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Be part of one of America's Fastest Growing Industries!
Earn thousand of dollars a month - from your home - Processing Medical Billing Claims.

You can find ads like this everywhere - from the street light and telephone pole on your corner to your newspaper and PC. While you may find these ads appealing, especially if you can't work outside your home, proceed with caution. Not all work-at-home opportunities deliver on their promises.

Many ads omit the fact that you may have to work many hours without pay. Or they don't disclose all the costs you will have to pay. Countless work-at-home schemes require you to spend your own money to place newspaper ads; make photocopies; or buy the envelopes, paper, stamps, and other supplies or equipment you need to do the job. The companies sponsoring the ads also may demand that you pay for instructions or "tutorial" software. Consumers deceived by these ads have lost thousands of dollars, in addition to their time and energy.

Classic Work-at-Home Schemes
Several types of offers are classic work-at-home schemes.

Medical billing. Ads for pre-packaged businesses - known as billing centers - are in newspapers, on television and on the Internet. If you respond, you'll get a sales pitch that may sound something like this: There's "a crisis" in the health care system, due partly to the overwhelming task of processing paper claims. The solution is electronic claim processing. Because only a small percentage of claims are transmitted electronically, the market for billing centers is wide open.

The promoter also may tell you that many doctors who process claims electronically want to "outsource" or contract out their billing services to save money. Promoters will promise that you can earn a substantial income working full or part time, providing services like billing, accounts receivable, electronic insurance claim processing and practice management to doctors and dentists. They also may assure you that no experience is required, that they will provide clients eager to buy your services or that their qualified salespeople will find clients for you.

The reality: you will have to sell. These promoters rarely provide experienced sales staff or contacts within the medical community.

The promoter will follow up by sending you materials that typically include a brochure, application, sample diskettes, a contract (licensing agreement), disclosure document, and in some cases, testimonial letters, videocassettes and reference lists. For your investment of $2,000 to $8,000, a promoter will promise software, training and technical support. And the company will encourage you to call its references. Make sure you get many names from which to chose. If only one or two names are given, they may be "shills" - people hired to give favorable testimonials. It's best to interview people in person, preferably where the business operates, to reduce your risk of being mislead by shills and also to get a better sense of how the business works.

Few consumers who purchase a medical billing business opportunity are able to find clients, start a business and generate revenues - let alone recover their investment and earn a substantial income. Competition in the medical billing market is fierce and revolves around a number of large and well-established firms.

Envelope stuffing. Promoters usually advertise that, for a "small" fee, they will tell you how to earn money stuffing envelopes at home. Later - when it's too late - you find out that the promoter never had any employment to offer. Instead, for your fee, you're likely to get a letter telling you to place the same "envelope-stuffing" ad in newspapers or magazines, or to send the ad to friends and relatives. The only way you'll earn money is if people respond to your work-at-home ad.

Assembly or craft work. These programs often require you to invest hundreds of dollars in equipment or supplies. Or they require you to spend many hours producing goods for a company that has promised to buy them. For example, you might have to buy a sewing or sign-making machine from the company, or materials to make items like aprons, baby shoes or plastic signs. However, after you've purchased the supplies or equipment and performed the work, fraudulent operators don't pay you. In fact, many consumers have had companies refuse to pay for their work because it didn't meet "quality standards."

Unfortunately, no work is ever "up to standard," leaving workers with relatively expensive equipment and supplies - and no income. To sell their goods, these workers must find their own customers.

Questions to Ask
Legitimate work-at-home program sponsors should tell you - in writing - what's involved in the program they are selling. Here are some questions you might ask a promoter:

  • What tasks will I have to perform? (Ask the program sponsor to list every step of the job.)
  • Will I be paid a salary or will my pay be based on commission?
  • Who will pay me?
  • When will I get my first paycheck?
  • What is the total cost of the work-at-home program, including supplies, equipment and membership fees? What will I get for my money?

The answers to these questions may help you determine whether a work-at-home program is appropriate for your circumstances, and whether it is legitimate.

You also might want to check out the company with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau, not only where the company is located, but also where you live. These organizations can tell you whether they have received complaints about the work-at-home program that interests you. But be wary: the absence of complaints doesn't necessarily mean the company is legitimate. Unscrupulous companies may settle complaints, change their names or move to avoid detection.

