For three years I've reported on work-from-home opportunities. My new book, "Fired to Hired," has extensive information devoted to this topic, as does a comprehensive section on my Women For Hire Web site.
Given my dedication to this subject, not a day goes by that I don't receive an e-mail asking about the legitimacy of an ad that touts a way to make money without leaving home.
More times than not, the ad or e-mail I'm shown is a scam. And even though the person asking for advice knows it's probably too good to be true, too often a sense of helplessness leads to hope. They're so eager to find a way to make some money from home, that they're hoping – praying -- the opportunity is legit.
Don't let your guard down. Before buying into an opportunity, review these tips on how to spot, and avoid, a rip-off.
1) Don't assume the ad is legit just because it's on a reputable Web site.
Web sites -- even legitimate news sites, big job boards, your favorite blogs and more -- don't endorse the ads that appear on their sites, nor, more importantly, do they review those ads before they appear online. Look for the fine print that says "sponsored link" or "advertisement." Just because you trust the Web site, doesn't mean you can trust the ads that appear on it.
2) Don't trust the use of logos from news organizations.
Work from home ads often feature logos from trusted news organizations such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and more. Anyone can find those logos on the Web and slap them onto any Web site. Don't assume the offer is legit just because those logos appear. It's likely that the logos are being used without permission.
3) Don't buy into "act now for fast, easy money."
There's no such thing as "fast, easy money" or I'd be doing it every day. Every legitimate opportunity I know requires hard work for reasonable compensation. If you sense any tinge of "get rich quick," don't bite.
4) Don't be tricked by huge hourly, weekly or monthly wages.
Ads that boast an outrageous wage -- such as the ability to earn $38 an hour, up to $2,000 a week, or thousands per month -- are usually not valid. Those figures are designed to lure desperate people who've only dreamed of raking in such big bucks. Any genuine way to make that kind of money would be much more discreet in its offering and it would not be plastered all over the Web.
5) Don't accept "no skill required."
Is there really any job in America that doesn't require some kind of skill? Of course not, so steer clear of ads that brag about not needing any kind of skill to get started.
6) Don't get suckered by "check availability."
Many sites tell you to provide your mailing address and e-mail address to check to see if a slot is available. That's designed to make you think it's oh-so-selective with very limited opportunities. Yet you'll find that no matter what you enter, a slot is always available. It's hardly your lucky day. Furthermore, a real opportunity doesn't put a number on the number of positions left.
7) Don't ignore the fine print on what you'll be charged.
Lots of ads tell you it's "only" a teeny weeny investment—something like $1 or $3 -- to get started. So you figure, why not give it a shot. That's how they hook you to fork over your credit card information. They get you to overlook the small print that says you're also agreeing to monthly fees of $60 for this and $40 for that. Good luck getting a refund or trying to stop the madness. Many people wind up having to cancel or close their bank accounts -- and they're still on the hook for such fees.
8) Don't get dreamy at the sight of palm trees, beaches, oceans and fast cars.
Many ads feature unauthorized logos such as Google or other big brands, or they include images of a luxurious lifestyle. The swaying palm trees, sandy beaches, gorgeous oceans and fast cars could all be yours if you just take a chance on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not!
9) Don't be fooled by "live agents" who encourage you to "act now."
On some sites when you try to click away, you get a pop up screen that says, "Wait, wait, our live agent wants to talk to you." Then there's an instant message screen with the appearance of a live agent who encourages you to act now -- or miss out on the phenomenal offer. (No legitimate offer will put a timetable of mere minutes on your deadline to make a decision.) It's designed to get you to think there's a real person chatting with you. When I get this box, I type in a question like "What's the weather?" and I get "This is a can't-miss offer" or some other generic reply. I don't expect a Sam Champion-style forecast, but a live person wouldn't answer with a generic reply. Try typing in a series of odd questions, and you'll discover there's no live agent -- it's an automated system designed to trick you.
10) Don't ignore your intuition.
Most times you know the opportunity is fishy. You know something isn't quite right. Yet you're hoping you might, just might, be able to make a bit of money. You think you may be the lucky one who figures it out. It's as if you're forcing yourself to suspend your good judgment. Don't do it. If you see a red flag or smell a rat, drop it and move on.
Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire., the author of "Fired to Hired" and "Will Work From Home", and the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America". Talk to her about working from home at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.