By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted March 02, 2014, at 9:50 a.m.
If an ad promises that you can earn “thousands in your spare time,” please know that the promise is likely worth less than the paper it’s printed on.
The following quote from the Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Law Guide speaks volumes: “While, of course, not all companies advertising work-at-home plans are dishonest, enough have been the source of problems to warrant special caution on your part.”
Many work-at-home offers hold out what so many unemployed or underemployed people desperately need: hope. That hope can turn to despair when they put money they can’t afford into a scheme that serves only to line its creators’ pockets.
The good news is that complaints nationwide continue to decline. The Consumer Sentinel Network — http://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/consumer-sentinel-network — compiles consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC. The total of work-at-home and similar fraud complaints dropped from more than 39,000 in 2011 to just under 33,000 last year.
The bad news is that work-at-home schemes continue to hit their victims hard. Losses can run into the thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.
Last Wednesday, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order against perpetrators of what one FTC official termed “a massive scam.” The order froze the assets of defendants operating under a number of names, including Essent Media, LLC, Net Training, LLC, YES International, Coaching Department and Apply Knowledge.
In its complaint, the FTC contends that a three-pronged campaign was waged. Initially hucksters sold fairly inexpensive programs, generally less than $100, through which buyers could “earn hundreds of dollars a day from home.”
Phase two offered — at greater cost —“professional coaching” to “ensure success.” Instead, that coaching generally promoted more spending, on things such as business formation, website design, accounting and tax-filing services, few of which the FTC says proved helpful.
The FTC says the defendants violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting earning potential and the nature of their services. It also alleges they violated the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by misrepresenting their investment strategies.
Other scammers are out there making similar pitches. Here are some of the come-ons you should avoid:
— Envelope stuffing. Machines do this faster and cheaper than people.
— Craft work or assembly. Once you’ve paid the money, your work is never “up to standards.”
— Medical billing. Doctors either do the billing themselves or use established firms, rather than someone working at home.
— Rebate processing. The badly written materials you get fall short of the big promises, and there are no rebates to process.
Always be wary of “opportunities” that involve a fee right away or handing over your credit card information. Any such offer demands healthy doses of both research and skepticism.
As part of National Consumer Protection Week, the FTC is hosting a Twitter chat about work-at-home schemes and other frauds at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Follow @FTC #NCPW2014. Learn more at www.ftc.gov and search “FTC Twitter chats.”
The state of Wisconsin has published a nifty guide detailing work-at-home scams. See it online athttp://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Consumer/pdf/WorkAtHome189.pdf.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email email@example.com.