The sales pitches sound amazing.

Work from home!

No experience necessary!

Earn thousands a month!

You can find the ads easily on the Internet and TV, flashy promotions that feature yachts and mansions and piles of cash that the smiling pitch person supposedly earned working just a few hours a week from the living room couch. They’re so enticing, they fairly scream “scam!” 

But what about the work-from-home ads in the help wanted section of the local classifieds? On small yard signs around Lewiston-Auburn? On business cards tacked to community bulletin boards?

They’re the kind designed to appeal to moms who want to spend more time with their children, workers who have lost income in the recession and people who have few skills and a lot of time at home. In black and white, on bulletin boards and in the local paper, they can sometimes seem legitimate. Especially to people who are desperate.

And in this poor economy, many people are desperate.

So this week, the Sun Journal answered six work-from-home ads — four culled from weekly newspaper classifieds, one found on a business card tacked to a community bulletin board and one from a sign posted in front of Denny’s on Court Street in Auburn. We asked questions as potential workers, then followed that up with our own research on the companies and with discussions with experts. What we found was surprising.  

You can’t always tell a scam.

Assemble magnets and crafts from home

The newspaper ad was like so many others, promising work from home, excellent pay and no experience necessary, just call the toll-free number. 

Our first try wasn’t encouraging. The operator took our name and address, said we’d be getting our packet in the mail and then hung up when we tried to ask basic questions like “Packet of what?”

Any company that refuses to answer your questions is a fraud, our experts said.

“They don’t want to waste their time. They can make money on somebody who doesn’t have the sense to ask questions,” said Elizabeth Lordan, spokeswoman for the Federal Trade Commission, which this summer ran Operation Short Change, a crackdown on get-rich-quick schemes and other scams.

Our second try yielded a friendlier operator who also said she couldn’t answer questions but provided the company’s name and Web site for more information. 

The company turned out to be New England Crafters, also known as The Magical Gift Company, a Connecticut-based business that assembles and sells small, handmade crafts in gift shops, craft fairs and other retail outlets. For $49.95 plus shipping and handling, it will send potential workers a starter kit with instructions, supplies and three unassembled samples of a craft. Home workers assemble one of the samples and send it back for a critique. If that sample is put together well enough — or if the worker tries again and a subsequent sample is good enough — the worker is approved to assemble for the company.

New England Crafters said it reimburses workers that initial $49.95 after they get 250 pieces approved. It has over 30 projects, including a cat magnet, fabric CD case and carousel horse ornament, and workers must pay that $49.95 each time they try a new one. The company provides free written instructions and a forum for workers on its Web site, but it also offers training DVDs for $14.95.

Paying for work is a sign of a scam, experts say.      

The Connecticut Better Business Bureau shows 13 resolved complaints against New England Crafters in the last three years. It gives the business an F rating, saying it has concerns about the legitimacy of the work-at-home industry in general.

But RatRaceRebellion.com, an often-referenced Web site that weeds out scams from legitimate work-from-home opportunities, says New England Crafters is honest.    

“Every (assembly) company will charge you up front for a kit because they need to make sure they have continuity of materials and, also, they can save money by buying in bulk. Unfortunately, that’s the very thing that makes it so easy for the not legitimate ones to bamboozle people,” said Christine Durst, CEO and co-founder of Staffcentrix, which runs RatRaceRebellion.com.

RatRaceRebellion.com screens up to 5,000 work-from-home jobs every
week. For every 59 jobs it investigates, Durst said, only one proves legitimate. Durst said her Web site has not only looked into New England Crafters and its employment practices, but she’s visited its storefront in Torrington, Conn.

“In their case, they are legitimate,” she said. 

New England Crafters owner Cheska Arnone said she initially gave out her starter kit for free, but most people took off with the supplies and didn’t do the work. Charging, she said, was the only way to ensure people were serious about working.

“After 250 pieces, I know you’re going to stay with the program,” she said.

She said she tells everyone that at-home assembly is not a way to get rich quick, or even a way to get rich at all. Assemblers earn $1 to $2 for each finished item. The company’s original sheep ornament, for example, pays $1. After years of practice, Arnone can put together about 12 sheep in an hour. Most people, she said, can’t do it nearly that fast.

She’s adamant that her business is not a scam. But neither is it easy money.

“We never tell people they can make even $12 an hour,” she said.

Now hiring  

Located in the same weekly newspaper and promising work assembling products at home, the ad was very similar to the New England Crafters’ ad. But this operator was happy to answer questions.

The company was People’s Life Style based in Louisiana, and it was selling a directory of 65 companies paying up to $500 a week for at-home assembly or telephone workers. Many of the companies charge their own additional fee for a start-up kit, the operator said, but she noted that all were researched to weed out the scams.

“They’re rated with the Attorney General’s Office,” she said.

The cost of the directory: $46.95. 

“If you were looking for work outside the home, you’d spend $40 anyway in gas,” she said. 

But various online forums, including RipOffReport.com, call the directory a scam. Some former customers said the directory was filled with companies that a quick Google search determined were fraudulent. The Louisiana Better Business Bureau gives People’s Life Style an F rating, saying the company has had 39 complaints against it over the last three years, 33 of them unanswered and five of them unresolved.

