American Dreamin': Get-Rich-Quick Ads Promise Big Fortunes

Death to the American Dream? Nonsense. It's thriving inside a creme-colored office building a block away from Arby's in the suburbs.A smiling Hawaiian guy in an awful tan sport coat with '70's hair extends his hand. He sits down in front of you. A man in his late 20s, dressed like Don Johnson, grips your palm. He parks in the chair to the left. "Who are you here to see?" he asks."Mr. Burns.""Fantastic," he says. "Rob's really cool." Forty potential disciples wait nervously for Mr. Rob Burns. Like you, they dialed the digits after reading an ad in the newspaper: "ABOVE AVERAGE $ -- $65K -- That's how much I made in three months."Burns models a shiny watch, a slicker suit and the beginnings of male pattern baldness. He's a younger version of Tony Robbins after injecting a speedball. Burns wants you climb aboard the bandwagon like he did two years ago. "Rich people have fun and smile a lot," says Burns midway into plugging his employer, Equinox International. "Those are just some of the things rich people do. Now who wants to make money and have fun while they're doing it?"Equinox's newspaper pitch is only one among the sea of opportunity. Everyday, in publications from Rolling Stone to Cityview, get-rich-quick ads promise big returns and little hassle: "$2,000 to $3,000 WEEKLY POSSIBLE -- New Automatic Merchandising Machines ... Earn up to $500 per week assembling products at home. No experience ... Sales $500 PER DAY. Call Ivan ..."Shirley Rooker, president of Call For Action, Inc., a non-profit consumer group in Maryland, says if the pitch sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "It doesn't matter if they're advertising stuffing envelopes, assembling products at home or multi-level marketing schemes, people should beware," she says. "The real challenge for consumers is to find out which of the ads are legitimate and the ones that are scams. If people check into the opportunity, more times than naught that they're making promises they can't keep." The ad in the weekly paper publicizes "$1000's POSSIBLE TYPING." There's a toll-free number."We offer lists of 200 to 300 companies in your area that need to hire people for home-based typing work. Things like client lists and transcription," says the rep for National Data Service in Burbank. "You can make anywhere from $15 an hour all the way up to $45." A one-time $59.95 registration fee is required. But the rep is quick to say that it comes with a one-year money back guarantee."This is absolutely legitimate," she says. "For that one-time charge, you get our customer service staff. They're very dependable -- and supportive. They'll show you how to do the billings. We also have a research staff that compiles all the information about the companies for you.... What you're basically doing is starting your business. I'm sure you'll be one of those people who really love doing this kind of work. Now, if you could give me your address and a credit card number, we'll..."Another ad offers "Home Employment Opportunities.""We provide is a directory listing of companies that have opportunities assembling products at home," says the rep. "Things like crafts, electrical products and jewelry. There's a $29.95 fee for the list and $5 for shipping and handling."Call for Action's Rooker says these are red flags."If they're asking for money up front," she says, "that should be a warning. They already have your money. What guarantee do you have that you'll get your money's worth?"

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