Bogus Home Working Schemes And Business Opportunities Targeted

The Highland Council’s Trading Standards team recently participated in a nationwide internet sweep examining working from home business opportunities during which over 1000 internet sites were examined and as many as 360 sites were identified as suspicious and requiring further investigation.

Twenty-one trading standards services around the UK, including Highland, took part in the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) internet survey, focusing on a range of issues, including the sale of counterfeit items, age-restricted goods and Distance Selling Regulations (DSR).

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) was the co-ordinator of the project and has compiled the results from over 20 participating Trading Standards Departments.

This topic was selected as ‘home-working schemes’ and ‘business opportunities’ advertised on the internet is the one of the most top ten scams complained about by consumers.

The ‘internet sweep’ took place on 28th February 2006 and was used to identify UK websites which appear to be misleading.

Unsolicited emails which had been identified were also examined for details relating to their source. A total of 41 ‘new spam emails were researched, some of which are still under investigation by both the Office of Fair Trading and local trading standard services.

Claims and general concerns which are being investigated include:

 Wild promises of "make £600, 000 a year or we will pay you £6000". 
 Some websites identified gave scant information about the work involved; with a promise of further details once a consumer paid an ‘administration fee’ up front.
 Unrealistic claims that of earnings up to "£25,000 a month".
 No cancellation rights given. .
 Promises of training being provided regarding business opportunities such as ‘Full training from own personal coach’, but it does not state if this ‘training’ is free or if there is a payment to be made to receive it. .
 In general majority of sites either give little or no details of the nature of business or/and contact addresses as wells as little or no details relating to terms of the contract involved. 
 Fees due for information or registering were not clearly displayed and consumers may have, in some instances, be expected to sign up for business opportunities or home working schemes with little or no indication of costs involved beforehand. 
 Clear evidence of ‘pyramid selling’ on some internet sites. 
 Lots of money making and home working schemes offered on Ebay which may catch out unsuspecting consumers. 
 Links to some websites required the consumer to complete personal information about them before further information about a business opportunity or home working scheme would be divulged to them. 

Trading Standards has a responsibility to investigate misleading claims relating to home-working and business/employment opportunities and the findings of this survey were of particular concern:

Nigel MacKenzie, Head of Trading Standards said: "Get quick rich schemes have been around for a long time now and have varied from the local advert in a local shop window offering consumers to be paid for stuffing envelopes to classified advertisements in the local and national press offering over-inflated earnings for sales opportunities. However, the scams advertised on the internet in general appear more sophisticated in their presentation and style and therefore are more likely to be taken seriously by an unsuspecting public."

"Vulnerable consumers on low income who may be live in remote areas where job opportunities are not so plentiful are of a particular concern to Highland Trading Standards Unit. New scams in this area come up all the time and we need consumers to be on the look out for bogus business opportunities and home-working schemes. With that in mind we would urge any consumer who comes across business, employment or home working scheme to be very wary before responding to it and if at all concerned to come to us for further advice or investigation. It is vital that consumers understand not to send off money to secure employment or send money off to an address, especially a PO Box number which may not be able to be traced at a later stage."

For further advice/information about safety tips on using the internet contact ‘Consumer Direct (Scotland)’ on 08454 04 05/06. Alternatively consumer can write of visit Trading Standards Unit, The Highland Council, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness

3 May 2006