Work-from-home scams

Far from dying out, work-from-home scams are more dangerous than ever.
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01 .Introduction


Work-from-home offers that show up on telephone poles, in your inbox or as Google or Facebook ads can be tempting, especially if money and time are tight. 

In this article we explain:

For more information about Legal, see Shopping and legal.

An operation calling itself Mercury Industries, for instance, promises: “No cold calling, no selling to family and friends, no door-to-door sales! Just sales support for our growing company.” And while it’s true there is no cold calling, the offer is to take part in a money-laundering scheme that could see you do jail time.

Money laundering schemes are just one type of employment scam that has recently become popular with fraudsters in Australia. 

Western Australia’s consumer protection service, WA ScamNet, receives about 150 reports and enquiries regarding employment-related scams every month.

And scammers have plenty of incentive to keep on scamming. According to an Australian Institute of Criminology online survey, in 2009 work-from-home scams duped more Australians than any other type. More than 30% of people who fell for a scam, it found, fell for this type of scam.

Risks and consequences

According to the survey, 14% of work-from-home scam victims lost personal information, such as their bank account details, as well as money, making themselves vulnerable to identity theft.

Money laundering scams are the most dangerous. As Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor has warned, “Members of the public are being turned into money mules and are exposed to criminal charges themselves”.

In 2007, Adam (not his real name) was prosecuted for transferring about $3 million to China and Hong Kong in more than 300 transactions, each of them less than $10,000 to avoid detection. 

He thought the funds were heading overseas to evade Australian tax. In fact, they were proceeds of a crime his “employer” had committed. He was sentenced to five-and-a-half years prison.


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  1. Mystery shopper job Mystery Shopping Inc has been luring Australians through newspaper ads promising $300 per completed “assignment”. Applicants are asked to email their details to an overseas email address and receive traveller’s cheques. Their first assignment is to note security and customer service details while cashing them. Afterwards, they can deduct their fee before transferring the leftover money back to Mystery Shopping by untraceable wire transfer. These cheques are forged, and you commit a crime when you cash them. You can also be held responsible for repaying the money to the business who cashed the cheque.
  2. Online payment processing job An email job offer arrives from a company claiming to have found your resume on the Seek website. They offer you a position processing payments; only a little computer knowledge is required, and you’ll be paid daily with a minimum income of $4000 per month. Typically, you get another email saying there was a mistake and they had accidentally sent four times the amount of your paycheck. You’re told to wire the rest of the money to someone else when you receive the cheque. The money you receive may have been stolen from other people’s bank accounts.
  3. RAC job offer You receive an email directly addressed to you, offering a job with the reputable WA company RAC Finance and promising $3900 a month for only one or two hours work a day, four to five days a week. You’re asked for your bank account details to receive payments that you‘re instructed to transfer to an account in Europe. With some of these scams, the initial money transferred to you is recalled once you’ve transferred it overseas.
  4. Envelope stuffing/email processing scam In the old envelope-stuffing scam it was promised you would be sent up to 1000 stamped and addressed envelopes a week and that you would earn $1-$2 for every envelope stuffed. Once you pay the required fee, however, all you receive are flyer templates. You’re told to put up the flyers on noticeboards asking people to send you $2 in a pre-addressed, prepaid envelope, you’ll then send them a flyer. In a modern take on this, Project 21 placed online ads “Work from home processing emails. Earn up to $5000 pm p/t”. The catch is you’re charged $90 each for 12 manuals. The manual says to place ads like the one you responded to and sell copies of the manuals. The kit includes samples of the ads to adapt. If you follow this advice you’re advertising a job that doesn’t exist and breaking the law.
  5. Affiliate marketing (upfront-payment) scam Schemes such as GoogleCash claim to enable you to create a “click-through” portal that will supposedly generate a revenue stream for the buyer/job seeker. One unhappy customer reported to WA ScamNet that, after she paid for the starter kit, money was taken from her bank account another four times without her knowledge, and no kit arrived.

The main warning sign of any scam is the claim that you can make a lot of money with little effort and no qualifications. You should:

  • Never disclose personal details such as your credit card or account number to anyone, especially if they contact you by email or phone.
  • Ask for the offer in writing and get advice before signing a contract. Check contact details such as phone numbers with an independent directory.
  • Beware of job offers requiring you to pay an upfront fee.
  • Be especially wary of offers from overseas companies.
  • Check with your local fair trading office for information to help you decide whether the offer is legitimate.
  • Do a simple online search. Other people may have commented on the offer in web forums.


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