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An ad for a work-at-home scheme posted on a pole

A work-at-home scheme is a get-rich-quick scam in which a victim is lured by an offer to be employed at home, very often doing some simple task in a minimal amount of time with a large amount of income that far exceeds the market rate for the type of work. The true purpose of such an offer is for the perpetrator to extort money from the victim, either by charging a fee to join the scheme, or requiring the victim to invest in products whose resale value is misrepresented.[1]


Remote work schemes have been recorded since the early 20th century; the earliest studied "envelope stuffing" scam originated in the United States during the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s.[2] In this scam, the worker is offered entry to a scheme where they can earn $2 for every envelope they fill. After paying a small $2 fee to join the scheme, the victim is sent a flyer template for the self-same work-from-home scheme, and instructed to post these advertisements around their local area – the victim is simply "stuffing envelopes" with flyer templates that perpetuate the scheme.[2] Originally found as printed adverts in newspapers and magazines, variants of this scam have expanded into more modern media, such as television and radio adverts, and forum posts on the Internet.

In some countries, law enforcement agencies work to fight work-at-home schemes. In 2006, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established Project False Hopes, a federal and state law enforcement sweep that targets bogus business opportunities and work-at-home scams. The crackdown involved more than 100 law enforcement actions by the FTC, the Department of Justice, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and law enforcement agencies in eleven states.[1]

Home-based business and remote work are a legitimate avenue for employment, but anyone seeking such an employment opportunity can be scammed by accepting home employment offers from individuals or unknown companies. A 2007 report in the United States suggested that about 97% of work-at-home offers were scams.[3] Many legitimate jobs at home require some form of post-high-school education, such as a college degree or certificate, or trade school, and some experience in the field in an office or other supervised setting. Additionally, many legitimate at-home jobs are not like those in schemes are portrayed to be, as they are often performed at least some of the time in the company's office, require more self discipline than a traditional job, and have a higher risk of firing.[citation needed]

Common types of work found in work-at-home schemes include:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, work-at-home schemes, as well as victims affected by such schemes, were extremely common.[6] Around 12% of German workers did so at least occasionally in 2018, compared to over 30% in the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Denmark and below 5% in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania. Evidence shows 26% of German workers did all of their work from home in April 2020, while 35% did some work from home and some onsite.[7]

Some advertisements offer legitimate forms of work that really do exist, but exaggerate the salary and understate the effort that will have to be put into the job, or exaggerate the amount of work that will be available. Many such ads do not even specify the type of work that will be performed. Some similar schemes do not advertise work that would be performed at home, but may instead offer occasional, sporadic work away from home for large payments, paired with a lot of free time. Some common offers fitting this description are acting as extras, mystery shopping (which in reality requires hard work, is paid close to minimum wage, and most importantly, does not require an up-front fee to join) and working as a nanny.[8][9][10]


The consequences of falling for a work-at-home scheme may be as follows:[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b Federal Trade Commission (12 December 2006). "Federal, State Law Enforcers Complete Bogus Business Opportunity Sweep". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-01-02.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Top 10 Work At Home and Home Based Business Scams". 12 February 2004. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Working From Home: Don't Get Scammed". ABC: Good Morning America. 2007-04-03. Archived from the original on 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  4. ^ "What's a money mule scam?". Federal Trade Commission. March 4, 2020. Archived from the original on May 26, 2020. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  5. ^ "Reshipping Scam". TransUnion. Archived from the original on September 19, 2020. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  6. ^ "FTC warns of work-from-home scams amid COVID-19 pandemic". FOX 29 Philadelphia. May 8, 2020. Archived from the original on November 27, 2020.
  7. ^ Arntz, Melanie; Ben Yahmed, Sarra; Berlingieri, Francesco (November 2020). "Working from Home and COVID-19: The Chances and Risks for Gender Gaps". Intereconomics. 55 (6): 381–386. doi:10.1007/s10272-020-0938-5. ISSN 0020-5346. PMC 7704591. PMID 33281218.
  8. ^ "Police issue warning over horror film extras scam". The Guardian. July 11, 2012. Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved Feb 15, 2015.
  9. ^ "Mystery Shopping in Australia". Finance Informer. Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved Feb 15, 2015.
  10. ^ "Nanny Scams". Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved Feb 15, 2015.
  11. ^ "Work-at-Home Schemes". 2011-02-24. Archived from the original on 2019-01-25. Retrieved 2016-02-04.