Beware job offers too good to be true

April 01, 2009
With the slowing economy, some are inevitably finding themselves tempted by alternative career paths appearing in their inboxes offering flexibility, short hours, and relatively good pay – work opportunities that are just too good to be true.  We at BBB hear from consumers year-round checking out jobs they’ve found online or via spam emails, hoping that they are real offers of employment but suspecting that they’re not.

Here are a couple of common schemes to look out for:

Secret Shopping Scams
There are certainly legitimate secret shopping companies that hire eager employees to visit retailers and document experiences.  There are plenty of illegitimate operations using the guise of secret shopping to perpetrate counterfeit cheque scams too, however.
Victims in this type of scam typically find the ‘job posting’ on the Internet, or may have it emailed to them after posting their resume online.  They’re typically asked to send an email with their address and a few other bits of seemingly innocuous information.  Often without ever having a reply from the email, victims then receive a package in the mail congratulating them on their new job.  Also included is a cheque for somewhere between $1000 and $4000.  They are instructed to cash the cheque and use most of the funds to send a wire transfer via Western Union to a third party, taking note of the service they receive.  Of course, $200 or more is said to be payment for the job, so the victims may just keep that amount for themselves.
Several weeks later, the victim will receive a call from the bank indicating that the cheque cashed was in fact counterfeit, and they must now repay the entire amount to the bank, plus potentially face criminal charges for attempting to pass a counterfeit cheque.  The wire transfer is untraceable, so there’s no way to find out who perpetrated the scam, but the poor soul who went along with it is now on the hook for the full amount.
There are telltale signs here: first off, how likely is it that you’ll be given a job simply by sending an email?  And what are the chances that a company would send a complete stranger (you) a cheque for several thousand dollars, trusting that you’ll return most of it?  A little sober second thought can easily poke holes in this scam, no matter how tempting it sounds at first blush.
To find out information on legitimate mystery shopping, check out the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s website.

Work-at-Home Companies
Work-at-home companies are consistently in the top-five types of business about which your BBB receives inquiries, and it’s not hard to see why – who wouldn’t want to make a solid living stuffing envelopes, assembling jewellery, or completing online surveys at home in pyjamas?  Unfortunately, BBB is unaware of anyone who has earned the promised money from these types of jobs, and more often than not, only the work-at-home ‘employer’ comes out ahead.
These are advertised all over the place, online and in print, and tend to be short on details in the actual ad.  Those who express interest to the advertiser will soon find they must send a fee of between $30 and $50 to ‘process’ their application.  In exchange for that money, the hopeful employee tends to receive either no response at all, or something unexpected like a catalogue of other work-at-home jobs for which one can apply (at an additional fee).  The rare applicant who actually receives product to start work – say, pieces of jewellery to be assembled – may find that after completing several items and sending them back to the company for compensation, problems are found with the assembly that disqualify the work for compensation.
In our experience, the best way to make money from home on one’s own is by starting a business or becoming a freelancer.  These options are neither quick nor easy, however, requiring lots of planning and hard work, which is what makes ‘get rich quick’ schemes all the more attractive.