SEATTLE -- Legitimate work at home jobs are few and far between. You won't find them on Craigslist, and forget about all those Internet pop-ups, e-mail spam and Web ads promising easy money for a big, upfront fee.
As Reyna de Vega discovered, more and more established companies are hiring "virtual employees" to work at home, with an emphasis on the work.
The Seattle-area mother of two gets up early to plan meals and get the kids off to school. By 8 a.m., she's on the clock at the computer in her apartment.
De Vega is a customer service agent for a major cell phone company. She's what's called a virtual call center.
Big corporations are moving away from foreign countries and bringing customer service work back to the U.S. De Vega found her job on a Web site for a company called Alpine Access.
Alpine specializes in finding work-at-home agents across the country. She's been working at home since last June.
"It's just like being in a office," she said. "You have your breaks, you have your lunch hour, and outside of that, it's work."
Lisa Fallon handles hiring for Alpine Access in the Puget Sound region.
"I think that right now, this is the wave of the future for these very large corporations," she said.
Oddly enough, Fallon started out as a customer service professional with Alpine Access.
"It's the wave of the future, I believe, because there's no overhead for these (corporate) clients. The agents are providing their own computer, their own environment. We get anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 applicants in a month." Fallon added.
But they won't hire just anybody.
"They go through a background check. They do drug test screening and I went through two interviews before I got the job," said de Vega.
De Vega must maintain a work environment that's 100-percent noise-free. Her phone skills, computer skills and even her computer had to pass approval.
Legit work-at-home employers operate just like outside employers.
"And when you're logged on your phone, that is how we're monitoring you on your phone. All your calls are recorded," Fallon said.
Fallon says the company offered coaching and ongoing quality assurance. But don't expect to get rich.
De Vega chose to work part time. She works from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. How much does she make?
"$9 to $10 an hour," said de Vega.
Fallon says unlike competitors who only pay based on the call, Alpine Access pays an hourly rate.
"You'll probably get a little bit less than you would outside in the working world, but if you look at the savings from gas, dry cleaning and everything else you would spend to go to work, it's actually not that much different," she said.
But de Vega says it's worth it. The flexibility of working at home part time gives her more time for her family, and she's going back to school.
Alpine Access says it charges a fee of $45 to $50 to cover part of the cost of screening, but only after you've accepted a firm offer to work.
Other companies that hire work-at-home customer service agents require you to be an independent contractor, which means you may have to spend money on equipment and get paid by the call instead of an hourly wage.
We found other companies with limited or temporary work at home opportunities. Some of the companies charge a small fee for updated listings of companies looking for qualified people to do specific tasks or projects.
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