After last year's "great resignation," many people who don't want to return to the office are looking for part-time work. But, scammers are now lurking everywhere, targeting all those people hoping to find a side hustle.
Whether it's driving people around, delivering food, renting out a room, or taking care of someone's pet, there's probably a part-time hustle that's perfect for you. But, some are too perfect and turn out to be costly scams.
Julie Bright had just posted her resume online when she got an email inviting her to be a secret shopper evaluating stores.
"I believed it," she said.
"I opened up this card in the mail," she said, "and I remember seeing this cashier's check to Julie Bright, and it had instructions to be a wholesale secret shopper."
The company sent her a check for more than $1,000, to buy gift cards and check out gift card sales at popular stores.
"It tells me to go to Walgreens or CVS," she explained, "but said don't let the cashier know what I am doing, as far as the survey, or who I am."
Warning signs of a side hustle scam
By now, you've hopefully spotted some of the red flags here:
- Receiving an unexpected check in the mail upfront.
- Instructed to purchase gift cards with that money.
- Told to send some money, or give the gift card numbers, to your new "employer."
- Reminded that you should not tell anyone what you are doing.
Bright was about to fall for one of many side hustle scams now targeting workers, according to Sherrod DeGrippo of Proofpoint Internet Security.
"They'll typically send you a check," she said, "and say they are going to send your first payment of perhaps $5,000."
DeGrippo says to be suspicious of any job that sends you a check before you start work.
"That check is fraudulent, but because of the way the banking system works, our victim won't know the check won't be fully cashed until they sent that money back," she said. At point, you have sent your own money out of your checking account to the scammer.
DeGrippo says bogus side hustles include:
- Secret shopper work
- Personal assistant positions
- Placing ads on your car to advertise a beverage or other product
- Modeling, with no audition required
She says they often target cash-poor college students, who just want to earn some part-time money for food or clothing. In some cases, the scammers use the name of legitimate technology companies, but the "hiring agent" has a Gmail address, which should be another red flag.
Julie Bright is lucky — before she started buying gift cards, the check she received bounced (in most cases, it bounces after you start the job). She still faces a small bounced check fee, but says that is nothing compared to the hundreds of dollars she could have lost doing the bogus mystery shopper work.
"Lesson learned, I will never do that again," she said.
So be suspicious, and remember that legitimate companies don't pay you before you start work. That way you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
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