"It's not that people are stupid. Most Americans are kindhearted, honest people who don't want to believe the other guy is not."
Tory Johnson, founder and CEO of Women for Hire in New York City, fields phone calls daily from people asking whether or not work-at-home offers are legitimate.
"And most times when someone asks me about an opportunity, it's a fraud," she says.
Johnson sees the current economy as another tool scammers use to prey on innocent people looking to make extra cash.
"More than ever, people are looking for any and all ways to bring in money," she says. "Because of that, you're often more willing to suspend your skeptical side. Desperation sometimes leads to hope."
Legal, but not lucrative
One of the more popular scams claims to pay workers a hefty amount of cash to type at home. A typical claim says home-based workers can make $250 a day (sometimes more) working just 30 minutes typing at home. The "companies" promoting this proposition usually ask "workers" to purchase specialized software from the company for orders that never materialize.
Other fraudsters seek workers to help convince search engines that the company's site is highly rated by customers. Hired workers fool the search engines by placing a series of ads and remarks on hundreds of blogs, chat boards and other interactive opportunities.
While the job is legal, it's typically far from lucrative, according to Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at the University of Alabama. Warner works with the FBI and Homeland Security on cases of network intrusion, phishing and spam.
"There are a handful of people who are very good at this, very fast and have long-lasting relationships with people that pay for that kind advertising," Warner says. "They might make $100 a week."
Unfortunately, many of the companies seeking paid workers deal in pornography, and they disappear before mailing that first paycheck, Warner says.
Reshipping scams are another work-at-home "opportunity" that delivers nothing more than a headache.
In a typical scheme, a "company" may say it needs electronics packaged a particular way for international shipments. It sends the goods to a worker's home, along with packing supplies and preprinted mailing labels. The worker is instructed to take the product from the original packaging, repack according to instructions and run to the post office.