Did you know that Sanjana from Lucknow earns $545 every day just by working from home? If you thought that was the best case scenario, meet Kamal from Trichy who earned $1,328 per day just by surfing the internet. Amazing isn’t it? That is an earning of over Rs. 33,000 for Sanjana and over Rs. 81,000 for Kamal per day! We'll say that again, “Per day”! Thus, in a normal work year (250 days), they could earn Rs. 80 lakh and Rs. 2 crores respectively. Hold on, before you start typing up your resignation letter, you should know that all this is pure fiction.
Most of us will have come across reports of such successful fellow Indians while browsing the internet. Displayed as ads on a number of websites, are the smiling, jubilant faces of people holding up cheques with five figure sums. It's made to sound simple, as no special skills are required. “Any one can do this. Even you!”
To a 16-year old, with time to spare, this may seem like the perfect way to make some extra cash, or to get started on raising the funds for future entrepreneurship. Even stay-at-home spouses and unemployed freshers would find such an offer hard to resist. So what if those numbers are an exception? Surely if you worked hard you'd be able to earn one tenth that they do, right? Not 80 lakh to 2 crore, but 8 lakh to 20 lakh still sounds like an amazing amount to earn in your spare time!
We decided to find out by wading into the murky waters of working online, so that you don't have to dive in headfirst yourself and attempt to sink or swim.
Succeed India: Of Scams and Ponzi Schemes
Let’s take care of the elephant in the room. Most schemes and deals offered online are straight-forward scams and frauds. In more sophisticated cases, however, con-artists use human weakness such as greed or pity to con you out of your hard-earned cash. Thousands of people have fallen victim to get-rich schemes that most of us would find fishy, or too good to be true. However, even legitimate sounding marketing schemes have hidden clauses and catches that end up cheating people out of money.
The infamous SucceedIndia website was in it’s heyday in the early 2000s, where even a bland, poorly-formatted HTML text page was able to convince people to cough up Rs. 800 for an e-book that promised to teach them the secrets to making money online. The site also offered work in Affiliate Marketing (ponzi schemes) where users were required to recruit others in the promotion of un-branded products. People were convinced by the jargon that was used in the marketing propaganda – Google Adwords, and also an unending barrage of scans of high-value cheques paid out by Google. The site is still active, but people are too smart now to fall for it.
Today, fraudsters don’t just use simple pop-up ads or spam email to lure their victims, but instead go even further by posting jobs on forums and online classifieds. Such postings offer simple jobs such as “email processor” which is basically just an online ponzi scheme where you pay for a start-up kit and then recruit more people to do the same.
Other jobs such as “home assembly” of items or gadgets are also on the downturn since they require prospective workers to pay for a “test kit”, which you need to assemble and send back for reimbursement and payment – which of course is never paid because some fault or the other is found in the way the product was assembled.
Thanks to increased net literacy today, most people can smell something fishy from a mile away. What worked in the early days of internet and email don't anymore. Almost all of these so-called offers end up in our trash or spam folders anyway. However, there are still a a few, well-crafted and very convincing sites that come across as the real deal. We decided to ignore the obvious scams, since they're actually low-grade threats, and focus on the ones that sounded genuine.
The search begins
We sifted through hundreds of classified listings, forum posts and, for once, actually turned off our adblockers to look at ads for work-from-home jobs. Our criteria was simple – they had to be “work from home”, they had to be schemes that required no payments, had to be well communicated and appear original, and also had to be validated by Google searches.
We also employed other selection factors such as detecting awkward template-style writing in emails, listings and ads to filter the obvious amateurs. What we ended up with was three websites that all show up on the first page of Google searches for “work from home” or “make money from home”. They all cleared anti-virus safeguards for phishing, malware or risky portals, and were clearly professionally designed. Let's start with the one that best demonstrates the most devastating aspects of work-from-home claims.
FastRupee & Neobux
The number one website in our investigation was FastRupee.com. The sleek, minimalist design of this responsive webpage was a pleasant surprise after having to go through hundreds of rather gaudy websites. Free of banner ads and in-your-face claims of quick money, this website is a professionally-built portal that one would associate with a serious and trustworthy online business. In fact, the more you read, the more comfortable you get. You're assured that no investment is required, it has a recommendation service that supposedly filters out the frauds for your benefit, is compatible with the Indian financial system, etc. However, the kicker is the warning that tells you not to expect a get-rich scheme, but instead to expect small, regular returns that are free of investment risks.
Now that you're convinced, the site goes on to highlight its top recommendation for such an online employment company – Neobux. Claiming a long-established relationship of over six years, a quick and timely payment record, and a host of success stories, the page goes on to use quirky and cute animated training videos to explain how FastRupee works and how Neobux processes payments. The page also has a brief FAQ in a simple and direct language. FastRupee is essentially a Paid-to-Click site, which works as a referral platform for Neobux. Participants are paid to click on ads, take surveys, do online research and other stay-at-home functions on behalf of corporate clients that Neobux works with – so far so good.
Now, Paid-to-Click isn’t exactly ethical e-commerce, but the business model exists within a sufficiently plausible loophole to be considered legal. FastRupee also has a ‘Contact us’ page in case users have any questions or clarifications, but the website’s blog page only has three sparse entries detailing how to obtain a PAN card, an investment based Paid-to-Click program and a step-by-step guide to earning money online. However, all roads lead to Neobux, and so we go tumbling down the rabbit hole.
Curiouser and Curiouser
Neobux itself is a well-designed professional-looking website, and has a three-column layout that displays, amongst other things, the daily counter of registered members, how many ads were clicked on, and how much money is paid out to users. Quick averages of the displayed numbers tell us that $10 was paid per member per day (about Rs. 600) – working out to about Rs. 18,000 per month. Not bad for just sitting around and clicking on ads.
