Work-at-home scams continue to prey upon unwary consumers in Carbon County, across Utah and throughout the United States.
Americans have lost thousands of dollars to the con artists, point out the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, state consumer protection agencies and the Utah Better Business Bureau.
To avoid falling for the scams, Carbon consumers should learn to recognize common work-at-home schemes. Warning signs include overstated claims of product effectiveness, exaggerated potential profits or earnings, requirement of money for instructions or products and assurance of guaranteed markets.
Several ploys represent classic examples of work-at-home schemes, according to the state and federal agencies.
Ads for pre-packaged businesses - known as billing centers - regularly appear in newspapers.
Promoters promise substantial incomes to full- or part-time workers.
The con artists assure consumers that no experience is required and the company will provide the clients.
For an investment of $2,000 to $8,000, the companies may promise computer software, training and technical support.
Individuals responding to the ads may be urged to buy software programs or computers at exorbitant prices. Consumers are usually required to pay for expensive training sessions and pressured to make immediate decisions.
Frequently, the training is superficial and the market for services is small or non-existent. Few consumers purchasing a billing business opportunity are able to find clients and generate revenues - let alone recover investments and earn substantial incomes, stress the agencies.
Assembly or craft work programs often require customers to invest hundreds of dollars in equipment and supplies. After consumers purchase the supplies and perform the work, the companies refuse to pay people because the assembled items do not meet so-called "quality standards." Unfortunately, no work is ever up to standard, leaving consumers with relatively expensive equipment and supplies, but no income, caution the state and federal agencies.
The chain letter scheme entices people to purchase mailing lists and labels. The ads promise respondents that they will automatically receive thousands of dollars in cash return.
But the only individuals who benefit are the mysterious few at the top of the chain who consistently change names, addresses and post office boxes.
After responding to envelope stuffing ads, consumers may receive promotional material soliciting cash for details on money-making plans. The details usually turn out to be instructions on placing similar ads.
The system feeds on continuous recruitment of people to join the plan. There are several variations of the scheme, all requiring the customer to spend money on advertising and materials.
"In practically all businesses, envelope stuffing has become a highly mechanized operation using sophisticated mass mailing techniques and equipment which eliminates any profit potential for an individual doing this type of work-at-home. The inspection service knows of no work-at-home promotion that ever produces income as alleged," indicates the U.S. Postal Service.
Multi-level marketing, a direct sales system, is an established, legitimate form of business. But illegitimate pyramid schemes resemble direct sales systems, warn the agencies.
Pyramid schemes place the emphasis on recruiting people to join the program, not on selling the product. For a time, recruits keep money flowing into the system. But when the system collapses, only a few people at the top have made money - and consumers at the bottom have lost investments.
Online business advertisements are starting to show up in e-mails, representing an old scheme promoted in a high-tech way.
Consumers pay for a useless guide to work at home jobs. The guide is generally a mixture of computer-related work such as word processing or data entry along with the envelope stuffing and home crafts scams.
The computer disk is as worthless as the guidebook. The disk may only list free government web sites and/or business opportunities requiring additional money from people responding to the ads.
Legitimate work-at-home sponsors will tell consumers - in writing - what's involved in the program, emphasize the state and federal agencies.
To alleviate the risks of falling victim to scams, Carbon County residents should check out the companies with state consumer protection officials, the attorney general's office and the Utah Better Business Bureau. The organizations can tell consumers whether complaints have been filed about a work-at-home program.
However, local residents should remain wary - the absence of complaints does not necessarily mean the companies are legitimate, advise the state and federal agencies. Unscrupulous scam artists may settle complaints, change names or move to sidestep detection.
Beware of falling prey to tempting work-at-home promotions promising easy money, reiterate the state and federal agencies. Unwary consumers could face serious consequences.
The consequences include losing money, with documented amounts ranging from $10 to $70,000; throwing away countless hours working on worthless projects; and selling inferior quality merchandise or non-existent products and services.
Carbon County residents should also take into consideration that, by becoming involved in a work-at-home scheme, people may be perpetrating a fraud and risk investigation by postal authorities, warn the state and federal agencies.
There is no substitute for closely examining all advertisements guaranteeing income from work-at-home programs. If the ad sounds too good to be true, chances are the offer is a scam, conclude the state and federal agencies.