Don't believe the hype 

Your hunches about work-at-home deals are probably right on

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Maybe you're a student paying your own way through college. Or you've ridden daddy's dime to the end. Either way, you need a job. Preferably one with flexible hours, short shifts and great pay.

Advertisers know this. Open the classified section of any alternative newsweekly, and you'll find dozens of "work-from-home" opportunities, which promise hundreds of dollars a day for doing almost nothing. Data processing, envelope stuffing and CD assembling are just a few of the jobs available, all with claims of easy, fast money. They may sound straightforward and appealing, but a closer look reveals surprise! something entirely different.

Jenn Westrom, a student at Pikes Peak Community College, says she and her husband looked into work-at-home opportunities as a way to make some fast money. After a yahoo.com search turned up hundreds of jobs asking for money up front, she clicked on a link claiming to pay you for taking surveys.

"One site promised $500," Westrom says. "All we had to do was answer some questions."

But at the end of the survey, instead of paying up, the site merely entered her name in a drawing for the money.

"We only looked into [work-at-home offers] that one time," she says. "It was just too much of a hassle, and we still got junk e-mail and popup ads for months."

Trial and errors

Let's check out a couple ads ourselves. Consider one from bigpayjobs.com: "Data Entry Processors Needed, no experience necessary, earn $3500-$5000 weekly working from home."

There, you find Sarah Johnson (whoever she is) claiming she'll provide you with everything you need to get started. Johnson says you can make between $250 and $1,000 a day, and receive a paycheck daily. There are letters of recommendation from various believers (whoever they are) and quotes from Johnson such as, "you really owe it to yourself" and "allow me to help you."

The catch: In order to take advantage of this "moneymaking experience," you must pay $97 up front. Johnson explains that this is because she receives hundreds of inquiries a day for these positions and since they are limited, she must be certain you are serious about working from home. And she claims she can only take three more participants by midnight, urging you to "act now." Repeated visits to this Web site reveal the same "limited positions" claim every day.

In the FAQ section, Johnson refutes her earlier claim that you'll be paid daily; here, you're told you'll receive a check every two weeks. Johnson does offer a 60-day, money-back guarantee; the disclaimer, however, says no refunds will be given for online purchases.

The site is not listed with the Better Business Bureau.

We tried contacting Johnson to verify the legitimacy of her business. In response, we got an e-mail signed not by Johnson, but by Data Entry Jobs Support. The e-mail gives "personal assurance that Data Entry Jobs is legitimate." Interesting, since there's no actual person associated with the e-mail.

"After all," it continues, "how many Internet companies actually take the time to respond to your e-mails these days?" The e-mail also guarantees work after completing registration, and says no further money is required.

It also kindly requests that we don't write back.

Another site, easywork-greatpay.com, aka American Diversified Publications, Inc., charges you a fee to receive its "Home Workers Directory." Claiming to have researched thousands of work-at-home businesses, the Home Workers Directory is a compilation of the "most popular and profitable work-at-home opportunities." The directory is $35, plus more for shipping and updates.

ADP has had more than 25 complaints registered with the national Better Business Bureau in the last three years.

'Too good to be true'

Blair Reeves, director of operations for the Colorado Springs division of the BBB, says in 2006, the national organization received 3,800 complaints filed against work-at-home companies. Around 2,100 of those complaints were settled before going to court.

"Consider it a red flag if the company is asking for money up front," Reeves says. "People who get involved with work-at-home offers are responsible for getting their own business license, if it is required by their city or state, for withholding their own income taxes, and for any other risks associate with starting a solely owned business."

In a statement on its Web site, the BBB says, "Online users need to be careful when browsing the Internet and responding to unsolicited offers. If an ad seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Additionally, the BBB says it is not aware of any work-at-home promotion that ever produced the alleged income.

Because students are targeted in these job offers, universities are constantly on the lookout.

A University of Colorado at Colorado Springs financial aid employee says if their department came across a work-from-home job, they "would almost certainly block it [from being listed] because of the questionable character these jobs usually entail."

There are plenty of student job resources on campus at CSU-Pueblo, PPCC, Colorado College and UCCS, regardless of financial need. Contact your school's financial aid office for more information and help with job placement.


Learn from the experts
The Better Business Bureau encourages people to investigate businesses before investing any money, and to file a complaint after a bad experience. The BBBs warning signs to questionable advertising:

Overstated claims of product effectiveness. Use of hype titles and frequent use of the word hot to describe an investment opportunity can indicate a scam.
Exaggerated claims of potential earnings, profits, or part-time earnings.
Claims of inside information.
Requiring money for instructions or merchandise before telling you how the plan operates.
Stating no experience is necessary.

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