YOUR MONEY: Work-at-home job deals often are just a scam"People are more vulnerable to these because job opportunities aren't as plentiful. They're looking at anything," said Terri Carpenter, spokeswoman for government-funded Sacramento Works Inc., in Sacramento, Calif., which screens online ads for its 12 employment and training centers.
By: Claudia Buck, McClatchy Newspapers
You've seen the enticements: "Work from Home: Earn $$$." "Guaranteed: $92/Hour ... No Experience Needed."
They pop up on your computer, litter your mailbox, shout from your TV screen.
And in this job-jittery economy, they sound awfully tempting.
"People are more vulnerable to these because job opportunities aren't as plentiful. They're looking at anything," said Terri Carpenter, spokeswoman for government-funded Sacramento Works Inc., in Sacramento, Calif., which screens online ads for its 12 employment and training centers.
And the come-ons keep coming. Search for "Work from Home" on Google and you'll get 20.2 million hits.
"The Web is full of 'em," says Kate Lister, the Carlsbad, Calif.-based co-author of "Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money At Home." And after two years of research, Lister concludes that "99 out of 100 are junk, either scams or dead ends."
Law enforcement cracks down where it can.
"We're seeing unscrupulous scam artists who are taking advantage of the economic downturn and trying to con people out of their hard-earned dollars," said Scott Gerber, spokesman for California Attorney General Jerry Brown.
Just last week, Brown's office slapped restrictions and $350,000 in payments for victims' restitution against two companies accused of making bogus promises of "full-time income" via eBay-like merchandise sales. The catch: Consumers had to pay upfront anywhere from $2,700 to $6,000 to purchase the companies' Web-based "stores."
The two firms - Imergent Inc. and StoresOnline - made "tantalizing claims regarding the massive profits" that could be earned, the attorney general's office said. Instead, most customers never made a dime and many lost money due to the upfront fees.
Tom Harnish, co-author of "Undress for Success," said phony online job offers come in many forms, such as charging $20.99 for a jobs data base full of "worthless links" to nonexistent jobs.
Others try to get you to sell something. "There's an awful lot of them that are for health food, herbal products, jewelry or cosmetics ... but when you drill down, it's just multilevel marketing," said Harnish. In other words, your income depends on bringing in new salespeople.
How to avoid getting snared by a scam? "The ones with the most capital letters or exclamation points are the ones you want to run from," said Harnish.
Another warning sign, many experts say, is companies that require you to pay upfront for fees, memberships, inventory or sales kits.
"When anyone asks you to pay for something to get a job, you have to be skeptical," says Lister.
At Sacramento Works, Carpenter recommends checking for complaints with the local Better Business Bureau and calling the company to verify its existence.
Other ways to protect yourself: Don't be fooled by testimonials or dubious seals of approval. Get in writing the specifics on the type of work, how you'll be paid, any costs or expenses, etc. Check with your state attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), which has consumer alerts on its Web site.
Use the Web to vet a Web company's legitimacy. Google the company's address and the owners' names to be sure they're real. Type in random paragraphs from the job notice: If they pop up on numerous Web sites, it's likely a scam, said Lister.
There are legitimate ways to earn money from an online or home-based business.
Among Lister's recommended fields: Call centers, computer programming, graphic arts, transcription, virtual assistants, tutoring.
She suggests looking at Web sites that hire for online "virtual" jobs, such as LiveOps.com, AlpineAccess.com and teamdouble-click.com.
Freelancers with specific skills, such as tutoring, writing or computer coding, can hunt at: oDesk.com, guru.com, elance.com and rentacoder.com.
There also are sites like eHow.com, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based Web site that lets anyone submit "how-to" articles on almost any topic, from cocktails to carburetors. Writers get paid anywhere from $5 to $2,000 a month, depending on how many articles get posted and how often they're viewed.
Due to the economy, eHow.com is getting more traffic - and more articles submitted by people trying to pick up a few extra dollars a month, said eHow's general manager, Gregory Boudewijn.
Since last fall, there's been an 84 percent bump in online traffic in the do-it-yourself and "saving money" categories, he said.
One of those earning income from eHow.com is Carmichael, Calif., resident Carol Callahan, a stay-at-home mom of a 1-year-old. Since last summer, she's been picking up a little extra cash - up to $40 a month, penning "How-to" blurbs on everything from "How to Make (a) Kamikaze Cocktail" to "How to Save Money on Your Summer Air Conditioning."
Her most lucrative: "How to Make Homemade Ant Killer That Actually Works."
Callahan said she turned to eHow.com after getting burned by other online job sites. "I've tried everything, even paid money in (to buy 10 different Web sites) and got ripped off."
Her advice: Don't buy anything that requires you to invest money upfront. She's happier with her current online occupation, even with its modest return.
"It's small income, but ... every penny counts, especially when times are hard."
(Buck is the assistant business editor of The Sacramento Bee. Personal Finance Notebook answers questions about money matters, tapping a roster of experts for advice on navigating the often-confusing world of personal finance. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 15779 Sacramento, CA 95852.)