Work-at-home scams

Posted June 14, 2009, at 7:20 p.m.

Those e-mails from Nigeria saying you have won millions in a lottery were bad enough. But now, in the midst of the recession, comes a rash of tempting promises that you can earn thousands of dollars a week “in the comfort of your home.”

These are deceptive scams that could waste your time, cost you money, ruin your reputation by getting you to cheat other people, and even involve you in legal action for perpetrating a fraud.

Both the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission have issued warnings and classified the various tricks aimed at people trying to cope with pay cuts or layoffs or simply the current hard times. Here are some, as listed by Paula Fleming, BBB’s regional vice president of commu-nications and marketing:

Stuffing envelopes. This is nonsense, since most mail stuffing is highly mechanized. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says it “knows of no work-at-home promotion that ever produces income as alleged.”

Medical billing. Watch out for expensive and superficial “training sessions” and false promises of plentiful clients.

Multilevel marketing. If the emphasis is on recruiting others to join the program, it’s probably an illegal pyramid scheme that will enrich a few but eventually run out of suckers.

Mystery shopping. By agreeing to “turn your computer into a money-making machine,” you will be expected to buy a worthless instructional guidebook or disk that will lead you to either free sources you could have found on your own or supposed business opportunities that will cost you more money.

Craft assembly. You pay for a “starter kit,” instructions, and parts and put together toys, dolls, or other craft projects. The catch often is that the company says your work “doesn’t meet our standards.”

Both the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission urge victims of any of these scams to get any earnings claims in writing, as well as the number and percentage of recent clients who have earned at least as much as the promoter suggested. Demand a refund. Keep records of all of your costs and communications involved in trying to recover your money. Finally, if you have become a victim, report the case to the BBB, the FTC or the attorney general’s office.

One more scam worth a further warning is e-mail processing. For $50 or so, you can become a “highly paid” e-mail processor. What you get for your money are instructions on spamming the same ad that drew you in to Web newsgroups and forums.

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