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Nothing Like Home, Sweet ... Job?
If you think the economy has driven a lot of people to work from home, then you're right.
Folks who have been laid off, or are looking to save money by telecommuting, have increasingly set up shop in their own living room.
"It's the solution to the problem du jour. And the problem du jour is money," said Kate Lister, a San Diego-based co-author of Undress for Success, a book on working from home.
Call centers, tech support, and medical and legal transcription are among the more popular work-from-home jobs that Lister has seen lately. Freelance-job sites have also seen their memberships mushroom as people look for supplemental or replacement income, explained Lister, who has run several businesses from home over the past 20 years.
A survey last year by WorldatWork, a human-resources association, found that the number of Americans who worked from home or telecommuted at least once a month increased from approximately 12.4 million in 2006 to 17.2 million in 2008, a 39 percent rise.
The company attributed the change to the proliferation of high-speed and wireless Internet access, rising fuel and commuting costs, and the trend of employers accepting work-life balance ideas.
Working from home also can be handy in emergencies.
During the mid-February blizzard that walloped Washington, D.C., and much of the Northeast, about a third of the U.S. General Services Administration employees logged in to work remotely, a government official told The New York Times.
Then there's Inc. magazine, which announced in February that the entire staff would spend a month working from home. As Inc. put it in a blog about the move, "The idea: if virtual companies are so good, why not give it a try ourselves?"
Making the transition to working at home can be challenging at first, said Lister, including knowing when to stop for the day, as well as the juggling associated with children around the house.
One woman she interviewed for her book worked at a table in the middle of the house, and put on a tiara as a signal to her kids that mommy was busy and could not be disturbed.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in January that provided a more detailed look at the demographics of people who worked from home. Its data is from 2005, which covered the most recent statistics available.
The bureau found that home-based workers made up 8 percent of the total workforce. About a third of that workforce were in professional and related services. Other popular sectors included business and repair services, finance, insurance and real estate.
Nearly half of the home workers had college degrees, earned $75,000 a year or more, or were 44 or younger, according to the census bureau.
But just as sure as there is big interest in working from home, there is also interest in scamming people who want to earn money that way.
State Attorney General Tom Corbett, the Better Business Bureau and other consumer advocates have warned people to watch for schemes that try to lure them in with the promise of easy money.
In February, Corbett said that the attorney general's Bureau of Consumer Protection received 52,481 complaints last year -- an all-time high. "With many Pennsylvania families struggling economically, it is clear that con artists are targeting our communities," Corbett said in a prepared statement.
Several popular work-from-home scams that experts have identified include:
· Mystery shopper. People recruited to review customer service at stores are asked to deposit a check, buy products and wire back part of the check to test how money-wiring services perform. But the original check is bogus, and the companies are often based in a foreign country. Other scammers will ask for payment up front as part of their recruitment for shoppers.
· Rebate processing. Victims are often asked to pay an up-front fee for a trial program to process rebates at home, supposedly on behalf of well-known national companies. One variation involves processing checks by depositing them in the consumer's personal account, then wire-transferring them to another account, with the consumer being "allowed" to keep a percentage of the checks.
· Package delivery. People are asked to receive packages and ship them out of the country, ostensibly to help a company deal with favorable shipping rates or customs rules. But these scams could involve money-laundering or shipping goods bought with stolen credit cards.