“So, not a whole lot of cooperation there,” said Cynthia Albert, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Better Business Bureau.

The complaints ranged from misrepresentation to the company’s refusal to return workers’ money. On its Web site, the Better Business Bureau states the company is not an employment agency, and it urges potential buyers to find out about People’s Life Style’s limited refund policy before handing over money.

Albert stopped short of calling it a scam. 

“I believe it would be easier to say that it is misleading,” she said, adding, “They (the callers) did get something for their money, however they were not pleased with that.”

Attention moms!!


Work from home.


Are you tired of living paycheck to paycheck?

There were three ads in two different weekly newspapers and one posted on a local community bulletin board. One catered to mothers who want to be able to spend more time at home with their children. One offered part-time work for full-time pay. The third — in the form of a neon green business card —  promised $2,000 to $5,000 a month without leaving your current job. 

All provided different toll-free numbers, but calls were forwarded to the same three-minute recording that offered glowing testimonials about “this opportunity” or “this business opportunity” without actually stating what the opportunity was. Instead, callers were told to leave their name and number for someone to return the call. 

All three of our calls were returned by representatives, one from Lewiston, one from New Gloucester and one from Cape Elizabeth. The sales pitch: The wellness industry is the next trillion dollar industry! The opportunity? Selling nutritional supplement shakes. 

The ads were for Reliv, a 20-year-old company with operations in 14 countries. Although careful not to use the word “cure,” the company’s Web site and representatives said the shakes help with everything from weight loss to fibromyalgia, diabetes to autism.

Representatives lauded not only the shakes’ health benefits but also the money that could be made from them. One said she made $4,000 to $6,000 a month selling the products and teaching others how to sell them. 

“It sounds too good to be true, but you will be amazed,” she said.

For $112.45 — the combined cost of a distributorship and our first products — she said we could get started. All three representatives urged us to attend one of Reliv’s weekly meetings to learn more, or a go to a big Sept. 11 meeting that would include testimonials as well as a visit from one of the company’s leaders.

But is Reliv legit?

The Better Business Bureau gives the Missouri-based company a B-plus rating. It shows no complaints against it but also says it doesn’t have sufficient background information on the company. 

Online, reviews are mixed. Some people rave about the company and its products. Others say the shakes didn’t help them and the company is little more than a scheme in which the top people get wealthy by recruiting new people who contribute money.   

At RatRaceRebellion.com, Durst said she doesn’t know a lot about the company, but she warns potential sellers to be careful. There is no such thing as getting rich without work, she said. 

“Products or services don’t sell themselves,” she said. 

Recession-proof income

The ad and toll-free number have been sprouting up on little white lawn signs throughout Lewiston-Auburn. The pitch is good: work from home earning a recession-proof income. But what kind of work and what’s the income? We don’t know.

Like Reliv, the number went to a two-and-a-half minute recording that offered glowing testimonials — “If you’re tired of a job that controls your time, controls your schedule and controls your income, take a close look at this and see what life is like on the other side of the fence.” — without actually saying what the opportunity is. We left our contact information.

Despite three calls over four days, no one called back.

• “Work at Home” is the advertisement’s headline. “Work from home” is not a job title.

• There is no job description. Real job listings always outline what they want prospective workers to do.

• The ad or company representative tells you there
are a limited number of openings and urges you to act now. Scammers say this to get you to sign
up without taking the time to think about it.

• The ad comes to you by e-mail, unsolicited.

• No experience, no skills and no resume are required.

• You have to pay for additional information. Real jobs don’t charge you to learn more about the position.

• The ad or representative makes unbelievable claims (Make $5,000 a month stuffing envelopes for a few hours a week!).

• The company won’t give you local references to contact. 

 
Questions to ask:

• What tasks will you have to perform? (Ask the program sponsor to list every step of the job.)

• Will you be paid a salary or will your pay be based on commission? 

• Who will pay you?

• When will you get your first paycheck?

• What is the total cost of the work-at-home program, including supplies, equipment, membership fees, shipping and handling, etc.? What will you get for your money?                                                                                                                                                                                          

• Is there selling involved? If so, do you have to pay for the products up front? And are you required to take a certain amount of products every month, even if you haven’t sold last month’s supply yet?  

 Want to know if your opportunity is a scam? 

• Do a basic Internet search using the company’s name. You can also try searching for the company through specific Web sites designed to warn people about scams, such as www.RipoffReport.com. 

• Check the company’s complaint history and Better Business Bureau rating at www.bbb.org/us

• Ask around. Don’t know anyone who’s tried it? Go to an online forum for work-at-home workers and post a question asking whether anyone has ever tried this opportunity. You can find such forums at www.wahm.com, www.WorkplaceLikeHome.com and www.scam.com.  

Want to work from home?

• Go to legitimate Web sites that attempt to screen the scams for you, such as www.RatRacerebellion.com and www.wahm.com. (Note: Even these Web sites can get fooled, so still proceed with caution with any work-from-home opportunity you find there.)

• Look around. Companies sometimes need people to work from home, but you may only find those jobs directly through the company.

 
Sources: RatRaceRebellion.com, Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, Maine Attorney General’s Office


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