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Are the "Work at Home" ads legit or are they a scam? Does one who registers actually stuff envelopes at home and receive cash for every envelope that they mail out? I see them on telephone poles, walls, and in the classified ads section. Is it worth the $25.00 registration fee?

-- Want to Work at Home in San Diego

Career guidance tacked to a phone pole is probably not worth much. And this envelope-stuffing gig is a proven loser. Ma Alice proved it a couple of decades ago. Ya see, she needed a job to keep her parole officer happy. She found a classified ad saying, "Earn $$$$ at home stuffing envelopes. $25 gets you started!" She sent the money and got back a piece of paper instructing her to run classified ads in newspapers saying, "Earn $$$$ at home stuffing envelopes."

The Federal Trade Commission has been prosecuting companies that promise big money for part-time work at home envelope stuffing, medical billing, electronic assembly, sewing and crafts. The schemes work on basically the same idea: send us money (sometimes thousands of dollars); we'll send you outdated medical billing software, unassembled cheap teddy bears and sewing gear, or circuit boards and soldering equipment; then you have to sell the billing service/circuit boards/teddy bears yourself. There's no ready market for them, no matter what the scamsters say. The companies are in the business of peddling useless software and cheesy teddy bears, not dedicated to making you a wealthy woman. Worse yet, if you can't afford the up-front money, they'll arrange financing for you at very interesting interest charges. The FTC's crackdown included payphone, display rack, and vending machine scams that also beckon to people from phone poles and classified ads.

The FTC sez, any of these companies are required by law to give you the names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least 10 people in your area who have already invested in their plan, and get any earning claims in writing (this won't make them true, it will only give you a little something to bring into court when you have to sue them). Call the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General's office (1-877-FTC-HELP or www.ftc.gov) before you commit any money to a get-rich-working-at-home plan.

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