NEW YORK -- Some work-at-home websites can actually work for you, while others are just scams that will work for -- the fraud artists behind them, while costing you money.
That's the bottom line from AOL Consumer Adviser Regina Lewis. The trick is knowing the difference.
Working online from home is increasingly popular in this economy. But beware! Some offer legitimate opportunities, while others should be avoided. Scammers often take out ads promising big bucks for working at home. Much of the time, says Lewis, the come-ons are lies.
On "The Early Show" Friday, Lewis showcased some sites you may not know about that could bring in some dough. She told where to look, the do's and don'ts, and how much you can reasonably expect to make. Plus, she had some important "red flags" to watch for.
Search for Answers Online: ChaCha.com
We've all done our share of Googling - and now you can actually get paid to search for answers for ChaCha.com users (Become a guide: click here) You can apply to be one of the people who decides what search results pop up when someone types in, phones in or texts an inquiry on a topic you're passionate about -- anything from God to Guitars and from Diabetes to Decorating. There are currently 62,000 ChaCha guides nationwide. It's an attractive part-time gig for night owls in particular, as well as college students and retirees. All you need is a high-speed Internet connection to apply to become a guide.
Fair warning: Not everyone can be a guide. There are entrance tests and limited opportunities. If you're lucky enough to be one of the 10 percent of applicants accepted, you'll go to "Search University" and then quickly be on your way to earning points for each search or task you complete. Points convert into cash at end of month. While this is not designed to be a primary revenue source, ChaCha tells us most guides make a few hundred dollars per month.
Virtual Concierge or Customer Service Rep. VIPDesk.com
Become a virtual concierge or customer service representative helping people plan travel, find home improvement contractors, etc. The job can be done from home, anywhere in the country, at set hours for generally $10-12 an hour. This is growing trend in this economic climate. In fact, VIP Desk tells us they're recruiting now with plans to add hundreds more people to their network with a mix of independent contracting and part- and full-time opportunities. It is competitive, but fantastic work for people who live in remote locations or who are juggling child- or elder-care responsibilities.
Approximately half of their Brand Ambassadors are bilingual, so if you speak multiple languages, you may really have a leg up. When you sign up, you get a schedule weekly or biweekly with your assignments. The work varies by season, since many retail clients -- including Eddie Bauer and Bluefly -- use VIPDesk to field customer service calls. Right now, ServiceMagic is gearing up for all the people who will be looking for Spring cleaning and home improvement efforts. They generate leads for contractors, plumbers and the like. Rather than taking the calls directly, while they're out on a job, VIP Desk customer service reps serve as their frontline.
Find Freelance Work Online eLance.com
This site is the new way to work for many small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Monthly hiring is up roughly 40 percent year-over-year. They're not looking to hire someone in two weeks or two months -- odds are, they needs someone N-O-W. There have been over 35,000 jobs posted to the site in the past 30 days - everything from building Facebook apps to ghostwriting books, developing marketing materials, graphic design work and writing executive bios.
How it works: You submit a proposal for the work, get hired and agree upon terms and milestones. At the end, you submit your invoice and funds are released from escrow. This is key, because one of the things freelancers and e-lancers struggle with is getting paid and getting paid expeditiously. So the fact that eLance provides a tool to facilitate this and that the project is funded up-front is significant benefit.
As freelancing has traditionally been, e-lancing is great way to get a foot in door and build a reputation. You'll be rated on your work (much like eBay's rating system for sellers). The more positive your rating, the more likely work is to come your way. Over time, some e-lancers pair up with other highly-rated e-lancers and bid on bigger, more profitable pieces of business. So, you may start by going it alone and end up joining others and earning a piece of a potentially bigger pie.
TIPS FOR ANYONE PLANNING ON TAKING ON FULL OR PART-TIME WORK FROM HOME
First, walk before you run. Make sure you have high-speed access, don't have a love/hate relationship with your laptop, and your printer isn't about to run out of ink. A dedicated space and phone line is also high priority for your working area.
Know Your Price
Don't price yourself right out of a job. Just as you might compare prices on eBay before making a bid on a job, make sure you know what the going rate is for the work you're qualified to do. And, remember, players with established track records can probably charge more, so you may need to undercut them on price when you're first getting started.
Success breeds success. Once you get your foot in the virtual door -- deliver. That goes without saying. So, to take it a step further -- over-deliver to ensure a high rating and reputation. That will bring more opportunities your way, not to mention the ability to charge higher rates.
Scam artists often prey on those looking to make a quick buck working from home. There is a fair amount of fraud in this arena. Two of the biggest "red flags" to be on the lookout for are:
Requests for Cash
Never pay for the privilege of working for an employer. Be suspicious of opportunities that require you to pay for things up front, such as supplies, sales kits and other materials. And never pay a fee to find out about job openings.
Giving up Too Much Personal Information
Be wary of having to hand over a lot of personal and financial information up-front, which might be a tipoff to an identity theft scam. Never give your Social Security number or banking information to anyone unless you know and trust them.
Copyright 2011 CBS. All rights reserved.