Kelli Williams, a market researcher by day, was looking for a little side hustle. The 38-year-old from Oak Park, Ill., cruised Craigslist and found what seemed like a great moonlighting gig. “It seemed like it would be perfect. You could work as many or as few hours as you wanted and it was all done from your computer, remotely,” she said.
A guy named “Bill” had a warehouse in California and wanted her to list items on eBay—under Williams’ account—and manage the transactions and inquiries. Bill would receive the order and ship the goods to the customers. “It all actually worked at first. I listed the items, the people received them, I got some money,” Williams said.
The honeymoon didn’t last long. “As I took on more and larger items, complaints started rolling in. People weren’t getting their items. They were demanding refunds. I kept pestering Bill and he would say the item was on its way. More emails, more demands for refunds. His next excuse was that they got lost in the mail (and he told me some ridiculous percentage of items get lost in the mail every day).”
But because the items were under Williams’ name and account, she was responsible for giving out refunds for increasingly expensive items, such as exercise equipment, electronics and software. “The last time I contacted Bill to essentially beg him to make this right, he became a totally different person (for all I know he could have been) and threatened me. He said he knew where I lived and worked and would send his ‘family in Chicago’ after me.”
In all, Williams lost about $5,000 in what’s known as a “reshipping scam,” and she had to start all over again building a new eBay account because all the bad reviews had made her original one unusable. This happened about 13 years ago, and she’s since rebuilt her reputation, but unfortunately, she’s not alone in falling victim to a scam. According to the FBI, college students, especially now, are prone to this kind of con. “Never accept a job that requires depositing checks into your account or wiring portions to other individuals or accounts,” the FBI warns on its website.
“Reshipping scams, like many job scams, are appealing because they offer the opportunity to get a job and get paid quickly. Because they don’t have any experiential or educational requirements, most job seekers are qualified for these sorts of scam jobs, which allows scammers to access a bigger pool of potential victims. Most job seekers feel at least some pressure to get a job quickly, especially if they’ve been out of work or need extra income to meet their debt obligations. Scammers understand this vulnerability and they prey on it,” says Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist at FlexJobs.com, an agency that helps place people in legitimate work-from-home and part-time positions.
And to make matters worse, the damage could go beyond losing money for the victims . “Reshipping job scams aren’t just annoying–they can actually involve job seekers in criminal activities. Most of the time, the goods being reshipped are stolen, and once a person receives those stolen goods and then mails them to another location, they’ve unwittingly become part of that crime,” Reynolds says. In fact, to her knowledge, there are basically zero legitimate reshipping jobs.
Being able to tell the difference between a real and fake job is more important than ever , because, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, the population of work-at-home employees (not including freelancers) has grown by at least 103% since 2005 — 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.
Some other “make money from home” offers that could be scams include:
Data Entry: Jobs in this category often require an upfront payment for processing or training and very rarely pay as well as advertised.
Pyramid Marketing: This illegal scam doesn’t exchange goods, just money. Similar to chain letters, people invest in pyramid marketing because they believe they will benefit from investments made by people who follow them into the program.
Stuffing Envelopes: Typically this involves signing up and paying a fee. Once enrolled, you receive a document explaining how to get others to buy the same envelope-stuffing opportunity you did. You earn a small commission when someone else falls for the scam and pays the nonrefundable fee.
Wire Transfers: Wire transfers move money quickly from one account to another. These transactions are difficult to reverse making it nearly impossible to recover lost funds.
Unsolicited Job Offers: These often arrive in the form of job scam emails. They offer immediate employment or the opportunity to interview for a great job. Be wary of any job with vague job requirements and descriptions, unprofessional emails, online interviews using a Yahoo IM account, and any emails that don’t include contact information or that are sent from a personal email account.
Rebate Processor: Job seekers are promised high income in exchange for processing rebates at home. A nonrefundable “training” fee is usually required to get started as a rebate processor. Instead of simply processing rebates, this job involves creating ads for various products and posting them on the Internet. A small commission is earned when someone buys the products, part of which is sent back to the buyer as a rebate.
Assembling Crafts/Products: Most companies offering these positions require you to pay an enrollment fee and purchase all supplies and materials from them; then the companies reject finished products regardless of how closely they match the sample finished product.
Reynolds advises job-seekers to dig a little deeper if something seems like easy money. If the answers to these questions raise your hackles, you may want to hold off on applying:
- Is there a detailed job description that talks about duties and responsibilities, plus application requirements, or just a vague one?
- Are there spelling errors, grammatical errors, capitalized letters or dollar signs ($$$) used throughout the description?
- Is the interview conducted over instant messenger (like Yahoo IM or Google Chat)?
- Does the interviewer focus mostly on how much money you’ll make, or how easy the job is, or how qualified you are, rather than asking you real questions about your qualifications?
- Are you offered a job right away, and perhaps pressured to accept quickly, before you’ve had a chance to think about it?
- Is the hiring company’s name listed in the job posting?
- Do you need to pay to get the job, buy supplies, or invest in the company?
- Does the job listing sound too good to be true?
- Does the company ask you to provide your social security number, driver’s license number, credit card number, or bank information?
- Does the language used in the posting sound odd or strangely written?
- If you’re unsure of the job, do you really want to risk it?
- Do you have a bad gut feeling?
Williams filed a police report and learned that others had been taken by the same scammer—but she doesn’t think he was ever caught. She said she’d never even had that “red flag” feeling. “I was naive. If anything, I should have known that it was too easy and good to be true.”