James Stringham opened his mail in late May and received one of those work-from-home offers that just sounded, well, incredible.
The letter, supposedly from a company called Mason Grace Enterprises in Manhattan, promised potential earnings of $2,900 to $5,000 every week for mailing the company's special letters from home.
"Would that help you catch up with your bills and allow you to relax while enjoying the finer things in life?" the letter asked.
All the 78-year-old Lansing man had to do was send $99 for enough letters to earn $490 a week. Or put up $299 to make $2,900 a week. Or if he really was ambitious, he could hand over $399 for "start-up" costs to be able to make up to $5,000 a week.
You could pay by money order, cash or check.
"As you read this letter," the mailing said, "we have no less than 500,000 letters stacked up to the ceiling in our two warehouses."
By stuffing envelopes at home, the promise was that someone could be paid $10 for "each letter stuffed and returned to us per instructions."
Work right out of the house?
"In your own home, yes," Stringham said. "That's what they said."
What was Stringham's reply?
"No, thank you," he told me by phone.
"If you're in New York and you need some envelopes stuffed, do you send offers out to random people across the country?"
Stringham has no idea how he got on that mailing list, noting he receives all sorts of junk mail But he found it interesting that another work-at-home offer popped into his mailbox this spring, too.
The other deal offered to pay him $20 for each "Get Credit Now" booklet assembled at home, again, per the company's instructions.
His start-up cost? You pay them $99. That outfit was reportedly Preston Lord Enterprises in Basking Ridge, N.J.
Given that many people remain desperate to make extra cash, it never hurts to throw a bucket of reality on some too-hot-to-believe promises.
Did you spot the trick phrase in both of these letters? See the line that mentions you need to stuff the envelopes "per our instructions" to make money?
That's the clue that you might not get paid for all that you do.
Maybe the company will argue that your work is not up to standard. Or there will be some other mix-up, according to warnings from the Federal Trade Commission.
After you've mailed the cash, the work-at-home company often does not pay you, according to the FTC. Your work never makes the grade and you lose the cash you sent to get in on the deal.
The FTC has warnings on a variety of home-based business opportunities that will go sour — chances to pay for the privilege of stuffing envelopes, ways to invest hundreds of dollars in a sign-making machine to make plastic signs that you won't get paid to make, and chances to waste your hard-earned money on training for processing rebates.
Or maybe the work-at-home scheme involves medical billing or Internet searches. Again, it's a scam.
Another warning: Never pay a fee to apply for a federal job or a postal office job.
The New Jersey acting attorney general and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs took action on some work-at-home scams in 2013 in a crackdown called "Operation Empty Promises."
The odds are really good with at-home opportunities that you're going to spend far more out-of-pocket to get started than you'd ever have a chance to make.
The New Jersey investigation, which led to a settlement with Capital Enterprises, disclosed that only 45 of 13,000 customers at one company ever made more than $100 stuffing envelopes. The most anyone ever made was $520 over a 10-month period — nothing close to up to $5,000 or more weekly, as was promoted.
New Jersey regulators said David Brookman and his company Capital Enterprises also operated under the names Maxwell Scott Enterprises, Maxwell Scott, David Gates Enterprises, Warner Daniel and Preston Lord Enterprises.
The Better Business Bureau serving eastern Michigan reports that consumers need to be aware of such scams in which employers require fees for training or ask for money to conduct a background check. Another red flag: A company that touts "no experience needed."
In some cases, consumers could pay for materials and supplies for an at-home business opportunity and the materials never arrive.
Sure, it may sound tempting to be your own boss at home and never have to pay for parking. And yes, it does sound good when you read a letter that says "Stuffing and mailing letters is one of the easiest jobs in the world."
But the reality is that stuffing envelopes could indeed make someone rich, but it won't be you.