From parents to retirees to employees fed up with daily commutes, there are many people out there who would like the chance to work from home -- and scammers know it. Christine Durst, co-author of "Work at Home Now: The No-Nonsense Guide to Finding Your Perfect Home-Based Job, Avoiding Scams and Making a Great Living," has found that there are 60 scams out there for every one legitimate opportunity. How can job seekers separate the good from the garbage? Here are a few suggestions:
Start with your employer
Convincing your current employer to let you telecommute is one of the most effective (and safest) ways to obtain a work-from-home job. When approaching management about the possibility, Durst notes that the number one rule is "Have a plan, not a request. It's important that employees understand that telework must be beneficial to the employer if it is to be accepted." Some of her recommendations for creating a solid proposal include:
* Drafting an attention-grabbing opening statement.
* Outlining the benefits to the company.
* Breaking down your daily tasks and commitments.
* Proposing a schedule and highlighting your flexibility.
* Suggesting methods for quantifying your productivity.
* Reminding your boss what a valuable asset you are to the company.
* Describing your home-based workspace and equipment.
Search as you would for any job
Think of looking for a telecommuting position simply as a new job search, just with "home" as the location of where the work will be performed. Search on reputable general and/or industry-specific job boards using keywords such as "telecommute," "independent contractor," "virtual," "remote," "freelance" and "offsite."
Just as with commuting positions, many work-from-home opportunities (especially legit ones) aren't advertised. Networking can be critical to finding these openings, as well as for gaining credibility with a potential employer by having someone who can vouch for your abilities.
And be prepared to present your qualifications; legitimate employers are out to find the best candidate for their needs. Take some time to research the company and tailor your application accordingly to demonstrate that you're interested in the actual career opportunity, not just working from home.
"There are definitely some red flags that job seekers need to consider to determine if a home-based job opportunity is legitimate or not," says Sara Sutton Fell, an expert in the job market since she first founded JobDirect (sold to Korn/Ferry International in 2000) who currently runs a job service that specializes in telecommuting and flexible jobs. Questions she recommends asking include:
* Is the company's name listed in the job listing?
* Does the e-mail listed match the company's domain (firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com)?
* Is the job title a real job title, or is it an attention grabber? ("marketing coordinator" is a real job title; "WORK FROM HOME!" is not.)
* Does the listing sound too good to be true?
* Are you asked to provide personal identifying information like social security or bank account numbers?
* Does the "employer" require you to pay to be considered or to apply for the job?
Durst adds to be wary of ads that don't ask for a résumé or that claim no experience is necessary. "In the 'real world' all jobs require you do something, so it stands to reason that a legitimate ad will tell you what it is you need to be able to do."
Beware of the unsolicited
As if by a miracle, an ad for home-based work lands in your e-mail inbox. How could this man from Romania have known you were looking for home-based work?
"Miracles do happen, but not via spam," Durst notes. "If you receive unsolicited job offers in your e-mail, it's probably the result of a scammer having 'harvested' your e-mail address from another location frequented by people who are seeking work. Move it to your trash file without using the 'remove me from this list' link you're likely to find at the bottom of the page. These links are often used to confirm that your e-mail address is active, and using them can result in even more spam."
Do your homework
If you believe you have found something worthwhile, still check it out as much as possible. "The more research you do upfront, the less likely you'll fall victim to telecommuting scams," Sutton Fell notes. Good tips for researching a company include:
* Looking at its website.
* Searching for the company name and the words "complaint" or "scam" to see if others have voiced concern.
* Checking with the Better Business Bureau to see if the company is rated.
And if your gut's in doubt, throw the "opportunity" out!