Side hustles have become a popular way to make extra money, build a small business, or transition into a freelance career. But not all part-time side gigs are what they seem. Just like with traditional employment scams, con artists use fake opportunities to lure unsuspecting victims into a trap.

Their objective? It may be identity theft, a fake check scam, or a shipping scheme. Whatever their ploy, scammers hope to get their hands on your money, personal information, or both. Here’s how to protect yourself.

How to avoid side hustle scams

  • Screen potential clients. If you are approached by an individual instead of a company to do freelance work, like photography or pet-sitting, get to know them before you agree to do any work. Ask lots of questions, look up their social media accounts, and press for a meeting via video chat. Most scammers will avoid meeting you and won’t answer specific questions.
  • Keep work on freelance job sites where it belongsUpwork reports that one common scam on freelancer job sites involves circumvention. In this con, a supposed employer first approaches you on the website. Then, they ask you to do work and accept payment outside of the site. These scammers may try to convince you to accept payment through PayPal or another outside payment method, claiming they want to help you avoid any fees the freelancer website charges. Chances are, once you turn in your work, you won’t receive any payment and your client will disappear for good.
  • Watch out for too-good-to-be-true job postings. Any job that offers extremely good pay rates for an easy job that requires no special skills is likely a scam. Car wrap scams are a good example of this tactic.
  • Research side gigs before applying. No matter how good a job seems, do your research before applying. Go directly to the company’s website to verify the job posting. Does the company have a professional website and legitimate contact information? Also, do an online search for the job title and company name. If you find the exact same post popping up in multiple cities or people reporting the job is a scam, don’t engage with the company.
  • Watch out for work from home scams. Work from home gigs are perfect for students or stay-at-home moms, but they are also more likely to be scams. In fact, a 2020 BBB report found a rise in work from home scams since the COVID-19 pandemic. Be very wary of applying for jobs like “warehouse redistribution coordinator” that involve reshipping (often stolen) packages. Scammers impersonate well-known retailers like Amazon and Walmart and post the jobs on major employment platforms.
  • Be cautious of fake checks. Many scammers offer to hire you for a position, only to tell you they will send you a check for supplies you need before you start work. Typically, the scammers “overpay” and ask you to send back some of the funds via a wire transfer or prepaid gift cards. After you send the money, you’ll get a notification from your bank that the check you deposited was a fake. You’ll have lost any money you “returned” to the scammer. Learn more about scams involving fake checks and other payment types.
  • Never pay to work. You should never have to pay a fee to apply for a job or to get a position. Also, a legitimate company won’t pay you anything before you’ve done any work.
  • Get all details in writing. Put together a basic contract that details the services provided, timeline, and the amount paid. Scammers tend to avoid providing specific information, so this is a good way to discourage them. It will also help you avoid disagreements with legitimate employers. 
  • Guard your personal information. Be cautious of any job that asks you to share personal information right off the bat. If a company insists that they need a copy of your driver’s license or bank account information, be sure you’re dealing with a legitimate business before you hand over that sensitive information.

For more information:

Read up on more ways to protect yourself by visiting BBB.org/EmploymentScam and BBB.org/ScamTips.

If you are targeted by a job scam or know someone who has been, report the experience to BBB.org/ScamTracker to help boost consumer awareness and hinder scammers’ efforts.