For many unemployed Americans, the need to find a job, any job, has made them susceptible to con artists promising easy riches through work-at-home schemes and similar frauds.
They include Barbara Beatteay, a 58-year-old cancer patient and stroke survivor who was unemployed, bankrupt and struggling to pay medical bills when she answered what she thought was a legitimate ad to work from home as an administrative assistant.
"These are desperate times and I was a desperate woman," Beatteay told the Fort Myers News-Press in a recent interview.
Beatteay found the job ad on Monster.com, placed by what she determined to be a reputable stock-trading firm called Norman and Johnson Solutions, based in Chicago. The firm had a website and a phone number, which Beatteay called. She was offered a job that supposedly paid $2,500 a month plus a 5 percent commission to process dividends to be paid to investors.
But Beatteay soon discovered that she and other women, who supplied the firm with their bank account information, were essentially being used to launder money sent overseas. It worked like this: An agent for Norman and Johnson would deposit money from a credit card into Beatteay's bank account and she would then wire the funds to clients in the Ukraine via Western Union and MoneyGram.
What Beatteay didn't know is that Norman and Johnson would then claim that the transactions that deposited funds into her account were fraudulent and would be reversed. Meanwhile, the money she had wired from her account had already been debited. And since she didn't have the money to cover the transactions, her account was overdrawn and then frozen by her bank. In all, Beatteay was out nearly $15,000.
Unfortunately for Beatteay she fell victim to a fairly common job scam, promoted through online ads. Others involve medical billing, online surveys and mystery shoppers.
For every legitimate online posting for home-based jobs, there are 60 scams, according to Creators Syndicate, which represents professional work-from-home writers and artists. The organization further notes that online bulletin boards, such as Craigslist, are rife with scams. For each legitimate job posted, there are 100 times as many scams.
One company alleged to have perpetrated such frauds is a Bakersfield, Calif.-based company called Home Works. The Better Business Bureau says that it has received 12 complaints from consumers nationwide in the past year, earning Home Works the business watchdog's "F" rating.
BBB says Internet-based Home Works sells medical-billing software to wannabe workers for $199, which supposedly allows them to create a home-based business. But complaints received by BBB allege that the software doesn't work, no customer support is available and the workers aren't able to obtain refunds.
AOL Jobs wasn't able to find a website or other information about the company, aside from a physical address, which the BBB says is nothing more than a mail drop.
Job scams involving medical billing -- and similar types of home-based jobs -- are common, says Bethany Mooradian, author of "I Got Scammed So You Don't Have To."The fraud usually involves job seekers paying for a service or product that will help them get a job, only to find out that the company or the products don't exist after their money is long gone.
But, Mooradian tells AOL Jobs, that there are legitimate ways to get into medical billing. "It's a trade. You have to learn it." One resource, she notes, is the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity, which offers an online training programs in medical billing. The course takes about a year and AHDI helps with job placement after completion of training. Community and technical colleges also offer courses in the field.
In addition to medical billing, jobs involving online surveys or mystery shopping, in which workers pose as shoppers to rate retail establishments on customer service and other measures, are frequently targets of scam artists even though such jobs are legitimate careers.
Scammers do so by asking job seekers to send money or buy products, when in reality applicants needn't spend any money to get such jobs.
"They take something they know to be true, tweak it enough and unfortunately [unsuspecting] people fall for it," Mooradian says.The Massachusetts Better Business Bureau offers these warning signs, among others, to help job seekers determine whether a job is real or just too good to be true:
- Wire transfers. If a supposed employer asks you to pay an advance fee for a job via a wire transfer, it's definitely a scam. When you wire money, it's gone.
- Full-time pay for part-time work. If the job promises to pay a lot of money but doesn't require experience, it might be a scam.
- Job offers from strangers. If you post a resume on an online job board and are offered a job immediately -- without filling out an application or having an interview -- it's probably a scam. Never give out personal information, especially your Social Security number or bank account information.
- Advance payments. If someone wants you to pay for a fee for a job, it could be a scam.
- High-pressure sales tactics. Don't take a job before you have thoroughly researched the business.
- No written job description. Ask for information about the job in writing. Look carefully at any documentation to make sure it answers all of your questions. If a business doesn't respond to your questions, move on.
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