Which one’s the scam? Work from home vs. the automatic tip calculator

Which one is the real house of cards? / K Stack - Flickr

Which of these two offers is the bigger scam?

I recently received two questions from readers of my book, Scammed. I’m interested in your answers. So are they.

Question number one comes from Kyle Lamm, who says, “Your book was pretty good.” (Aw, thanks! That’s the best way to butter up this consumer advocate.)

“I would like to know if you have any information on this company,” he added.

That would be this company: Home Access Income institute.

My first reaction is that it’s a work-from-home offer, which is so scammy that it has its own complaint category at the Federal Trade Commission. You can also find multiple warnings online about the business.

The site is pretty suspicious. It lists the logos of prominent TV and cable networks, suggesting they have offered their endorsement of the Acces Income Institute. I find that difficult to believe.

The Access Income logo looks like a Greek temple, conjuring images of a well-established institution — perhaps a university or a bank. That’s a little iffy, in my book.

How about these promises?

• No Experience, or Degree Needed
• Must have an Internet Connection to Qualify.
• Work From Anywhere and Choose Your Own Hours.
• Limited Number of Positions, Check Availability Now.

Sounds like he perfect job, doesn’t it? Maybe too perfect.

And now they want you to give up your name and email address? With no further information about what it’s offering? I don’t know.

Note: Today marks the final phase of turning this site into a full-fledged general consumer advocacy blog, which started six months ago with the publication of my critically-acclaimed book. My other site, On Your Side, has now been folded into this blog. You can read the archives here.

Actually, there is further information in its disclaimer, which makes for some pretty amusing reading.

Among the gems:

• “We cannot completely verify our customer statements in testimonials.”

• “There is no guarantee that you will make these levels of income and you accept the risk that the earnings and income statements differ by individual.”

• “Also, we do not promise, guarantee or imply that you (or that your use of our products and services will improve your operation, raise your internet profile, or increase your revenues.”

When I see offers like this, I tend to click away. While this may be a legal business, it certainly is marketing itself in a way that is questionable — and leaving plenty of apparently unhappy customers in its wake. Here’s an interesting story that delves deeper into this world.

Candidate number two comes to us by way of reader Mark Weisberg, who stopped by a local restaurant for dinner in Houston, where he lives.

When the time arrived to present and pay the bill I reached for my wallet to extract my credit card. The waiter removed a small device from his belt designed to scan the credit card, authorize use for payment through a touch screen and print a small receipt at my table. It was very impressive.

His server was probably using a system like this, which is called a handheld, point-of-service system. These are absolutely legitimate, although they can be used in clever ways to extract more money from a customer. For instance,

Using the Suggestive Selling feature, you can set a POS to prompt servers to suggest items to customers in certain situations. Thanks to the Handheld POS, you can now use this potent counter-service feature in table-service venues.

Translation: This system can prompt your servers to suggest even more items that your guests will want to buy, increasing your revenues.

But that’s not the problem. It’s how the restaurant configured these devices that bothers Weisberg.

What was less than impressive were the on-screen prompts for gratuities at 15 percent, 18 percent and 20 percent and in smaller letters (Other Amount – which would have directed the user to another entry screen).

These percentages are not unusual – except that the initial bill calculated lower numbers for the same percentages, based on the pre-tax food and drink balance instead of the displayed post-tax gratuity percentages.

The difference is only a penny or two higher per dollar spent, but it is the principle of misrepresenting the source of these numbers.

When Weisberg pointed out the difference, his server only shrugged. “After all,” he says, “the error was going to be in his favor.”

Tricky. But which one is the bigger rip-off?

Before you say the work-from-home offer, consider this: While a few will fall for Access Income, the cleverly-calibrated POS machines could potentially affect more consumers. And while they’re only being taken for a few pennies on each bill, it can add up over time. It may cost American restaurant patrons a lot more than a questionable business advertised after midnight on a low-rated cable TV rerun.

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