Where to Complain
If you have spent money and time on a work-at-home program and now believe the program may not be legitimate, contact the company and ask for a refund. Let company representatives know that you plan to notify officials about your experience. If you can't resolve the dispute with the company, file a complaint with these organizations:

  • The Federal Trade Commission works for the consumer to prevent fraud and deception. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or log on to www.ftc.gov.
  • The Attorney General's office in your state or the state where the company is located. The office will be able to tell you whether you're protected by any state law that may regulate work-at-home programs.
  • Your local consumer protection offices.
  • Your local Better Business Bureau.
  • Your local postmaster. The U.S. Postal Service investigates fraudulent mail practices.
  • The advertising manager of the publication that ran the ad. The manager may be interested to learn about the problems you've had with the company.

For More Information

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
1-877-FTC-HELP www.ftc.gov


The Lowdown on Chain Letters

Everybody's received them - chain letters or email messages that promise a big return on a small investment. The promises include unprecedented good luck, mountains of recipes, or worse, huge financial rewards for sending as little as $5 to someone on a list or making a telephone call. The simplest chain letters contain a list of names and addresses, with instructions to send something - usually a small sum of money - to the person at the top of the list, remove that name from the list, and add your own name to the bottom of the list. Then, the instructions call for you to mail or email copies of the letter to a certain number of other people, along with the directions of how they should "continue the chain." The theory behind chain letters is that by the time your name gets to the top of the list, so many people will be involved that you'll be inundated with whatever the chain promises to deliver. One recently circulated email chain letter promised earnings of "$50,000 or more within in the next 90 days of sending email." Whether you receive a chain letter by regular mail or email - especially one that involves money - the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reminds you that:

  • Chain letters that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start one or send one on, you are breaking the law.
  • Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your "investment." Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.
  • Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming that they're legal, and even that they're endorsed by the government. Nothing is further from the truth.
  • If you've been a target of a chain email scam, contact your Internet Service Provider and forward the email to the FTC at uce@ftc.gov.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers information about chain letters at www.framed.usps.com/postalinspectors/chainlet.htm. Or you can call the Postal Inspection Service toll-free, 1-888-877-7644.

The "Nigerian" Scam: Costly Compassion

Nigerian advance-fee fraud has been around for decades, but now seems to have reached epidemic proportions: Some consumers have told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) they are receiving dozens of offers a day from supposed Nigerians politely promising big profits in exchange for help moving large sums of money out of their country. And apparently, many compassionate consumers are continuing to fall for the convincing sob stories, the unfailingly polite language, and the unequivocal promises of money. These advance-fee solicitations are scams. And according to the FTC, the scam artists are playing each and every consumer for a fool. Here's the play book:

Claiming to be Nigerian officials, businesspeople or the surviving spouses of former government honchos, con artists offer to transfer millions of dollars into your bank account in exchange for a small fee. If you respond to the initial offer, you may receive "official looking" documents. Typically, you're then asked to provide blank letterhead and your bank account numbers, as well as some money to cover transaction and transfer costs and attorney's fees.

You may even be encouraged to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete the transaction. Sometimes, the fraudsters will produce trunks of dyed or stamped money to verify their claims. Inevitably, though, emergencies come up, requiring more of your money and delaying the "transfer" of funds to your account; in the end, there aren't any profits for you to share, and the scam artist has vanished with your money.

If You Receive an Offer

If you're tempted to respond to an offer, the FTC suggests you stop and ask yourself two important questions: Why would a perfect stranger pick you - also a perfect stranger - to share a fortune with, and why would you share your personal or business information, including your bank account numbers or your company letterhead, with someone you don't know? And the U.S. Department of State cautions against traveling to the destination mentioned in the letters. According to State Department reports, people who have responded to these "advance-fee" solicitations have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered.

If you receive an offer via email from someone claiming to need your help getting money out of Nigeria - or any other country, for that matter - forward it to the FTC at uce@ftc.gov.

If you have lost money to one of these schemes, call your local Secret Service field office. You also can call 202-406-5572 for information.

For More Information

More information about Nigerian Advance-Fee Loan scams is available from the Department of Justice (www.justiceonline.org/consum/nigerian.html), or www.state.gov/www/regions/africa/naffpub.pdf).


How To Spot a Scam a Mile off  By Elena Fawkner

Received the following forwarded email from a subscriber
this morning:

"I am an Executive Director with the Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and a member of the
Contract Advisory Committee (CAC). I am seeking your
assistance to enable me transfer the sum of
$26,500,000 (Twenty Six Million, Five hundred Thousand
United States Dollars) into your private/company

Carole told me she has received "3 or 4 of these in the last
week, I think from different people. I deleted the others. It makes
me nervous. Sounds like a dangerous scam. "

That's exactly what it is, of course. Maybe you're reading this
thinking "I can't believe people are still falling for the Nigeria
scam after all this time". On the other hand, maybe you're
reading this thinking, "Wow, I might have responded to that. How
am I supposed to know what's a scam and what's real?

