Creative Consumer: Avoid Work at Home Scams

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This week's column was inspired by a New Jersey resident who wrote in asking about a work-at-home offer. As always, I love hearing from you. With the tight economy, I suspect lots of people are tempted to look into ways to make extra money. Sorry to say, 99.9% of work from home offers are scams designed to take your money -- not make you money. For more details, read on.

Question: I have received several emails over the past couple days regarding working at home processing consumer rebates. One site specifically guarantees it works or double your money back that you spend up front. Apparently you can make $15 for every rebate processed. The site says you can process a rebate on an average time of 4-5 minutes making approximately $180 to $225. Are these legitimate?

AR, New Jersey

Answer I could tell the opportunity was a fake before I even read it. Why? Because it was sent by email. Let's use logic here. If you knew of a great, easy, guaranteed way to make money, would you be emailing strangers to tell them about it? Of course not. Any business opportunity, medication, investment or product that comes to you via a spam email is automatically suspect. Period. In fact, let's coin a new mantra: spam = scam.

But let's just say the message in the email had been printed in a classified ad or posted on a telephone pole instead. The second clue is the following: "it works or double your money back that you spend up front." Anytime a business opportunity requires you to spend money in order to start making money, that's a telltale sign of fraud. Processing consumer rebates is just the latest hook. Here are some of the classic work-at-home scams of all time.

Click Here to Ask Elisabeth Your Consumer Questions

The arts and crafts scam is a crafty way to take advantage of people who are crafters. The ads claim you can make money assembling jewelry, knick knacks and decorations at home. You pay money up front for a kit full of raw materials. When you get the raw materials, you discover the finished product is almost impossible to make. Plus the promoter will only pay you if you make a specified number of products. If by some miracle you do manage to make your quota, the con artists have an answer for that too: they tell you your finished products are sub-standard and they refuse to pay.

Danielle W. wanted something she could do at home while on maternity leave. She paid fifty dollars for a kit to make twenty-four necklaces. When she got the kit, she discovered the string was too thick to fit through the beads. Undeterred, she bought her own replacement string. But the beads were so tiny that Danielle started getting headaches trying to see the holes. You'd have to have the eyes of an eagle and the patience of a saint to complete even one necklace.

I once went undercover and ordered one of these kits to prove the point. We chose a woodworking project in which we were supposed to assemble teeny, tiny little wooden boxes. We took the kit to a professional wood shop and asked the experts to give it a try. After three painstaking hours, the pros gave up. Besides, who would want to buy a wooden box the size of a pack of gum?

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