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Special BBB Investigation Confirms: Work-at-Home Deals are "TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE"
Arlington, VA., October 12, 2000 --
Interested in making money while staying at home? Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

That is what Better Business Bureaus across North America have confirmed in a year-long study of 112 work-at-home companies that advertise in newspapers and magazines, on the Internet, and on signs posted in various communities. Operation Job Fraud, a task force comprised of 15 BBB professionals in cooperation with the United States Postal Inspection Service, coordinated the project.

"Work-at-home schemers often target the most vulnerable, those who can least afford to lose the money," said Kathryn M. Conklin, president of the BBB headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and chair of the task force. Students, stay-at-home mothers, disabled people, and the elderly are always hopeful that they can earn some money at home. Our investigation shows direct evidence to the contrary. We "shopped" more than 100 work-at-home advertisements, and found absolutely no evidence of people making the earnings promised. In fact, most people pay more up-front than they ever earn doing the work advertised.

Operation Job Fraud Task Force The task force was formed a year ago in response to growing BBB concerns about an industry that regularly tops the list of types of businesses generating the most inquiries to local BBBs. In 1999, the most recent year for which national data is available, work-at-home schemes generated nearly 280,000 inquiries to Better Business Bureaus across the U.S., and more than 5,500 complaints.

According to the BBB, those complaint numbers are probably just the tip of the iceberg. "This is a bigger problem than anyone realizes," said Ken Hunter, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "The amount of money that one person spends on these schemes is typically a relatively small amount, so too many victims never complain because they feel foolish about being taken."

Operation Job Fraud's mission was three-fold: to alert the public to work-at-home schemes, expose these practices and operators that deceive and rob the public, and help law enforcement in criminal prosecutions. Better Business Bureaus in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico were invited to participate by shopping and investigating work-at-home companies that consumers in their areas were calling about. As the task force gathered results, information was shared with Postal Inspectors to assist in arrests and prosecution. That effort is ongoing.

Investigation Results The task force identified a variety of work-at-home companies, including envelope-stuffing, product assembly, medical billing, mystery shopping, and business opportunities, such as vitamin sales, auto-dialing machines, selling advertising on the Internet, and telemarketing of videotapes, books and seminars.

Of the 112 companies investigated, 21 were out of business before the study concluded. Twelve others did not respond after money was sent, and 10 did not respond to preliminary inquiries. Of the remaining 69 companies, 2 stated that "positions were filled," and the rest sent instructions for setting up another work-at-home company, products to assemble, books and/or lists of other companies to contact for work opportunities, or offers for software, books, or videos.

While ads claim high earnings and short hours with little or no experience, the task force found no evidence of people actually making the promised money. Rather, after paying advance "registration" fees or "good faith deposits," the consumer receives either nothing, or information that encourages involvement in an illegal scheme or supplies to assemble a product that is virtually impossible to complete.

The two most prevalent types of work-at-home ads are for product assembly and envelope stuffing. In most assembly cases, the company sends specific instructions for the worker to follow, warning the items will be rejected and no money earned if the products did not meet the company's standards. "Our experience shows that even the most competent of workers couldn't meet these so-called standards," Conklin said. "The only one getting rich is the person who owns the company."
Typical envelope stuffing offers, which have been around since the Great Depression, promote earnings of $1 or $2 per envelope and promise that a worker can make thousands of dollars monthly. Some advertised offers also pledge to refund the advance fee once a thousand envelopes are stuffed. "Workers become discouraged long before they get the thousand envelopes stuffed, particularly when they realize they're distributing advertisements to lure advance fees from other would-be workers, thereby helping to perpetuate the scam," Conklin explained.

The Lincoln, Nebraska BBB reported to the task force that a couple appearing to be in their mid-to-late 30's came to the BBB with a stack of envelopes so big that the woman could barely hold them between her thumb and fingers. They were responses to her requests for information on envelope stuffing. In her other hand she had two pieces of lined notebook paper with 15 addresses of other envelope stuffing ads that she asked Harlene Holz, BBB staffer, to check out for her. After Holz talked to the couple for about 30 minutes, they left with the envelopes and addresses. "Were they convinced of the futility of such offers" I seriously doubt it. It's sad," said Holz.

The task force also warns against medical billing offers that involve high fees in advance. BBB experience found that the software sent is often unusable, and the worker must develop his or her own leads without assistance from the company.

Evaluating Work-at-Home Offers   The BBB offers a publication to help consumers identify the red flags that signify a potential work-at-home scheme. A copy is posted on the BBB central web site at or consumers can request a hard copy by contacting their local BBB.

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