So, what's a would-be home worker to do to protect herself? Stevens' company operates under one basic guiding principal: "Never pay for a job. A legitimate employer will not ask you for money – for any reason." This, then, should be the first question you should ask when evaluating a potential work-at-home opportunity – do I need to pay for this job? If the answer is yes, chances are, it is not the opportunity you are looking for. If the answer is no, do the following to help make a more thorough evaluation:
- Ask for references and call as many of them as possible. Be sure to include clients (those who have purchased the product or service in the past) and other people who have worked for the company. In the case of fraudulent job offers, you will likely find that these references do not exist or the people listed are impossible to reach.
- Take a look at the company's contact information, particularly its e-mail address. If the e-mail address does not contain the domain name of the company's web site, but rather is an address from a commercial e-mail service (such as Yahoo or AOL), it may require further investigation. Likewise, if the address given for a company is a post office box rather than a street address, there may be some question as to its legitimacy.
- Put the company's name in your favorite search engine and see what turns up. If the company has had questionable business practices in the past, chances are it will turn up on a warning list or discussion board. Read what others have to say about the company; it may be the best unsolicited advice you will receive.
- There are a number of web sites that contain information and warnings on work-at home scams. Direct Fraud, The Better Business Bureau, and The Federal Trade Commission all have information of value to potential home-workers. Take a few minutes to check one or more of these sites before making any employment agreements.
- Don't rush into anything. Take some time to fully evaluate the opportunity. What may sound like a promising offer today could lose some of its luster in a few days.
It is also important to know the difference between a work-at-home job and telecommuting.
Stevens points out that many people fall into work-at-home scams because they fail to recognize the difference. Simply put, a work-at-home job usually means that you are an independent contractor and will be responsible for reporting your own wages and paying the appropriate taxes. Telecommuting, on the other hand is, as described by Stevens, "an alternate way of performing a job." In other words, you are an employee of ABC Company who happens to work at home all or part of the time. Yet, entering the word "telecommute" into a search engine will lead you directly to the very scams you want to avoid. This is because the scammers know that many people don't understand the distinction between "telecommute" and "work-at-home."
As a result, Stevens suggests anyone seeking home employment take some time to assess their skills and decide which, if any, can be done from home. Then, "look for a position that needs them [the skills]. Look for the job title and position first, then look to see if telecommuting is an option." Stevens points out that "people usually run into scams when searching the other way around; they search for 'telecommuting' or 'work from home' first, and then they look for the position."
This is not to say that all telecommuting arrangements are not immune from would-be scammers. When evaluating a potential telecommuting opportunity, Stevens suggests asking the same types of questions you would ask during an interview for an on-site job. Inquiries about benefits such as medical insurance, vacation time and retirement planning are all perfectly acceptable and should be asked. Additionally, Stevens strongly suggests requesting a copy of the company's telecommuting policy. The telecommuting policy should cover areas such as expectations for being in the office, off-site support and what, if any, equipment you will be required to purchase.
Given all this information, finding a suitable work-at-home position can take as long or even longer than finding an on-site job. However, in the end, regardless of whether you are interested in a telecommuting arrangement or work-at-home job, the time taken to fully investigate the opportunity may make the difference between finding a financially and professionally rewarding opportunity and an employment nightmare.