Friday, August 27, 1999

Authorities squelch
work-at-home scam

Isle officials had received
nearly 300 complaints about
the fraudulent ads

By Debra Barayuga


The ad jumped out at Nichole Cook, an at-home mother with one child and another on the way.

Read books at home and get paid for it, it basically said. Unable to work outside the home but needing the extra income, Cook, of Wahiawa, jumped at the chance.

She called the company and was impressed at how much they said she would be paid for proofreading manuscripts. "This is cool," thought Cook. "This isn't one of those scam things, or so I thought."

Broughton Hall, a Santa Barbara telemarketing firm that advertised work-at-home guides in newspapers across the nation, including Hawaii, yesterday pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to one count of false advertising in interstate commerce, a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

"In their ads, they represented that people could earn $30,000 a year working at home and they had no basis for making that claim," said U.S. Attorney Brent Whittlesey.

The violation caries penalties of a maximum six months in jail and $10,000 fine. Broughton Hall was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $236,000 to victims of their fraudulent advertisements, Whittlesey said.

Broughton Hall, one of the largest telemarketing companies in Southern California, was also ordered to dissolve the corporation and is prohibited from conducting business anywhere in the future, he said.

The company had been operating for the past 20 years, with revenues of $4.5 million a year. Broughton Hall officials could not be reached for comment.

The Federal Trade Commission decided to investigate Broughton Hall and a number of Santa Barbara telemarketing companies after hundreds of complaints began pouring in, Whittlesey said.

The Hawaii Better Business Bureau has received nearly 300 requests for information about Broughton Hall since 1996, said president Anne Deschene. Complaints were forwarded to the Santa Barbara Better Business Bureau.

Cook said she was among those filing a complaint.

Cook sent $69.95 to Broughton Hall for a list of books she would like to proofread. Instead of a list of books, she got a list of publishers, who when contacted, told Cook they didn't hire outside help.

"I felt like an idiot. I should have known better. How did I fall for something like that?" she said.

Refunds will be made available to consumers who file complaints with the Santa Barbara Better Business Bureau at 805-963-8657. Proof of purchase is required.

Cook yesterday said she was pleased that she may get her $69.95 back, but is not holding her breath until she actually receives it.

Her advice to consumers looking for work-at-home opportunities: Stick to Tupperware.

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