BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
The employment picture is improving slowly. But many of us are still stuck at home, looking for work. Scam artists know this and continue to pitch sketchy, get-rich-quick, work-at-home schemes.
The basic come-on involves a one-time or recurring consultancy fee. You may also be required or pressured to buy other services and goods from the consultant. The bottom line is the service and materials are basically worthless.
Before you bite on such an offer, have a look at these two advisories from the Federal Trade Commission. Phony business opportunities were recently subject of a massive government crackdown. Internet businesses are especially ripe for fraud.
You've seen the signs. Big, bold letters tacked on to light poles and street corners: "WORK AT HOME," followed by a telephone number, but never a name or address. But what if a famous charity was connected to the plan? Wouldn't that make it legitimate?
Recognized Name Doesn't Mean It's Legitimate
Recently, a Wisconsin woman answered an ad in her local newspaper to "work at home," with the appeal that the work was for the well-known charitable organization, Habitat for Humanity. Since the organization had a recognizable name, she signed up right away via e-mail to be a Regional Donations Coordinator. When a donation was received, she was instructed to keep most of the money for herself, and wire the rest to a Habitat for Humanity officer.
Fortunately, the woman became suspicious and didn't forward the money. The check turned out to be a fake, and the real Habitat for Humanity confirmed that the scheme wasn't authorized by them or connected to them in any way. The "scammer" gained the woman's trust by using a well-known name. She was further drawn in by the appeal of helping a charity. Such scams can be difficult to detect when they include a logo, design or name that seems legitimate.
Investigate before Accepting
The presence of an ad on a sign, or even in the want ads section of a newspaper or Internet with a "legitimate" company doesn't necessarily mean that a work-at-home offer is legitimate or will reap fair rewards for you. We've all heard stories of people shelling out money for "supplies" to complete their work-at-home jobs, only to end up with a stack of useless trinkets and very little money earned for their trouble. In other words, even if the business appears to be legitimate, it's worth investigating to see how much money you will actually earn.
Ask for references of people who have done this work before, with names and phone numbers to verify the type of work and the net amount earned when compared to the time and expense involved. Check with the "real" organization, the Better Business Bureau or have an attorney review any contract before signing.
Money Back Is a Long Shot
Easy access to a large population of people in need of money is paradise for a scam artist, and finding the people responsible is nearly impossible. If you were tricked into a fraudulent work-at-home scheme, the chances of ever pressing charges or filing a lawsuit for damages (by you or the legitimate organization) are minimal.
If the scammer can't be identified, they can't be charged with a crime or be served a civil complaint. That's because in order to start a lawsuit or criminal investigation, a sheriff's deputy or private investigator must actually, personally "serve" the scammer by handing them a paper copy of a civil lawsuit or a criminal complaint, and a summons giving them a certain date by which they must respond.
If you do manage to identify and locate the scammer, a number of laws provide you with a remedy. Each state has a version of a Consumer Fraud Act and a Deceptive Business Practices Act. These laws can bring scammers to justice and have a variety of repercussions. Other legal responses are breach of contract, fraud and conversion (theft). You might also contact your state's Attorney General to find out if other scams are being run.
Working at home can seem idyllic. No long commute, no need to dress up and being near your children can seem like a godsend. However, it doesn't always work that way. Be careful of scammers using company names that mimic real organizations to make you do something quite underhanded. They may also be looking for ways to get your private information, such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and other identifying information.
Think about what you're doing for the organization as well. Does it seem in line with the organization's mission or does it smell "fishy?" Contact the organization and local authorities to find out what you can do to stop these scammers quickly.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Is a lawsuit against a scam artist worthwhile if I have found out who is behind it and confirm that the person or company is local?
- I fell prey to a work at home scam, and my identity was stolen. Can you help me with identity theft issues?
- I'm going to work as a contract worker, remotely from my home. Can you review the contract for my services?