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By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/26/2009 9:45:48 AM ET 2009-02-26T14:45:48

He was out of work and desperate for money. So Wesley Bailey of Destin, Fla., went online looking for something he could do at home. He landed on the web site for Rebate Processor Jobs. It promised to teach him how to make money processing customer rebates.

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The site looks like it is run by a woman named Cindy Dalton, who claims to have mastered the art of making money online. “I will teach you the exact same systems I have been using for many years to make well over $500+ per day!” she promises.

Dalton assures visitors this is not a scam or a get-rich-quick scheme, but “actual, paid every two weeks, work!”

Bailey wants everyone to know, it is a scam. “You pay the money and you never get the information that’s promised,” he says. “I was never able to process one single rebate and make any money doing what they advertised.”

After paying $39 Bailey found out what he was really supposed to do – place online ads for various products. He’d make a commission if someone clicked on one of his ads and bought something.

“I spent probably two months advertising products on various web sites and never made a penny,” Bailey tells me. He requested a refund but never got one. Even the Better Business Bureau couldn’t get him the money back.

The complaints pour in
The Better Business Bureau warns job hunters to steer clear of rebate processing work-at-home offers. The bureau says hundreds of complaints have been filed against two California companies: Rebate Processor Jobs.com and Process At Home.com. The bureau gives both an “F” rating for (among other things) failing to respond to complaints and using “grossly misleading” advertising.

I e-mailed both companies for a comment, but did not get a response.

The Better Business Bureau says people paid these firms anywhere from $39 to more than $500 for trial programs that turned out to be useless. In some cases, they were charged an ongoing monthly fee of about $59 even after they cancelled their membership and demanded refunds.

Victims, some of whom were ripped off almost a year ago, are still frustrated and angry.

“It’s a total scam,” says Tiffany Carlton of Seattle.

“The make it look good, until they get your money,” complains Dianna Richmond of Milan, Mo.

“The ads are misleading people,” writes Lin Liu of Naperville, Ill.

“They lied about the job description,” says Laura Owens of Greenwood, Ind.

Gary Almond, vice president of the Los Angeles BBB, has seen all of the complaints. He tells me there wasn’t one person who said they earned any money from these rebate processing programs. “You’d think at least one person would earn some income and then be dissatisfied,” he says.

Customers say Angel Stevens is no angel
Angel Stevens is the pitchwoman for Process At Home. She claims to be “the number one work-at-home consultant in America.” Stevens offers a “100 percent real, legitimate and certified work-at-home position” that’s little known, but is in “extremely high demand by over 11,000 small and large companies worldwide.” The web site features the logos of well-known retailers which make it appear legitimate.

You don’t need any experience, education or special skills; just sign up for the program and you can begin making money right away. Stevens says you are “guaranteed an immediate position” which will let you earn “up to $225 a day or more working just 60 minutes a day from home.”

The pitch was mighty appealing to Nancy Wilkerson of Portland, Ore. She wanted to make some extra money to pay off her bills, so she joined the program using money from her government stimulus check. Like others who complained about Process At Home, Wilkerson figured she would process rebates on her home computer and get paid a certain percentage.

Wilkerson didn’t find out what she really had to do until she paid $197. Just like the other rebate scams, she had to place online ads for products. “We would have to sell something with these ads before we could get any money.”

After realizing she’d been tricked, Wilkerson called Process At Home and demanded a refund. They promised she’d get her money back in about a week. That was last June and she still hasn’t gotten her refund.

“I just wanted to do something to improve my life and instead they took $197 that I will never get back,” she says with a sigh. “I’m really disgusted.”

The bottom line
The sour economy is good news for work-at-home scammers. They’re flooding the Internet with bogus ads and get-rich-quick opportunities. The sites look professional. They often have fake testimonials and logos of big-name companies that have nothing to do with them. They use these testimonials and logos to add credibility.

“There are legitimate work at home opportunities,” says Colleen Robbins with the Federal Trade Commission. “But consumers need to be wary because there are a lot that are not.”

Follow these simple rules and you won’t get burned:

  • Don’t rely on a money-back guarantee. Con artists rarely give money back.
  • Be skeptical of all testimonials. They can be bought or simply made up.
  • See if the Better Business Bureau has a Reliability Report on the company. Check with your state Consumer Protection of Attorney General’s office. Just remember, the absence of complaints does not necessarily mean the company is legitimate.
  • Never give a credit card, debit card or checking account number to any person or company that promises employment. If they want you to pay them it’s a scam!

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