Scams and frauds and cons, oh my

If you believe the advertising, work-at-home opportunities are everywhere.

E-mail boxes fill up daily with "spam" ads for home-based careers. Classified ads for "business opportunities" often boast that the businesses can be run from home. Nearly every utility pole on every street, it seems, sports an ad: "Earn $100's Every Week, Working at Home!"

Many of these pitches, sad to say, are simply fraud. They prey on working parents who'd like to stay home all day with the kids, but still make something approaching an income. These scams, experts say, often require the victim to lay out hundreds, even thousands, of dollars as an "initial investment" or for "equipment costs," and then provide no way to recover that money.

Take, for example, one of the oldest swindles -- stuffing envelopes. The only way to "Earn $100's Every Week" stuffing envelopes is if you stuff them with heroin.

It's a shame that so many people fall for these con games, though it's hard to see what the victims expect from any industry where the primary form of advertising is flyers pasted on telephone poles.

However, for people who are creative and industrious, there are "legitimate" ways to make money at home. Let's look at some of these careers, and the special skills and talents they require:

--Telemarketing. Sick of sales pitches during the dinner hour? Then you should look into telemarketing. In this field, you can be the one interrupting other people's dinner! Special skill required: Access to a phone.

--E-bay and other online auction houses. You can make money by selling the junk out of your garage! Once you run out of junk, you can start "borrowing" stuff from your neighbors' garages. Removing garage clutter can be considered a public service! Special talent required: Stealth.

--Selling vitamins and other health products. Americans, particularly Baby Boomers, are obsessed with their health, so this is a hot sales arena. Special requirement for this career: A healthy glow. Customers won't trust your claims if you look sickly.

--Selling beauty products. Not for the naturally ugly. See above.

--Retirement consultant. Guide customers through the tricky thickets of the thrill-ride stock market, slumping 401(k)'s and other investments. Win or lose, you get your commission! Special talent required: Boundless optimism.

--Computer consultant. With a computer on every desk in America, this is a field that just keeps growing! Many people still are not comfortable working with computers, and you can use this discomfort by constantly warning them of viruses, worms and other electronic plagues. If that doesn't work, you can always develop a virus that only you can fix. Talk about a captive audience! Some actual computer skills required.

--Market research and political polling. See "Telemarketing" above.

--Phone sex. Fleece the twisted and lonely! Necessary talent: Must be capable of keeping boredom out of your voice as you say, "Ooh, baby, baby," 179 times a day.

--Psychic hotlines. Thousands of people pay good money every day to consult by phone with seers who can describe the future. No skills required, beyond a healthy imagination. Anyone gullible enough to trust in psychics will believe whatever you tell them.

--Writing books and articles. Forget this one. There's no money in it. Special talent required: Masochism.

--Spam-oriented businesses. Someone, somewhere, is making money from all those e-mail ads offering to refinance your mortgage, shrink/enlarge particular portions of your anatomy or show you the "hottest porn on the Internet." Why shouldn't that someone be you? Special skills: Basic computer skills and the surgical removal of your conscience.

--Brokering business opportunities. You can help others "Earn $100's Every Week" from home-based businesses. They do the work, and you make money from their "initial investments!" Special requirement: Must have a flexible schedule that allows for jail time.

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