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Be very careful while perusing work-at-home opportunities on the Internet

The Arizona Daily Star recently did a nice piece on Arizona's jobless rates, saying the rates were near a 40-year low. For Tucson, the Star quoted figures for May 2006 of 4 percent, for April 2007 of 3.8 percent, and for May 2007 of 3.3 percent.

While the unemployment rate in Tucson may be at or near an all-time low, the pay Tucsonans take home is far below the national average. This imbalance is forcing people to find alternative ways to make ends meet: Some folks are working two or three jobs to simply stay afloat.

Many people look to the World Wide Web and find ads seeking "work-at-home" opportunities that look pretty good from afar. Some offers promise would-be workers thousands of dollars per week--or even per day. Sadly, too many great opportunities are simply scams that prey on people, asking them to fork over $30-$100 they can not afford to lose.

While the Internet aspect is new, this phenomenon itself isn't new at all: It's the age-old trick of playing on the psyche and wallets of people in need. The Tucson Shopper is kind enough to list a warning in their work-at-home section. You'd do well to take heed.

Internet access and an e-mail address are all you need to receive an infinite number of offers that sound too good to be true. Some offers will claim you can win free prizes, such as trips, for merely taking a survey--a survey that asks all sorts of questions about your spending habits and the spending habits of those you live with. Pretty soon, your inbox will be overflowing with offers of bargains and ways to get rich--all in the comfort of your own home.

These offers appeal to stay-at-home moms, college students and people--like myself--who just want to earn extra cash. Be careful: Many of these ventures are mere rip-offs. One such rip-off is

www.dataentrybusiness.com . This fake-you-out gimmick will take your $49.99 and then send you an outdated list of pixie-sand companies, along with a username and password. I tried to cancel my order with the data-entry bandits, only to find there was not a customer-service number. I sent an e-mail asking for a refund, and the following day, neither my password nor my username worked anymore. E-mails to them bounced back as unrecognized.

But they're bold, I'll tell you: Within two more days, they were back in my inbox, under a different name but with the same game plan.

The lessons I learned were abundant: If a company lists minimal contact information, like a post-office box but no land address and no phone number, don't deal with them. Period.

A reputable company will not ask you to pay anything up front. Real businesses want good workers, and integrity goes both ways. This is not to say that legitimate work-at-home opportunities don't exist--they do. But do your homework first.

Read everything, including the small print, at least twice, especially when the offer appears too good to be true. Like grandma said, "There are no free lunches," and you don't want to find out that you've been had while examining your credit-card statement after the fact.

It seems like everyone and their unscrupulous uncle has found ways to scam people on the Internet. When you're looking at deals involving home buying, mortgage or equity businesses, the same rules apply: read, read and read; ask plenty of questions. Protect yourself, and know your rights.

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