Work-at-home scams surge during COVID-19 pandemic

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Florida’s attorney general warns that college students are prime targets

The economic shutdown from the coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused massive unemployment, with millions of Americans suddenly looking for ways to earn income.

Some have taken up day-trading stocks, a highly risky enterprise. Perhaps more risky is paying good money for a supposed work-from-home business. And with so many people looking for income opportunities, scammers offering these bogus enterprises are out in full force.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says college students are especially vulnerable to these pitches. She says scammers appear to be targeting young people who are stuck at home anyway.

Moody has gotten reports of students receiving emails that appear to come from a college or university looking for people to work from home. While posing as a representative from the university, the scammer collects highly sensitive personal information from the victim.

Upfront fees

Other forms of the scam require the victim to pay a fee to get started in the job -- a dead giveaway that the “job” is actually a scam. Victims may be told to wire money or to cash a counterfeit check.

The counterfeit check part of the scam works like this: the victim receives a large check and is told to cash it, keep part of the money as payment, then send the rest back to the scammer.

The bank will likely accept the check at first. But after a couple of days, it will realize it’s fake and then retrieve the money the victim has withdrawn -- from their own account, it turns out -- to send the scammer.

Serious repercussions

Moody says the pandemic has created a perfect situation for scammers, and consumers -- especially young people -- need to be on guard.

“During the COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic downturn, Floridians are looking for work, and it is unconscionable that scammers are exploiting these times of uncertainty to prey on our college students,” she said. “Students who fall victim to this scam could face serious repercussions to their financial stability and credit record.”

Moody says these scams are particularly dangerous right now because nearly all jobs involve working from home. She says students need to take extra precautions when receiving online job offers. Her advice? Research the company before accepting any job offer. Does the company have a professional website and legitimate contact information? Search for what others are saying about experiences with the company.

Also, never send money in the form of cash, checks, gift cards, or wire transfers to secure a job. A real employer isn’t going to require that.

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