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April 2, 2002
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True....
By Tad Hulse

Become part of America's fastest growing industry! Earn thousands of dollars a month from the confines of your own home! Work less and make more simply by processing medical billing claims!

Advertisements like these are everywhere, from street lights and telephone poles to newspapers, television and the Internet. As enticing as they may seem, especially if you are interested in starting a home-based business, proceed with extreme caution. Not all these opportunities deliver what is promised.

Scores of these alluring advertisements leave out the base facts that may dissuade you in the long run; like having to work several weeks without compensation or the costs you'll have to pay before even getting started. Countless work-at-home schemes require you to shell out a lot of your own money to place newspaper ads; make photocopies; or buy the envelopes, paper, stamps, and other supplies or equipment you need to efficiently do the job. Companies sponsoring the ads may also demand that you pay for instructions or "tutorial" software. Deceived and led astray, many have lost thousands of dollars, in addition to their time, energy and effort.

A classic work-at-home scheme is medical billing for pre-packaged businesses, also known as billing centers. Upon responding, most likely you'll get a sales pitch similar to this: "There's a crisis in the health care system, due partly to the overwhelming task of processing paper claims. The solution is electronic claim processing. Because only a small percentage of claims are transmitted electronically, the market for billing centers is wide open." The phone person may also tell you that many doctors who process claims electronically want to "outsource" or contract out their billing services to save money. They will promise that you can earn a substantial income working full or part time, providing services like billing, accounts receivable, electronic insurance claim processing and practice management to doctors and dentists in your area. Experience is unnecessary since clients eager to buy your services will be provided.

The reality: you will have to sell, sell, and sell. These promoters rarely provide experienced sales staff or contacts within the medical community.

Materials that typically include a brochure, application, sample discs, a contract (licensing agreement), disclosure document, and in some cases, testimonial letters, video-cassettes and reference lists, will be sent to you. An initial investment from $2000 - $8000 will get you software; training and technical support and the company will encourage you to call its references. Make sure you get many names from which to chose. If only one or two names are given, they may be "shills" - people hired to give favorable testimonials. It's always best to speak with people in person, preferably where the business operates, to reduce your risk of being misled and also to get a better sense of how the business works. Be aware of the fact that few consumers who purchase a medical billing business opportunity are able to find clients, start a business and generate revenues - let alone recover their investment and earn a substantial income. Competition in the medical billing market is fierce and usually revolves around a number of large and well-established firms.

Envelope stuffing adverts usually say that, for a "small" fee, they will tell you how to earn money stuffing envelopes at home. Later, in actuality, when it's too late, you'll find out that the promoter never had any employment to offer in the first place. Instead, for your fee, you're likely to get a letter telling you to place the same "envelope-stuffing" ad in newspapers or magazines, or to send the ad to friends and relatives. The only way you'll earn money is if people respond to your work-at-home ad.

Assembly or craftwork businesses often require you to invest hundreds of dollars in equipment and supplies right off the bat. Or, they insist you to spend many hours producing goods for a company that has promised to buy them. For example, you might have to buy a sewing or sign-making machine from the company, or materials to make items like scarves, gloves or plastic signs. However, after you've purchased the supplies or equipment and performed the work, fraudulent operators will not pay you. In fact, many consumers have had companies refuse to pay for their work because it didn't meet "quality standards." Unfortunately, no work is ever "up to standard," leaving workers with relatively expensive equipment and supplies, and not a penny earned. In order to sell their goods, these workers must hit the pavement and find their own customers.

Legitimate work-at-home programs should advise you, in writing, what is clearly involved in the program they are selling. The following is a list of questions you might want to ask before taking the leap:

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

The answers to these questions may help you establish whether the work-at-home business is to your liking, and most importantly, whether it's legitimate or not.

Tad Hulse is an American freelance writer who has covered topics from small business ventures to world travel. Currently he is based in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Email: hulsetad@yahoo.com.

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