At Your Service: June 11, 2008

If my phone is any indication of a trend, then I must conclude that more and more people are feeling the financial pinch and looking for new ways to get their hands on some money. Lotto sales are up, increasing by over a billion dollars in the last year. But, what is making my own phone ring is people looking for help with Internet businesses.
When I got the first call, I didn’t give it much thought. But, now that I have received several such calls, the subject seems worthy of a few words. I am not an expert on Internet businesses, nor do I intend to become one. What I do know something about is computer programs and how to use them effectively.
People called me because they believed that what they needed to learn was how to use the programs they purchased. What I have found is that the problem wasn’t with the program, but instead with its underlying premise. Many Internet business offerings are simply get rich schemes (read, scams) in a fancy technological package.
It may be true that millions of people are making millions of dollars over the internet. I know a guy who does his own investing over the internet and is doing well. He devotes a good part of every day to watching his various stocks in order to buy and sell at precisely the right moment. Another person has made what some would consider a killing on e-bay; she buys and sells by closely monitoring the auctions and trucks packages to and from the post office every day.
These people and others are making money, but they are also working very hard to do so. Success via the Internet takes the same amount of attention to detail and hard work as any other business. Any business promising big checks for little effort should be investigated with due diligence. In fact, they require even more scrutiny.
The Internet is the ultimate free market. Because it stretches around the globe without being tied to any one country, it is completely unregulated. With a little know how, anyone can set up a website that claims to do anything and make up their own testimonials as evidence that it works. While the more reputable businesses are registered with various agencies in their countries of origin, it can be very difficult to ascertain who is really making the money.
If you don’t have the money to invest in a local business that you can control, you probably don’t have the money to invest over the Internet under someone else’s control. Be wary of businesses that have a new fee for every level of participation. The most likely scenario is that you will keep paying more and get to the top level only to find that it has been money wasted – there is no pot of gold at the end of the technology rainbow.
On the other hand, if you make something or have a retail business, the internet is a terrific way to expand your customer base. There are websites through which you can sell your products or create your own website as an extension of your store. There are also franchises available for legitimate businesses that have been vetted by Chambers of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau. Do the homework (check independent sources on the company) and the math to ensure that what is being offered will work for you.
It seems to me that taking a chance on an Internet business is about the same as playing Lotto; the chances of winning on a one dollar ticket are one in 45 million. When you don’t win there is the chance that your child will work hard in school and receive a scholarship to college from the money you spent. Whoever owns the website that you purchase your internet business from will likely buy a boat or a condo in Aruba with your money; their children went to college on someone else’s money and didn’t need a scholarship.
If you insist on buying an Internet business, then try it fast – before your check or the credit card payment clears. Then, call your bank or your attorney. But, please, don’t call me; I’ve told you how I feel and couldn’t really help anyway.