updated 12/16/2003 11:21:27 AM ET 2003-12-16T16:21:27

The government is warning people about rip-off artists who claim they will pay big bucks for stuffing envelopes at home.

Envelope-stuffing gimmicks pop up everywhere — in mailboxes, e-mail inboxes, newspaper ads and more, the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday in joining with the Postal Service and Council of Better Business Bureaus to highlight the fraud.

Promoters usually advertise that, for a "small" fee, they will tell people how to earn money stuffing envelopes at home. They claim they'll pay for each envelope stuffed, leading people to believe they will earn hundreds or thousands of dollars each week, the government said.

The ads may seem appealing for those wanting a home-based business. But according to the commission, these ads are misleading because the promoters aren't really offering a job.

Instead, the government said, after people send their money, they're likely to get a letter telling them to place the same "envelope-stuffing" ad in newspapers or magazines, or to send the ad to friends and relatives. The only way they'll earn money is if people respond to their ad. The government said the promoters rarely pay anyone.

The government said dissatisfied consumers should contact the company and ask for a refund.

The FTC, in an effort to crack down on work-at-home business opportunity fraud, recommends people tempted by an envelope-stuffing "opportunity" ask promoters these questions before sending any money or signing up:

  • Who will pay me?
  • When will I get my first paycheck?
  • Will I be paid a salary or will my pay be based on commission?
  • What tasks will I have to perform?
  • What is the total cost of the envelope-stuffing program, including supplies, equipment and membership fees? What will I get for my money?

The government also recommends people check out the company with their local consumer protection agency, state attorney general and the Better Business Bureau.

Work-at-home business opportunity fraud ranked seventh in the commission's 2002 Top 10 consumer fraud complaint database, the FTC said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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