Sunday, July 29, 2007
BY REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
You’ve seen the ads in the newspapers, magazines and on the Internet — make money working from home assembling products and stuffing envelopes. Did you know these are two of the oldest home business scams?
The advertisements read:
# Part/Full time assembling job. Work at home. Earn extra income. SMS your name and address to 015-234 6789
# Earn RM300 weekly stuffing envelopes. More if you work more. Information free. Material provided. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
LOOK familiar? Would you respond to this advertisement? And why not? It allows you the flexibility of working from home and gives you the opportunity to earn some money.
After reading it, you might rush to get more information only to be told you have to “register” as a member and pay a fee. So you pay the amount and you either don’t get your product or cannot locate the person. You feel cheated. If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone.
Home business or work-at-home scams rob unsuspecting consumers of millions of dollars every year. Victims targeted include homemakers, students, the unemployed, elderly, disabled, and anyone wanting to make a quick buck. From America to Singapore and Malaysia, there is always a gullible soul who will fall into the trap.
In this materialistic world, everybody wants to make money. So when you advertise something that tells people how to make easy money, it will sell like hotcakes. When you sign up to assemble products at home, you usually have to text your name and address to receive information by mail. Then, you have to pay a certain fee, after which sometimes you get the product.
The product arrives, you try to assemble it to the best of your ability and send it back. Bear in mind, you are paying for the postage. Most of the time, when you send the assembled product back to the company, they will tell you it’s not up to par. Afterwards, the crooks disappear.
What do you do? Where can you seek redress? Many of these dubious companies make their money off the “registration” fees.
Let’s analyse the situation. Do you think a company would spend money sending the parts of a product all over the country to be assembled? If it indeed were a genuine company, it would hire someone within the vicinity to assemble the products.
A check on some of these information flyers reveals that one person might operate a few scams. The signature on the flyers we examined, while having a different name every time, is markedly signed off in the same handwriting. These con artists employ deception, misrepresentation and fraud to lure their victims.
This year alone, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) has received an average of five complaints a month.
CAP’s head of complaints section Ravinder Singh says, “There are no laws in this country to bring these perpetrators to book and the authorities seem unwilling to stop the unscrupulous operators.” (At press time, the police couldn’t be reached for comment.)
“We advise the victims to make police reports but the police tell them there is no element of criminal offence. Such scams are frauds which fall within the ambit of the Penal Code. The police can trace the scam operators through PO Box numbers, phone numbers, tenancy agreement, bank accounts, etc,” he says.
Ravinder thinks the police should not dismiss reports of such scams as “contracts voluntarily entered into by consumers with operators of the schemes (scams)”.
“The intention behind such schemes is to defraud consumers. This is a criminal offence!”
Still, Ravinder advises victims to make reports to the police and to the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumers Affairs. They can also file claims in the Consumer Claims Tribunal, although it is practically impossible for consumers to recover their losses because the identities of the scam operators are not known as they hop from one address to another.
“For the matter to be heard in the Consumer Claims Tribunal, the victims need to know the person behind the scheme. And if the company has disappeared, there is no way of tracking these cheaters.’’ says Ravinder.
Since these advertisements are mainly in the print media and reach a large number of unsuspecting people, Ravinder believes newspapers can play a major role in helping check this scam.
“Newspapers should stop accepting work-at-home advertisements that do not give street addresses, phone numbers or names of persons. Full particulars of the advertiser should be recorded and copies of business registration certificates obtained. Curbing such advertisement would go a long way in protecting consumers from such scams,” says Ravinder.
While the ex-deputy registrar of the Malaysian Intellectual Property Corporation Moinuddin Ibrahim agrees these scams are rampant, he says consumers should be more alert when looking at advertisements.
“People just have to be more cautious when dealing with these ads because there is no loophole. The only way to check the situation is for the newspapers to monitor the ads or get the full details of the advertiser. Like how they (newspapers) require death certificates for obituaries,” says Moinuddin, who himself fell for such a scam.
Reporting to the tribunal is one way but it might take years before the case is hear. For a loss of just a few hundred ringgit, it is not worth the hassle. So, the money is burnt.
According to Moinuddin, those wanting to sign up with these schemes (the genuine ones) should check the existence of the company with the authorities first. The list can be obtained at the front counter of the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.
So, if you come across ads that sound too good to be true, be wary. Don’t be fooled into believing you can make huge amounts of money in a short span of time. Learn how to differentiate between the genuine home employment opportunities and the scams.
Here are some tips to avoid falling victim to these scams, as suggested by CAP:
1. If you are asked to pay money to start the work at home, register as a vendor or get a licence to operate the business, do NOT participate.
2. Make a police report if you are caught in the scheme, and provide all the information you have.
3. Report the scam to the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs
Inform your friends, relatives and colleagues to prevent them from falling into a similar trap.
4. Don’t be greedy!
If no solution can be found to curb such businesses, CAP President S. M. Mohamed Idris proposes that the government ban all work-at-home businesses.
I know someone who answered a classified ad in the papers about a typing job and was asked to pay a something like RM200 for the "opportunity" then was given some instructions and a link to another job "opportunity" online.
Do you know anyone who was cheated ? please leave comments.