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How to avoid getting scammed

Business opportunity frauds and work-at-home scams have some common characteristics:

_They promise lots of money for little time and work.

_They often use the reputability of classified ads or TV commercials to make their offers seem respectable.

_They tout their employees' or investors' personal freedom: Set your own hours, work from home, be your own boss.

_They often have what sound like real executives and good references, because they sometimes hire actors to pose as company officials, satisfied customers or references.

To identify swindlers, first get the numbers: If claims about income amounts are made, the company must give the number and percentage of previous purchasers who achieved the earnings. If the business opportunity costs more than $500, the Federal Trade Commission requires the company to provide financial-disclosure documents.

You should check with the FTC or your state attorney general for the company's history.

Report suspected fraud to the state attorney general's office, your local or state consumer protection office, the Better Business Bureau or the FTC at www.ftc.gov or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

_Source: Federal Trade Commission

For more information on spotting business fraud, go to www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/ecards/bizopps/fairytale.htm.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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