It’s the dream of many stay-at-home moms to find a little side work they can do from home while children are napping or in school. Who couldn’t use a few extra hundred dollars a week – or even a month – to help with expenses?

But you have to be careful when choosing an online job. The Internet bristles with ripoffs. You could end up logging in many hours, only to find you’re being paid pennies, or nothing at all. How can you tell if a work-from-home opportunity is legitimate? Here are five warning signs that you should stay away from an offer:

  1. They ask that you pay them first. If you need to pay to purchase training courses or materials you will assemble at home, beware. Many of these companies make all their money on these initial purchases and very little on the actual business they are telling you will bring you big bucks.
  2. They want free samples. Many writing opportunities, for instance, ask for one or more sample articles on an assigned topic before they will hire you. Often, there is no hiring going on at all – the company is simply getting all its articles written through these auditions. If you already have an article or two you can show them, or even a few blog posts, that should be adequate to demonstrate your abilities.
  3. No contact information. Real companies’ ads include a contact person’s first and last name, their company name, and a link to the website. On that site,there should also be a physical address for the company, too. With a complete business name and city of origin, you can also check the Better Business Bureau to see if anyone has reported the company as a ripoff. Scam companies don’t provide this information so you can’t track them down to demand the money they owe you.
  4. They advertise on Craigslist. Tread carefully here, as Craigslist is home to many, many scam offers. Remember, these ads are free to place, so the bar is low for who will advertise. To find more trustworthy listings, try a job board where the companies posting have to pay to put up their job ad. Job boards such as FlexJobs – where job-seekers pay a subscription fee – usually have better-quality leads, too.
  5. The blogosphere is trashing them. Before you consider any opportunity you’ve found online, try Googling the company name or some of the phrases in their ad, and see what comes up. Tack on the word “sucks” or “I hate [company name]” or “[company name] ripped me off” and see if the results include people discussing their bad experiences with this organization. If you turn up reams of negative feedback, it’s time to run in the other direction.

Seen any scams lately? Feel free to leave a comment and add to my list of warning signs to watch out for.