The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of people
coming online, for the first time, each year. Many of these
people have simply not been exposed to scams like the ones
that are constantly touted on the Internet before. Many of these
people come online to try and find a way to make money with their
computers and/or they're looking for ideas for making money
from home.

The fact that they may not recognize scams off the bat doesn't
mean they're naive or stupid, it just means that they haven't been
in an environment where this sort of stuff came their way before
now. And don't the scammers know it.

Like vultures circling overhead, they await their prey. They know
they have only a narrow window of opportunity because it doesn't
take newbies long to catch on so they have to be quick about it. And
how do they do that? They hang out where newbies hang out so
they can get them while they're still young and fresh and vulnerable.
They're nothing but predators looking to pick off the easiest game.
Wouldn't want to have to engage in any real work, after all.
In this article we look at several main scams and how to recognize

=> Nigerian Advance Fee Scheme

The gist of this worldwide scheme is that small to medium-size
businesses receive a letter from someone who purports to be
an official of the Nigerian government or major utility or similar
who needs to transfer some huge amount of money out of the
country. The money typically is an overpayment by the government
on a procurement contract. The object of the exercise is to get
you to provide your bank account details (for the purpose of
wire transferring the money of course). Surprise surprise, there's
a transfer all right but not INTO your account!

=> The FTC "Dirty Dozen"

These are the top 12 scams that have been identified by the
(U.S.) Federal Trade Commission as the most likely to arrive
via email:

1. Business Opportunities - often pyramid schemes (see below)
thinly disguised as legitimate opportunities to earn money.
What to look for: high returns with little or no effort or cash outlay

2. Bulk Email - offers of lists of thousands of email addresses
all of whom, of course, are just dying to receive your marketing
What to look for: "Bulk Email Works! 10,000 addresses for $9.99."

3. Chain Letters - send $5 to the next name on the list then
cross the bottom name off the list, replace it with your own, then
forward the letter to 500 of your nearest and dearest.
What to look for: A jail cell. This is a pyramid scheme and is
illegal. The letter goes to great pains to say that it is not illegal.

4. Envelope Stuffing - think you're going to be paid for stuffing
envelopes? Think again. You get a kit that you can turn around
to recruit others to an envelope stuffing scam of your very own!
Watch out for craft assembly work as well. You'll probably find
all of your hard work is not up to their exacting "quality standards"
and therefore you won't get paid for your work.

5. Health and Diet Scams - magic pills that eradicate the need
to eat fewer calories than you expend in order to lose weight.
They don't work.

6. Effortless Income - no such thing. As the FTC says, if they
worked, everyone would be doing it.

7. Free Goods - you're told you'll get a free computer. You have
to pay a fee to join a club and then told you have to recruit other
members. You get paid in computers. They're nothing but pyramid

8. Investment Opportunities - look for outrageously high rates
of return with no risk.

9. Cable Descrambler Kits - they probably won't work and even
if they do, you're stealing a service from a cable company and
committing a crime.

10. Guaranteed Loans or Credit - pay a fee and you're
given a list of lenders, all of whom turn you down. Credit cards
never arrive.

11. Credit Repair - no matter how bad your credit, pay these
people and they'll fix it. They generally just advise you how to lie
on future credit applications - how to commit fraud in other words.

12. Vacation Prize Promotions - your accommodations will be so
bad you'll want to pay for an upgrade. You'll probably have to pay
to schedule a vacation at the time you want as well.

=> Pyramid Schemes

Make money by recruiting members into the program without giving
anything of equal value in exchange for membership fees. Contrast
MLM (multi-level marketing schemes). These are not pyramid
schemes because they involve the sale of products and services
in return for membership.

=> Medical Billing

Prepackaged businesses requiring an investment of $2,000 to
$8,000. Few people who purchase one of these "businesses"
are able to find clients, start a business and generate revenues.
Competition in this area is fierce and concentrated around a
few big, well-entrenched firms.

=> Your In Box

Finally, go to your in-box now. You'll find no end of scams sitting
right there. Here's one that just arrived in mine ...

"Subject: How to make $1,000,000 in 20 weeks selling to
Newcomers on the Net"

Like all the rest, it gets the one-finger salute - index finger
to the delete key. Works beautifully every time.

Where to go for more information on internet scams:

FTC Website



About the Author
Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online ...
practical home business ideas for the work-from-home



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