Many people would like to work at home, some because of preference, some because of a disability, child care issues, or desire to avoid the ever-longer commutes.

Of course, some employers will let self-motivated employees work from home, at least part of the week. But what if you don’t have such an employer. You may be inclined to consider work-at-home “opportunities.”

To try to separate the wheat from the chaff, I turn to Michael Haaren. A long-time activist for work-at-homers, he presented to the United Nations on virtual work, provides work-at-home career training to the U.S .State Dept and Armed Forces, co-wrote the a nationally syndicated column Rat Race Rebellion, run ratracerebellion.com, and is co-author of the Amazon-top-rated book on the subject: Work at Home Now. I talked with him today.

Marty Nemko: Which work-at-home “opportunities” are most likely to be scams? 

Michael Haaren: Most data entry, rebate processor, and envelope stuffing jobs are bad if not out-and-out frauds. Merchandise reshipping -- receiving merchandise and reshipping it abroad -- is not only usually a scam but often illegal, as the merchandise has been bought with stolen credit cards.

MN: What are some warning signs of a work-at-home scam? 

MH: Unsolicited e-mailed job offers, vague descriptions of the position, no bios of the management team, promises of high income for little effort, no experience required, and pictures of  the "three Bs" -- bikinis, bling, and Benjamins ($100 bills.) Also watch out for phony testimonials, aka testiphonials, featuring "happy employees" or customers with common names. 

MN: In addition to never paying a fee for a job, what are a few other important ways to avoid getting scammed?

MH: Google the owner of the website and its management team. Also Google the name of the site and add terms such as "scam" and "ripoff.” Check the Better Business Bureau website for complaints and ratings. Visit forums where work-at-home job seekers and workers gather, such as WAHM.com and WorkPlaceLikeHome.com. Scams as well as legitimate jobs and employer reviews often crop up in forum discussions.      

MN: What sorts of work-at-home opportunities are more likely to be legitimate?

MH  Customer service, medical and non-medical transcription, and, of course, tech jobs such as programming and web design; attorneys; medical-field positions such as nurses, radiologist and pharmacist.

MN: Do mainly shaky companies that hire work-at-homers?

MH: Not necessarily. For example, Amazon, Apple, and American Express hire at-home customer service reps. The Educational Testing Service hires people to score essays and evaluate the essay portions of tests for non-native speakers of English. Xerox has a virtual workforce program, with 50 to 75 jobs usually open, including in project management.

MN: How about inbound sales like 1-800 Flowers or airline reservationist?

MH: Inbound positions with a sales component are growing strongly. Floral companies will often hire seasonally, and American Airlines and JetBlue hire home-based reservationists. U-Haul and Enterprise Rent-A-Car also often hire home-based inbound sales-and-reservation agents. 

MN: How viable is medical and non-medical transcription?

MH: Many medical transcription jobs go begging; there just aren't enough MTs  to fill them. Signing bonuses of $500 or more are not uncommon. Companies such as Ubiqus and SpeakWrite often hire home-based non-medical transcriptionists.  

MN: Virtual assisting has been around for decades now. Is it more or less viable today? And what's the best way to get a good VA job?

MH: Virtual Assistance is viable and growing. Venture capital-backed Zirtual, for example, recently announced plans to hire 300 VAs in the coming year. The International Virtual Assistance Association also continues to grow.  

MN: Many people would like to tutor from home. What's the best way to get good tutoring kids?

MH: Sites such as VarsityTutors.com offer legitimate tutoring opportunities. Some may be virtual, others at  a local student's home. There even are some teaching jobs, for example, ConnectionsEducation.com. 

MN: What are a few websites that are more likely to contain legitimate work-from home opportunities?

MH:  Of course, the websites of reputable companies such as those I’ve mentioned, plus major sites that aggregate job listings from reputable sources: Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, and LinkUp.com. But scams can squeak through, so job seekers should always do due diligence. 

MN: Many people would like to work for their existing employer but at home at least part of the time. Any advice on how to convince your employer to say yes?

MH: The key is to show your boss or employer how telework will be more efficient. Also, if one of your organization’s competitors allows telework, mention that. 

MN: What not-obvious advice do you have on how to be a successful tele-employee?

MH: Keep in touch with your boss and colleagues. Everyone's going to assume you're watching TV and eating bon bons. Don't let them draw negative conclusions by "going dark."  

MN: Any other under-the-radar tips?

MH: There's a lot of competition for good work-at-home jobs. Strengthen your resume constantly. Apply to employers even when they aren't advertising jobs. Network like crazy and don't give up! 

MN: It’s sad that even for these not-dream jobs, competition is so great.

MH:  For some people, these are dream jobs—They’re relieved to not have a two-hour commute, to spend more time with their kids or caring for elders, or even just get to work in their slippers.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia

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