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Too good to be true: Look out for quick-cash jobs [USC Student Newspaper Article]

by Chung So - Daily Trojan Wednesday, Oct. 06, 2004 at 10:18 PM

Students who stumble upon "dream" jobs such as envelope stuffing or knife selling, often end up with lost time and money.

Calling your own hours, getting great pay and working at home doesn't have to wait until years after graduation - it can happen today!" so the advertisement says. All you have to do is stuff some envelopes, take surveys or make a few phone calls.

But how often do people actually make money off these forms of employment? The Federal Trade Commission and various consumer groups said almost never.

In fact, four of the FTC's "dirty dozen" e-mail scams involve business work or investment opportunities of some sort. Victims of these scams not only waste time and effort, some lose their own money as well.

Many of these "opportunities" require employees to pay an up front fee of some sort, promising that what they earn will more than make up for what they initially paid, consumer radio personality Clark Howard said.

"If they tell you to pay or for all the supplies, it's likely you won't get anything but some more ads for the company," Howard said on his Web site.

Other times, people are charged for attending information sessions, getting "potential customer" directories and even for receiving training manuals.

Emily Yoffe, a writer for Slate, MSN's online magazine, was undaunted by the criticisms. She signed onto a get-rich-quick scheme for her article, admitting that she initially felt "a little hopeful" as to what the outcome might be.

She paid for a kit that explained the logistics of the plan, including sales scripts to tell potential buyers. Both the business and the money sounded legitimate. The problem? She would have to find her own clients.

After countless calls to find someone interested in her product, Yoffe called it quits with zero clients, almost 0 gone and an "extremely cynical" attitude. After Slate published her experience, Yoffe received hundreds of e-mails from others who had dealt with similar situations.

In its consumer alert, the FTC notes that these scams "could've ripped off unsuspecting consumers to the tune of billions of dollars." Yet despite the warnings, hundreds of people, including USC students, flock to the offers every day.

It's probably because "there's a lot of hope out there that one of these would be legitimate," Yoffe said.

But making money can be hard, even with a legitimate business. Such is the case for representatives of Vector Marketing and Cutco, whose Web site at touts "excellent income," "flexible daily and weekly schedules" and other benefits.

It might have been those words that drew USC computer science major Tom Robinson to an interview. He later declined the job after independent research of his own.

"I looked it up on the Internet and saw a lot people complaining; it didn't seem like a worthwhile job," he said.

Among the dissatisfied are Vector's ex-representatives, many of them college students, alleging that the actual pay is much less than advertised. Billed as independent contractors, the representatives are paid on a per-appointment basis. Time spent traveling or making phone calls is not only unpaid, but workers don't get reimbursed for phone usage or filling the gas tank.

Employees are also obligated to attend unpaid mandatory meetings and buy or pay a deposit for cutlery sets to use in demonstrations.

Many ex-representatives are taking action against Vector. Some have joined the group SAVE (Students Against Vector Exploitation) and others are participating in class-action lawsuits for back pay and unethical recruitment and marketing practices.

Lauren Katz, co-founder of SAVE, won a case last year against Vector in which she was compensated for her unpaid training time. Vector has also settled cases with other entities, including the Arizona Attorney General and the State of Wisconsin.

In response to these incidents and other negative coverage, Vector states that "like every large company, (we) have faced challenges and criticisms over the years ... (but) ultimately, we're proud of the value of our programs, the quality of our products and the integrity and caliber of our people."

Yoffe and Robinson, however, warn that there are probably more companies doing the same thing, using a variety of media, from college bulletin boards to e-mails to letters mailed home, to attract workers.

"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," Robinson said.

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