As economy tanks, beware these make-money-from-home schemes

Who wouldn't want to make up to $5,000 a week from home stuffing envelopes? You wouldn't, since you're more likely to lose money by signing on for such a scam.

As the economy takes a turn for the much worse, those make-money-from-home schemes start to sound awfully appealing.

Targeted to senior citizens, stay-at-home moms and low-income earners, these scams have been going on for years but have been jump-started with the help of the internets. It's as easy as buying a few well-placed banner ads on existing, otherwise legitimate websites. Indeed, just Google "Work from home" and see how many ads pop up, promising that you can make "$240 by tonight!"

Forbes Magazine gives a great rundown on the kinds of scams taking people for a ride these days. Work from home-related complaints ranked among the Federal Trade Commission's top 20 fraud complaint categories between 1997 and 2005 (the latest figures available), according to Forbes. In those nine years, some 37,333 complaints were filed to the FTC.

Some of the standard work-from-home schemes include stuffing envelopes, processing medical insurance, making toys, "re-shipping" and check cashing. In re-shipping scams, the worker is "hired" to accept items through the mail (usually stolen) and re-ship them to another address. When officials come calling, the person doing the shipping is busted...while the outfit that hired them to do so has long disappeared.

Some ways you can avoid getting scammed? Remember that if it sounds too good to be true (back to that $5,000 a week deal), it usually is. If you could actually make that kind of money stuffing envelopes or typing forms, nobody would ever go to law school.

Carefully examine the website. It might look legit, but misspellings, bad grammar and lots of incorrect capitalization and exclamation points suggest otherwise. Legitimate companies hire Professional Writers and Copy Editors to craft their copy!! They don't make alot of the mistakes your going to see in sights which are fake!!! (ahem. Sic!)

Beware gushing testimonials. These are easily made up by scammers. Try contacting some of these individuals and talking to them personally about their experiences. If you can actually get ahold of one of them, chances are they're singing a different tune by now.

Never pay cash up front for a business opportunity. For example, paying $100 for a list of businesses that need form typing, or sending in $25 for a "set-up" kit to help you "launch" your envelope stuffing empire. If you're certain you want to take the chance, at least use a credit card to pay any upfront "costs," where there's a better chance of recouping your money if (or when) you realize you've been scammed.

Of course some work-from-home schemes are for reals. The trick is to evaluate each opportunity with a skeptical eye. The FTC has its own web page on ways to smell a work-from-home rat.

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