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Unemployed? Beware the Work-From-Home Scam

This week's feature follows one kind of internet scam: 419 fraud, usually originating in Africa or Asia, and the people fighting the scammers at 419Eater.com. But one of the fastest growing scams in tough economic times is the "work from home" fake employment scam, and many of these can be traced to scammers in the U.S.

New Times' classified ad department receives hundreds of employment scam ad insertion orders every year. Most of the ads claim you can work a few hours a week and earn as much as $2,000. Take this ad, which landed in our in-boxes this week. It's identical to ads placed on monster.com, usjobscatalogue.com, hotjobs.yahoo.com, and newspapers like the Fort Meade Ledger:

TRICARE FABRICS are in need of employee in these category. PAYROLL/PAY RECEIVER. Our salary is attractive plus benefits and takes only little of your time. Requirements -Should be a computer literate, NO age discrimination, must be efficient and dedicated. For more info, Contact or Recruit Dept at [email protected]

"We get tons of these," says Classified Ad Director Don Farrell at Miami New Times. "We can usually tell they're scams if they include no contact info, like a phone number. We also get bulletins from the Alternative Association of Newsweeklies about scams to watch out for, or we'll Google the ad, or there will be chatter about it that will tip us off. We're pretty good about culling them out, but a few will slip through occasionally -- and we've had times where the ad has been paid with a stolen credit card. We don't find out about it until 30 or 45 days later, when the payment gets charged back."

The employment ad above fits into a larger category of check scams. The fake company "hires" you and starts sending you stolen or counterfeit checks made out for thousands of dollars. You're instructed to deposit the checks in your personal bank account, keep a percentage for yourself, then wire the remaining money via Western Union or Moneygram to a third party. The third party may or may not be the scammer -- he or she could be a "mule" who has innocently applied for another fake work-from-home job and is now unknowingly laundering stolen money.

Your bank learns the checks are forged three or four weeks later and guess what? They charge you for the full amount of the check, which may be thousands of dollars. And the police are likely to haul you in on charges of fraud.

This scenario played out this past July when a 69-year-old Hunterdon, New Jersey woman fell for the TriCareFabrics employment scam and deposited a forged check for $2800 from TriCare into her personal bank account. According to police records, she then wired $2,413 of the money to Linda Stafford in Debray Florida. Cameras in the Western Union office caught the woman who picked up the cash in Florida on film, but the case still hasn't been resolved.

Related scams include: mystery shopper, paid surveys, check printing scams, overseas employment opportunities that require fees for housing or paperwork, and dozens of other creative money-laundering opportunities. If, like so many laid-off workers, you're looking for full or part time income, be very wary of employment opportunities that pay on commission or require any in-advance processing fees.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

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