Better Business Bureau commonly receives reports about suspicious work-at-home offers that involve wiring money overseas. These offers put the potential employee at risk of identity theft and of helping criminals launder money. Scammers sometimes steal the identity of legitimate companies to appear more convincing.
BBB recently investigated consumer reports about a suspicious work-at-home scheme that involved wiring money overseas. The operation took the name and identity of a San Antonio-based tax preparation company that is no longer in business.
However, the location is being used by a business that purchased the company’s assets in 2010. That gave some people the false impression that the current business was running the work-at-home scam, but it was not involved.
The scheme included a professional-looking website (since taken down) that listed old contact information and phone numbers with San Antonio area codes for job hunters. The operation also advertised work-at-home opportunities on a popular online employment search website.
People who agreed to work for the company were given access to a portal, where they communicated with a representative, received and returned employment documents.
D’Anthony Willis of Billings, Montana agreed to work for the company, but became suspicious when he was told to wire money overseas.
“She said they were going to transfer money to my account and I was supposed to wire it to people overseas,” Willis said. “They said they would give me money and I would need to use Western Union or Money Gram to wire the money. I would get 3 percent of each transfer, plus $32 a month. I talked to a friend about it who told me not to do it because it was money laundering.”
“A woman called me and told me I had $7,651 in my account,” he said. “She said $1,650 was my paycheck. Another $6,000 was supposed to go to three people in Moscow, Russian Federation. I called the bank and it was there. The bank said it might turn out to be money laundering and I might have to refund it to the bank if I sent it out. The company took it back today.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigations warns that involvement in work-at-home schemes can make a consumer vulnerable to identity theft or unknowing involvement in criminal activity. The FBI breaks work-at-home scams down into the following basic categories:
- Advance-fee. Consumers are asked to invest money up front to pay for inventory, set-up or training materials. When the materials arrive and turn out to be worthless, the consumer is stuck with the bill.
- Counterfeit check “mystery shopper.” The consumer is sent a check and asked to deposit the funds, withdraw money to shop in local stores and wire part of the money to the employer, keeping a percentage. When the check turns out to be bogus, the consumer is left on the hook for the full amount.
- Pyramid schemes. The consumer is hired as a distributor and must pay large amounts for promotional materials and products such as pamphlets with little value. The consumer is promised income from recruiting more distributors. When the scheme falls apart, the only ones to make money are those who started the pyramid.
- International go-between. Criminals, often located overseas, sometimes involve unknowing victims to help them steal, launder money and remain anonymous. A criminal may offer to hire the consumer as a U.S.-based agent to receive and re-ship checks, merchandise and offers to other potential victims.
Before signing up for any work-at-home opportunity, BBB advises job hunters to:
- Start with trust. Check out any company at bbb.org to view their BBB Business Review free of charge. There you will find the company’s history of complaints and contact information. For a list of accredited businesses, go to checkbbb.org.
- Be skeptical. Beware of any offer that guarantees a lot of money for little effort and no experience. Thoroughly read the website’s terms and conditions, keeping in mind that a free trial could cost you in the end.
- Don’t be fooled by affiliation claims. Be wary of work-at-home offers that use logos from Google, Twitter or other popular online sites. Just because Google is in the name doesn’t mean the business is affiliated with Google.
- Check the domain. Research the website with Whois.net or a similar site for determining domain name ownership. Be cautious if the site is anonymous or individually registered.
- Beware of unexpected offers. If you receive a job offer without filling out an application, meeting with the business or being interviewed, it is probably a scam.
- Don’t pay up front. Being asked to make an advance payment to get on the ground floor of a big opportunity is a red flag, especially if it is a large payment or the company doesn’t provide much information about the deal. Handing your Social Security number or other personal information to suspicious sources could lead to identity theft.
- Don’t wire money. Being asked to wire money is a red flag. Scam artists often ask you to wire payments because they know you won’t be able to get the money back.