Dear Matt: I'm tired of the corporate cubicle and the commuting. I'm looking at working from home, but aren't all those job offers just scams?

Matt says: Barb Grieman, a spokesperson for the St. Paul branch of the Better Business Bureau, says the BBB been fielding calls on work-at-home offers for years. What does the BBB consider a scam?

"Any time you are asked to pay for materials or instructions to do a job from home, or any time you are asked to send money -- especially through a wire transfer -- it's a scam," said Grieman.

Work-at-home offers are almost never lucrative, except for the person offering the opportunity, Grieman added. And the few companies that do offer real work-at-home opportunities can find workers without posting ads, they are that rare.

Here's how to recognize -- and avoid -- work-at-home scams, from the BBB:

Assembling products. Many work-at-home scams promise hundreds of dollars in profit, but then refuse to purchase the products, claiming the quality is poor. The scammer makes his money by overcharging you for the materials.

Medical billing. You will be charged a hefty price for software that will supposedly help you do medical (or other) billing from home. What they don't tell you is that you have to find a company to work for -- and it is almost impossible to find a company willing to hand over its records for billing.

Book and software sales. The pitch goes like this: "Buy my book (or buy my software program). If I can do it, anyone can." The truth that the person selling you the book or software is probably making money off the sale of the book or software -- not the work-at-home job.

General work-at-home lists. If you don't see specifics in the offer, many times you will be paying $50 for a list of companies that offer work-at-home opportunities. The companies might seem legitimate, and many times they are, but they are unaware that someone is promising jobs at their location. The BBB has called many of the companies on these lists and has never found them to have work-at-home opportunities.

Mystery shopping. There are companies that hire secret shoppers, but they won't charge you a fee to work for them.

"The bottom line," said Grieman, "is that work-at-home offers are almost never lucrative or real. Remember that you should never have to pay to work."

Matt Krumrie is a Twin Cities freelance writer specializing in career advice.