The registration is quick and easy with no alarms about details demanded apart from your PayPal or Payza account (optional). The clear and direct language is assisted by helpful indicators and pop-ups to guide you along every path. After verifying and logging-in to the Neobux dashboard you are treated to the plan of what needs to be done. Click on “View Ads” and you’re shown a series of categorised boxes with click values on them. All boxes have the same price of $ 0.001 (Rs. 0.6 approx.) and a single Bonus Pack. The bonus pack is like a lottery of three ads which you have to watch. Any of them could get you free rewards in cash or kind. More ads are only shown once the system is ‘reset as per their server’ (whatever that means). Bottom line: you’re out of ads and have to wait. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in betting on the lottery you can go and watch the 99 advertisements (which we did with no luck). Effectively, we watched 132 ads and earned $ 0.033 (Rs. 2.01), since lottery ads aren’t counted towards payments.
The prestige of the con
Since you can’t open multiple ads at once, can't go away from the ad window (it just pauses and resumes only once you return), have no fixed duration of ads to watch and also can't withdraw money until you reach a minimum goal – let's just say there's caveats aplenty.
The average time per ad is 30-45 seconds, and some are a full minute long. Constant attention (or at least running in the foreground) is expected, and you can withdraw only when you reach a minimum of $2 earnings (watching 2000 ads). That's about 25 hours of non-stop clicking for a measly Rs 120! There are, as always, ways out – rent clicks, upgrade to a Gold Membership or Rent Referrals, and that's the con...
Don't over-promise to make it sound ridiculous, get people to start clicking, and keep the task easy enough for anyone to do, and you have a business model that relies on suckers. Eventually, you (the clicker) will either go away without earning anything but after clicking on hundreds of ads, or you will decide to invest even more time and money to try and earn more, and thus work to recruit even more suckers to come click on ads for no returns.
Plus, the fine print that you agree to is masterfully crafted to indemnify them from any sort of negligence and even breach of legal expectations. FastRupee and Neobux, in our opinion, were the most perfectly pitched and also the most dangerous.
After a little more digging, we found that even users who had persevered through 2000 ads, were complaining that the payments were neither prompt nor easily obtained. More often than not users were advised to redirect their earnings towards the paid alternative. A deep search of online complaint boards led to reports that the $2 due for early-exit members was rarely ever paid, and even if it was paid, it totalled to about Rs. 122 for 25 hours of work, or just under Rs. 5 per hour! Considering that the lowest minimum wage category in India is about Rs. 20 per hour, it certainly doesn't seem worth the effort. If you decide to recruit more people to take advantage of their clicks to earn something, remember that the site never directly suggests that you refer more people to them, so the liability of the scam (when those people are not paid) falls squarely on your shoulders.
We can safely conclude that FastRupee and Neobux are time-vampires that pay a pittance (if at all) for countless hours of work. The nature of the “scam” relies on persuading people to eventually pay out of their pockets for clicks in a Ponzi-like referral system..
Meet the amateurs
Other websites that made our lists were BharatOnline-Work.com and MoneyMail.com, and they are sheer amateurs in comparison to Fast Rupee.
BharatOnlineWork although seemingly legit at first, quickly devolves into sounding like a needy, half-witted con-man who’s trying to somehow convince users to shell out Rs. 1,490 for a “Bharat Online Work Package” – basically a CD (remember those?) – which, reassuringly, can be paid for on delivery.
Our third candidate website MoneyMail.in was slightly cleverer (even if, eventually, a massive let down). The website claims to pay users to read emails along with a host of other activities such as being a Recharge Wallet agent – who earns 0.5 to 1.5 percent on transactions when making recharges for cell phones, DTC and Data Cards. All you need to do is deposit Rs. 500 or more via direct bank account transfer with no online payment gateway involved – which smells about as fishy as a Sushi bar with no air-conditioning and refrigeration!
Both BharatOnlineWork and MoneyMail use the same techniques as other notorious online portals such as EarnPart-TimeJobs.com, Emailpays.com, Adsensejobs.com , Netjobs247.com, Emailreadingjob.com, etc to lure unsuspecting victims. Con-men take advantage of the lack of fluency of English of a victim and confuse them.
More refined sites such as Neobux prey on the inevitable boredom of victims and offer short-term payoffs to lure people into making purchases. In both cases the users are encouraged to recruit others as a means to enhance their own earnings through referral. So basically, it's still all glorified pyramid-schemes.
What we learned
It’s a case of old wine in a new bottle, where the wine is poisoned and the bottle is a Molotov cocktail. If it seems too good to be true, it is. Age-old scams are reinvented in the digital age to prey on desperate people. In times when getting a job is tough, and even the gainfully employed are looking for secondary sources of income, it makes sense that these schemes bear fruit for online criminals.
Despite how obvious and devious these fraudulent websites may seem, it has proved near impossible to punish or ban their promoters. Given the weak and obfuscated parameters of the Indian IT law and the understanding of the Internet by government officials, crackdowns are slow. In most cases the domains are private and registered abroad, with only local bank account information being real. However, these accounts are under legal protection, so that the account holder’s identity can’t be disclosed and banks can’t punish account owners unless a legal case of fraud has been registered.
In the end, the discouraged and financially desperate victims are left with no recourse but to move on – which is exactly what these schemers are hoping for all along. When the process for persecuting the guilty is way more complicated than the fraud itself, it's obvious that some radical changes to the judicial system are needed.