Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Job Seeker Beware

With job security becoming nearly non-existent, even at long-established firms, even people that still have jobs are thinking about picking up an additional job on a part-time basis. But in today's busy lives, fitting a second job into one's schedule may well seem like a monumental task.

And then you see that ad, maybe in the newspaper, maybe on a website, touting how you can make big bucks working at home in your spare time. It doesn't look like an obvious fraud -- there's actual work to do, maybe assembling crafts or stuffing envelopes. And it would be so much easier to have something you can pick up and put down at need, rather than having to constantly juggle two regular jobs, each of which acts as though it were your only obligation in life.

But be very careful, particularly if you are being asked to send money for information or to purchase supplies. Unfortunately, a large number of these "job opportunities" are in fact scams which prey on unsuspecting or desperate people, particularly those who have difficulties working regular face-to-face jobs: people with disabilities, full-time parents, etc.

There was a time when working at home was quite common. In the Gilded Age and the early decades of the Twentieth Century, whole tenements were filled with families busily assembling paper flowers, hand-rolling cigars, or participating in other cottage industries. Jobbers would come around on a regular basis to pick up finished products and drop off fresh supplies along with payments for previous work done.

However, during the Progressive Era heightened concern about product safety shifted most of this labor to factories where the workers could be supervised to ensure the quality the merchandise being sold. Over subsequent decades, most of this hand work has been outsourced to countries such as China and Thailand where labor is so cheap that a company that actually paid the prices promised in those "assemble crafts at home" ads could not compete.

Instead, they make money off the marks they sucker into "working" for them, generally by requiring them to buy overpriced equipment (for instance, a sewing machine for twice or three times what one could get it at a regular retail store) and materials. In addition, they will often refuse to pay for the finished product on the grounds that it does not meet their "quality standards," although these are often vague and there is no transparency on the inspection process. Unfortunately, many people will buy two or three more sets of supplies in hopes of meeting the quality standards if they just try harder, never suspecting that the standards are in fact an ever-moving target to which they can never catch up.

Similarly, envelope stuffing at home was once a thriving cottage industry, with smaller companies finding it cheaper to send mailings out to contractors rather than deal with the payroll issues of actually hiring the people to do it in-house. However, the invention of the modern envelope-stuffing machine in the latter part of the twentieth century destroyed this line of work as a legitimate work opportunity.

Instead, the modern "envelope stuffing" scam is little better than a pyramid scheme. The marks who respond to the ad are given a set of "instructions" telling them how to buy mailing lists and send people a letter offering them fabulous income for stuffing envelopes, and to send the same instructions to the people who fall for it in turn and send their money.

Unfortunately, these days there are very few legitimate work at home jobs save those we make ourselves. That is, creating a legitimate small business to sell an actual product or service on our own.

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