"Money, money, money!
"It's out there in almost unlimited quantities, and if you want to start your own business, the government wants to give it to you! Find out how to get it for a mere $49.95."That was the message carried recently in a 30-minute television spot that looked like a talk show but was really a commercial for a book.
If anyone is getting unlimited money out of the offer, it's the author, Wayne Phillips of Scottsdale, Ariz. The book consists largely of information that is easily and much less expensively available directly from federal agencies.
Phillips's message impelled the Small Business Administration to put out a statement of warning. Said the SBA: "It (the TV show) is confusing and misleading for people not familiar with government programs. The age-old warning, 'Let the buyer beware!' seems to apply." Attempts to reach Phillips for comment were unsuccessful.
Anyone who has studied the Small Business Administration in the Reagan administration would realize that the agency has no money to give away.
As the whole area of self-employment is taking off, so is the related area of self-employment swindles.
"Complaints to us have increased steadily every year," said Diane Ward, of the National Council of Better Business Bureaus.
"The volume has upped, absolutely," said Paul Edwards, author of the book "Working From Home."
"Our economy and society are going through massive changes and naturally, the sharks follow. They smell blood," said Edwards, a consultant who has investigated the area of business scams and concluded, "The tempo is up."
More and more scams are introduced over the phones.
Telemarketing is cheaper and quicker than direct mail and it has another advantage: If the business is conducted over the phone, it cannot be subject to mail fraud charges.
Of course, the first line of defense against a business or work-at-home scam is the firm understanding that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Anyone enticed by an offer of something-for-nothing will be disappointed in the end.
"If they are offering you a piece of the moon, you have about as much chance of getting it as you do of actually walking on the moon," said Edwards.
Although the pace of small business scams is up, the techniques are as old as the hills. Two of the most popular ones involve selling office supplies and copier paper.
The swindler offering office supplies will call a company and explain that he was left with a massive inventory of pens, notebooks, paper clips and the like, and no one to sell it to. His customer went out of business, and now he needs to unload that inventory. To get rid of it all, he's willing to sell cheap, and since he called you first, it's your lucky day.
This type of confidence man works the same way as an investment swindler.
Often it's a boiler room operation with many salesmen and women working the phones at the same time. If you agree to buy their supplies, they will often send someone out to pick up your check and rush it to the bank as soon as possible.
Sometimes the person who falls for this actually gets the supplies, sometimes he doesn't. But when delivered, they usually turn out to be of inferior quality.
Next on the list is the copier paper scam. That starts when the operator calls an office and says "I'm from the copier company," or something equally official sounding.
"Can you please give me a reading off your copier meter?"
That reading gives the swindler a lot of information about you; what kind of copier you have, what kind of volume you have, and whether you use a lot of paper. He'll call back at another time, sounding as if he always does business with your company, and request your paper order. If you order paper from him, you'll get some. But you'll pay high prices for it, and it will be lousy paper.
Finally there are the work-at-home schemes that have been around forever. Orginally aimed at women who wanted to make money in their spare time while their children were at school, these pitches have now been broadened to appeal to men who are looking to start their own businesses.
The White House Consumer Affairs Office has gone out of its way to warn about these schemes, which it says often include envelope stuffing, sewing, clipping newspapers, mailing circulars, assembly or craft work. A new twist is financial planning work at home.
Beware, the consumer office said, when an ad mentions these buzzwords: Large profits, high part-time earnings, little effort required, no experience necessary and guaranteed earnings.
Any "business opportunity" that doesn't much care about your qualifications or requires you to pay in order to get details or a start-up package is worse than suspect.
It's to be avoided like the plague.