Guest Column

Work-at-home ads promise big earnings but deliver a lot of grief

work-at-home ads by Teresa S. Maher
It's Sunday morning, and you are flipping through the classifieds in your local newspaper. The following ad leaps out at you: "HOMEOWNERS, EARN $1,000 PER MONTH OR MORE! Part-time, work from your home. Rush stamped envelope."
   You think to yourself, this sounds fabulous, almost too good to be true. And that's the key phrase.
   If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many people who need extra money find it impossible to hold a job outside their home because of health concerns or family obligations. These people are often attracted to newspaper, magazine, and direct mail advertisements which offer them a chance to earn money by doing work at home.
   Unfortunately, these "Earn Money At Home" opportunities are typically schemes which take advantage of senior citizens, stay-at-home mothers, disabled, or unemployed persons. Unscrupulous work-at-home companies are very common; this category regularly appears on the Better Business Bureau's quarterly lists of the most inquired and complained about industries.
   The schemes all have one thing in common: you must buy something before you can work and you typically spend more money than you make. Typical work-at-home schemes include envelope stuffing, product assembly, home sewing, small animal breeding, and news clipping services. Some schemes do require work to be conducted outside the home, including phony research projects and movie reviews.
   A common work-at-home ad offers "huge profits" for a work-at-home project for which there is "great demand" but which requires "no experience." In these schemes, you must invest hundreds of dollars in instructions and materials and many hours of your time to produce items for a company that has promised to buy them.
   However, once you have purchased the supplies and done the work, the company may decide not to pay you because the work you sent does not meet certain "standards." You are left with the equipment and supplies and the chore of finding customers for the products you've already made.
   Many times, the initial details a worker receives about a work-at-home project turn out to be booklets telling the work-at-home participant how to begin recruiting others for the same business. Representatives from the Council of Better Business Bureaus responded to several work-at-home ads and found this to be the case.
   A work-at-home scheme promoter will:    Closely examine any offer which promises or guarantees income from work-at-home programs. Consider it a warning sign if you must buy something in order to start the program.
   Those interested also must take into consideration that by becoming involved in a work-at-home scheme, they might be perpetuating a fraud by selling the program to others, and risk investigation by postal authorities.
   For a reliability report on a specific work-at-home company, check with the Better Business Bureau by calling 431-2222 or 1-800-488-3222; or write to The Better Business Bureau of Western Washington, P.O. Box 68926, SeaTac, WA 98168-0926.

Teresa S. Maher is the Director of Public Relations and Communications for the Better Business Bureau of Western Washinton.