By Alice Bredin

The Federal Trade Commission recently focused its spotlight on Web-site scams that have duped 300,000 companies. As part of these scams, unethical site designers contact small businesses and offer to build and post Web sites for free trial periods.

In reality, businesses are charged for the "free" trials. Many are billed repeatedly, including some that never agreed to the trial offer. The charges show up on phone bills and, in many cases, go unnoticed by busy business owners.

This scam is only one of many that people who work at home may encounter. From home security to cramming the practice of hiding third-party charges within the details of a phone bill home-based workers need to stay alert to avoid potential scams. Here are some frauds to watch for:

? Make big bucks while working from home. The FTC has been on top of companies and individuals who make unsubstantiated claims in advertisements that tout "low-effort-big-bucks" approaches to working at home. The FTC requires that products' and services' success rates be based on reliable evidence and reflect the typical user's experience.

Claims such as "I made $20,000 during my first week" and "I brought in an extra $6,000 each month in my spare time" should be treated as suspect. It's best to avoid these scams by remembering the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

? Home repair. Now that summer is here, home-repair scams rise with the temperatures. Strangers survey homes from the street and then knock on doors and offer to clean gutters, fix roof problems or tackle other chores that obviously need to be done. To gain your confidence, the visitors may mention a nonexistent neighbor up the street for whom they work.

Once hired, they may do substandard work, or even worse, case your house for a future burglary. If you need home repair, deal with licensed home-repair businesses that offer solid references.

? Work-at-home "guides." Watch for the sale of booklets that claim to explain how to find work-at-home jobs such as manuscript reading, order fulfillment or piece-work. Some publishers of these materials have been charged with fraud by the FTC. To stay within legal limits, the materials' producers must realistically present a typical consumer's profit from the work-at-home opportunities and clearly state refund policies.

? 809 area codes. Con artists soak up money using variations of a scam that involves calling a number in the 809 area code. This 809 code belongs to the British Virgin Islands (the Bahamas). Some 809 numbers are set up as "pay-per-call" numbers, such as 900 numbers are in the United States.


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