim of a scam, there are several places to turn for help. Be sure to contact the FTC's complaint division, the attorney general in the state where you live, your local better business bureau, and the U.S. Postal Service, which investigates fraudulent mail practices. To learn more about how to avoid being conned by employment scams, visit the FTC's website to view an educational video (also available on YouTube).