UM Students Warned to be Cautious of Work-at-Home Scams

February 27, 2014

MISSOULA – Last week, multiple University of Montana students received a scam email claiming they had been selected to perform a mystery shopping assignment in return for payment. UM and the Better Business Bureau warn students to be wary of such offers.

This scam asked students to receive a FedEx package with a check for $1,890, deposit the check into their personal bank account and then “mystery shop” the post office by purchasing money orders with funds from the fake check they received. The scammers would have asked for the money orders from the student before the fake check bounced, leaving the student liable for the bad check.

According to the Better Business Bureau, students often are targeted for work-at-home scams because they have busy schedules. The BBB offers the following tips to avoid this and other scams:

  • Do thorough research. Get as much information about the job listing and the business as possible. Investigate the business at http://www.bbb.org to make sure it is accredited and in good standing. Ask the employer for references from current employees to ask them about their experiences. If the business will not provide references, walk away from the job. Search online for the business name and the word “scam” to see if anything comes up.
  • Avoid “get-rich-quick” offers. Be cautious of jobs that provide a large salary with little work. Do not take offers that claim you will become rich quickly. Avoid jobs that disregard the fact that you have no prior experience in that field.
  • Keep your money. Be on the lookout for offers that require you to spend upfront fees to work for a business. Real employers do not charge you. Avoid offers that require you to pay a fee for startup kits. Be cautious with your personal bank account information and never let a business use your personal account to do a job.
  • Do not deposit checks from strangers. Be wary of a check you receive from an unknown source, because fake checks can look legitimate. If you are asked to deposit a check then wire a balance or get a prepaid debit card with the funds, this is a red flag of a potential scam. A legitimate job would not provide you with payment then ask you to send the money back.
  • Ask questions. Ask the employer exactly what task you will be responsible for and what you will be doing. Ask the company how you will be paid, how often you will be paid, when you will receive your first check, and how much the check will be for.
  • Check legal requirements. Work involving medical billing often requires a specific license. Check with your state’s attorney general. Some work is restricted and can’t be done from home.

One UM student who was targeted by the recent scam asked the company questions about its legitimacy. When she informed the scammers she would not participate they threatened to turn her in to the police. Students are not breaking any laws by asking a potential employer questions about their company and the job.

If you have been targeted by a work-at-home scam, report it to local police at the UM Office of Public Safety by calling 406-243-6131 or the Missoula Police Department by calling 406-552-6300, and report it to the Better Business Bureau by calling 509-455-4200.

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Contact: Peggy Kuhr, UM vice president of integrated communicatio, 406-243-2311, peggy.kuhr@umontana.edu.