Like many Americans, the recession had Christine Kufel worried about her job security. So Kufel, an Ohio corrections officer, thought she'd create her own safety net by earning extra income at home.
A Web site advertisement promising work-from-home opportunities seemed like a good fit, she said. The site said customers could earn $300 to $1,000 a day by starting their own businesses.
But the affiliations suggested by the site were questionable at best: It said that customers would earn cash "working from home with Google," even though Google says it does not endorse such work-from-home sites.
It also claimed that it had been featured by television news organizations, including ABC News and CNN.
Both organizations say they haven't endorsed the site. The site's only real connection to legitimate news organizations, experts say, seems to be through paid advertisements placed on those organizations' Web sites.
But Kufel didn't know about these dubious connections when she signed up.
The references to the popular search engine and television news, she said, gave her a sense there was "some legitimacy" to what it offered. She thought the site would help her do some sort of sales or marketing work from home with the help of a special business kit.
"You see big names like that and you think, 'OK, well it's valid ... it's worth looking into at that point,' " she said.
Now Kufel wishes she hadn't. The company, she said, tried to charge $84 to her credit card without ever sending her the kit. Kufel said she called her credit card company and managed to cancel the charge before it went through, but she's still angry.
"I was scammed," she said.
The Better Business Bureau said it has received hundreds of complaints from consumers who say they've been scammed by Web sites advertising work-from-home opportunities that appear to be affiliated with Google.
Earlier this summer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took one such site, Google Money Tree, to court, alleging that the companies behind the site misrepresented their affiliations with Google and didn't adequately explain to customers that they'd be charged $72.21 a month for signing up with the site. Efforts to reach the defendants named in the FTC lawsuit were unsuccessful.
For its part, Google says it is fighting back against the perception that it's involved with work-from-home scams.
"Google is not paying people thousands of dollars a week to fill out forms or to post links," said Jason Morrison of Google's search quality team. "Scammers are using the Google name and logo without our permission, and we are taking whatever actions we can technically and with our legal team."
Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said work-from-home scammers use both Google and TV logos to gain credibility for their dubious operations -- and sometimes it works.
Consumers think, "Oh, this was featured in a news story, so it must be legitimate, but usually buried in the bottom in very fine print, it says, 'We are are not affiliated with ABC, CNN, etc.,'" she said.
What can further confuse consumers, she said, is that advertisements for the scams sometimes show up on legitimate news Web sites, including this one.