Consumer Alert: Beware of work-at-home scams

More Americans are working from home, but sorting through the listings and finding a legitimate business opportunity can sometimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.

That’s why it’s important to beware of schemes that promise big bucks for very little work.

In one recent case, a California company was shut down and ordered to pay $25 million to those who fell for the scheme.

Federal officials say 110,000 people around the country fell for this work-at-home scheme, and 99.8 percent of them failed to earn even a cent.

So how do you weed out the legit from the fake?

“What they’re asked to do is, ‘Here’s a list. There are businesses out there that have products that they can’t move and it’s guaranteed that you can move them and they’ll give you a big cut on those items,'” said Tim Caminos, Hawaii Better Business Bureau.

That cut was advertised at $4,000 or more a month, but the promise wasn’t fulfilled.

In order to get the list, you needed to pay $148 and in some cases more.

“The downside of this particular scam or bad business practice is that the consumer would receive the list and then they’ll be bombarded with other advertisements to purchase more items,” Caminos said. “They’ll say things like, ‘If you’re really serious about this, you’ll need to get this as well.'”

That sparked an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 and, just two weeks ago, a federal judge in California finalized a court order that stopped Zaken Corporation from advertising or selling work-at-home business opportunities.

“These types of scams come in many different forms and it is a very large problem,” Caminos said. “We get hundreds and hundreds of complaints or inquiries about work-at-home opportunities every year.”

The Hawaii Better Business Bureau says beware of companies that promise you huge profits for little work. Also, watch out for companies that require you to pay a fee upfront.

If you’re still unsure, contact the Better Business Bureau at (808) 536-6956 or toll-free from the neighbor islands at (877) 222-6551. They can help guide you in the right direction.

“In Hawaii, work at home scams that are reported to us makes our top 10 list every year,” Caminos said.

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