Before investing your time and money in a work-at-home opportunity, understand what you’re paying for, and set realistic expectations for success.
By Janet Groene, F47166
The deal looked ideal to a young, single woman who dreamed of becoming a full-time motorhomer. So, she signed up for a multilevel marketing opportunity that she believed would wow her fellow campers. Not only would she profit by selling the product herself, she would get commissions from a growing group of subsellers she recruited, along with their subsellers.
She paid for a training course, bought samples, and hit the road, so excited about the prospects that she never considered the possibility that she could be stranded and broke in just a few months. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Her product couldn’t compete in a very crowded field; fellow campers didn’t buy into the idea of joining her in her sales efforts; and her pyramid never rose above the first level. By the time she wrote me an angry letter, she was bitterly disillusioned.
If you’re a full-timer who makes money on the go, a work-at-home (WAH) job would seem to be a perfect fit. Work when and where you please, and watch the paychecks pour in. Many such WAH plans require use of the Internet, while others involve things you can do, make, or sell as you travel. The attraction of this type of arrangement is that you have your own business that you can operate no matter where you are.
But before jumping in headfirst and suffering the consequences, here are several tips and cautions to help you separate real work-at-home opportunities from pie-in-the-sky scams.
Does the company you are interested in working with have a phone number that is answered by a live person? Does it have a physical address? Has it received a rating from the Better Business Bureau (www.BBB.org)? Ensure that you’re dealing with a real company before purchasing any types of books, training programs, or merchandise. When you send money to a nameless, faceless Web site, you’re asking for trouble. Some of these companies may be located overseas. If you want a refund or hope to prosecute a fraud, they may be out of reach. And you’ll be out of luck.
When you provide a credit card number online to pay for an inexpensive how-to booklet, you may be signing up for more than you think. A checked box here or clicking “okay” there may authorize the company to initiate monthly charges to your credit card for a series of books, lessons, Web site access, CDs, or nothing at all. Read all the fine print before checking the “I Agree” box, and uncheck boxes that give permission for a company to contact you, put your name on mail lists, or otherwise involve you in some type of business relationship. Check your monthly credit card statements carefully. Sometimes these charges are small, less than $20 or so, but they can go on forever unless you put a stop to them.
Do the math. One twist on the old envelope-stuffing scam is that of assembling products from kits or from materials you must buy from the company. Some companies are legitimate and actually do pay after you send in the finished work. However, look at the cost of raw materials, how many units you’re likely to produce per hour, and how much you’re likely to earn per hour.
One hidden hazard when involved in this kind of job is that your work could fail to pass “inspection,” leaving you stuck with the merchandise. You may not be able to sell it for enough to cover the cost of your materials.
Beware of multilevel marketing schemes. If the deal relies heavily on your ability to talk other people into taking the sales course and buying the sample kit, you could lose friends as well as dollars.
X-The ad shouts, “Just sit in front of your computer, filling out surveys, and giving your opinion.” It claims you can make $20 an hour or more by answering surveys and listing companies whose names impress you. But wait! First you need to take a course that costs $49. Beware of any scheme that asks for money upfront before you are told the specifics.
If possible, deal in person with the company you plan to do business with. If that’s not possible, work through the mail and keep every scrap of correspondence. If you’re scammed, you may be able to recoup some of your money by going after the company on a federal mail fraud charge.
Do an online search for the words “work at home scam.” The results are eye-opening and scary. The first three URLs to pop up on my screen claimed to warn against scams while touting schemes that charged money up front. Many “reviews” and other “exposés” are by people who are in the sole business of selling you their “approved” work-at-home schemes.
Medical transcription WAH schemes were common a few years ago. People took the courses but then discovered that they couldn’t find clients who needed their skills. Today the list of costly WAH courses includes dozens of other “careers,” such as bridal consulting, child care, financial planning, jewelry repair, flower arranging, travel agent, and many other opportunities that may never earn you a dime. Continuing education is always a plus, and fields such as these do provide viable employment for many, but keep in mind that taking a course doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find a job, attract customers, or establish a viable WAH business.
Bank exchange schemes seem innocent enough. You receive cashier’s checks from abroad, deposit them in your bank account, and write checks on the balance after deducting your commission. This is a twist on the scam that caught some motorhome sellers in the past. They received a cashier’s check for more than the selling price and sent the supposed buyer a refund by personal check. Then the cashier’s check bounced and victims learned they had not only lost a sale but also some of their own money.
In this new variation, you simply act as a middleman for what sounds like a legitimate banking job. The scheme snares people who have bookkeeping or banking backgrounds and see themselves as qualified for this kind of work. One victim was $25,000 in the hole before the cashier’s checks began bouncing.
The bottom line for any of these work-at-home opportunities is that you probably already have marketable skills and may not need new ones to establish a business. Even if you do go through some type of training, the toughest part of the endeavor is the lonely, high-disciplined, uncertain world of self-employment. You may not be cut out for it, regardless of how good you are at your art or craft.
Here’s a final word of wisdom when looking for a WAH job. If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So, do your homework and be careful.
When you change phone numbers
When you go full-timing and give up your hard-wired telephone or old cell phone plan, it can cost a fortune to change to a new number. Some calls are sure to be missed during the transition period, resulting in the loss of friends and perhaps business. Now there is a way to avoid high forwarding costs. Go to www.numbergarage.com to “park” your old number for $4.95 per month or forward calls for $9.95 per month. Both services charge an initial $29.95 sign-up fee that also includes the first month of service.
Books for travelers
Whether you enjoy American history in general, the history of the canal era, or just the scenery of the Northeastern countryside, Deborah Williams’ new book, The Erie Canal: Exploring New York’s Great Canals ($19.95, The Countryman Press), is a must-read. As part of the Great Destinations series of guidebooks, it’s an important addition to any New York traveler’s library. The region that holds the Erie, Oswego, Cayuga-Seneca, and Champlain canals is peppered with important historic sites. Waterford, where the Erie and Champlain canals and the Hudson and Mohawk rivers meet, is said to be the oldest incorporated village in the nation.
With the help of this book, you can explore the canal region for an entire season, enjoying charming restaurants, lock-side picnic areas, leafy campgrounds, and museums. This is a comprehensive guide for the serious traveler.
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