What to Do If You're the Victim of a Work-At-Home Scam

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••• Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

If you believe you've been a victim of a work-at-home scam, then you'll want take some steps right away to report it, try to get your money back, and learn what to do to protect yourself in the future.

Before you accuse a company or person of scamming you, make sure you really were scammed, and not just the victim of bad service or a misunderstanding. 

For instance, a direct sales company may have several complaints about sending products to reps without them having been ordered. However, if the complainants had read the contract, they'd know the company had an autoship program. That’s not necessarily considered a scam.

Getting Your Money Back

If you were scammed out of money, then getting it back can be difficult. However, there are a few things you can do to try and get it back.

Gather proof.

Collect all of your contracts, payment receipts, bank statements, emails, and any other proof of contact or exchange you had with the company. These documents should have contact information, refund policies, and other information you need to seek recourse. You're less likely to get help or a refund if you don't have this information.

Contact the company to request a refund.

If you want your money back, the best way to make that happen is through the company that scammed you. Reporting the business to the authorities might result in an investigation, but law enforcement and consumer protection agencies won’t necessarily help you get your money back.

If an email and phone call to the company in question doesn't work then send a certified letter with a return receipt so you have proof that your letter was received on the other end. If the company fails to respond to your requests, then you can try the next step.

Report the issue to your bank or credit card company.

If you used a credit or debit card then you can always dispute the charges. Many financial institutions will refund your money if they determine you were the victim of fraud. Each institution has its own rules about what it considers fraud, so be sure to check with yours to find out.

If you’re concerned you’ll continue to get billed on a recurring basis by the scammer company, then your best option might be to close the account.

Reporting the Scam

Even if you don't get your money back, you can still take action against the scammer that may lead to stopping them. There are several places you can report to.

State Attorney General’s Office or the Secretary of State

Contact the State Attorney General’s Office or the Secretary of State in the state the company is located in to report the fraud. Even if you live in a different state, contact the state that the company is doing business in. You can do a Google search with the state’s name and “Attorney General’s Office.” For example, “New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.”

The FBI IC3 investigates complaints of internet crimes, and requires accurate and complete details to do so. After they analyze the complaint, they'll work with federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies with jurisdiction to take action.

The FTC won’t be able to resolve your specific dispute, but if there are others who are filing the same complaint, it can investigate the prosecute the scammers.

This site is a project of the National Consumers League (NCL), a nonprofit advocacy organization that aims to protect consumers. It can’t get your money back on your behalf, but it will forward the complaint to the proper authorities, including the FTC.

A company doesn't need to be listed at the BBB for you to leave a complaint. Just file a complaint in the location where the company does business. The BBB may also contact the company on your behalf and attempt to solve your complaint. People who search the BBB for information can see the complaint, so it may help protect other consumers.

If the scam used the U.S. Postal Service, you can contact your local postmaster or go online to report the scam. This includes scams such as envelope stuffing, fake sweepstakes, mail theft, fraudulent checks, and more.

Local Police

Depending on the scam, the local police may not be able to help, but often the news of the scam gets reported so that others can avoid getting duped. In some localities the police will notify news outlets to warn others of the scam.

Avoiding Future Scams

The best way to deal with scams is to not be a victim of one. If you don’t want to be scammed, investigate and read all the details of the job or business before signing up. Here are a few tips for avoiding work-at-home scams:

  • Learn what tricks scammers use to dupe you, such as hype, pressure, fear of missing out, or telling you that you were specially chosen.
  • Familiarize yourself with common scams, such as fake checks (avoid this by never helping a company do business through your personal bank account), envelope stuffing, assembly work, email processing, gifting programs, pyramid schemes with companies that don't have a product or service, etc.
  • Research the company with a basic Google search to see what others are saying.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau. Note that not all business are with the BBB, and if a business isn't listed with the BBB that doesn't mean it's a scam. The BBB is just one resource you can check.
  • Never pay to get hired to a job. Legitimate employers don't charge to hire you (some do charge for a background check, though).