Work-at-home scams often prey on the most vulnerable Americans, but even when they're punished for taking advantage of the unemployed, elderly and others, their victims may never fully recover.
Since the unemployment rate has seen an unwelcome boost in recent years, the Federal Trade Commission has stepped its enforcement efforts against firms that advertise the opportunity for Americans to get rich quick working from home, only to ask potential customers to pay up front for materials that allegedly don't result in a successful business.
But by the time the FTC prosecutes the businesses and the cases run their way through the court system, the firms have often already spent or hidden the money, The Washington Post reports.
The result? In a recent FTC settlement with a Texas-based company, the victims of an alleged scam only received an average payment of $9.70, WaPo reports.
With more Americans out-of-work, the economic downturn has given work-at-home scammers a boost. The number of complaints about work-at-home scams filed to the FTC grew to nearly 8,000 in 2009 from slightly more than 4,000 in 2006, according to USA Today. The firms often take advantage of vulnerable Americans by offering them the opportunity to make money by stuffing envelopes, doing online searches or assembly or craft work, according to the FTC.
In addition to the unemployed, financial scammers are also increasingly preying on the elderly, a separate USA Today report found. The share of seniors' financial abuse complaints that were taken up by scams grew from 9 percent to 28 percent of all claims between 2008 and 2010, according to a MetLife financial survey cited by the paper.
The FTC announced new regulations aimed at helping consumers avoid work-at-home scams. The new rule, which takes effect March 1, requires businesses advertising work-at-home opportunities to make certain disclosures, including backing up any claims of future earnings, in a one page document, according the Commercial Appeal.
Dangerous scams of all varieties have popped up since the financial crisis, including mortgage relief scams and employment-related ID fraud. Others have included fake lottery sweepstakes or asking potential employees to pay fees in order to be considered for a job, according to The New York Times.