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Mercury Money: Confusing jumble of good deals.

HOW do you smell a rat when a bargain or great opportunity is dangled in front of you?

Many people rely on the generalisation "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is". But generalisations allow for exceptions and some promising opportunities can be genuine.

Take the humble jumble or car boot sale, for example. Sellers and buyers alike can benefit. The former get money for old rope and the buyers obtain goods at a deep discount.

Of course, buyers can get ripped off at car boot sales. I was enticed recently by a brand-name cassette shortwave radio player which appeared to be in such good condition and sounded so good that I started reaching for my wallet before someone else grabbed this bargain. But when I flicked the switch to change it from the radio to the cassette function, the player's slight flaw became evident. The radio continued to play regardless of the switch position. It would not allow itself to be turned off and the cassette player could not be turned on. I really had no interest in a perpetual radio that could be turned off only by removing the batteries. My wallet stayed where it was and I reminded myself of my rule to be especially wary of secondhand electronic and electrical devices.

I remembered, too, that nice people in pleasant surroundings could be less than honest. This particular jumble vendor put on a good show, pretending to be surprised by his radio malfunction, but If that particular item had been fully functional it really would have been too good to be true at that price.

But supermarkets regularly have bona fide loss leaders and other commercial deals represent a good deal for everyone involved.

Enticed by a genuine half-price sale on an item in a posh and pricy store, I made a purchase and later discovered that the normal price for the exact same item at my local retailer was cheaper.

The posh store's bargain price cost me a few extra pounds, but life is too short to research each and every real or alleged bargain or opportunity. We can't always be winners, but if a lot is at stake, we must try our best not to be losers.

Has someone invited you to earn money by joining a scheme selling goods and services, often from home, or a "business opportunity" hat involves you in recruiting other people? Are you considering joining such a scheme? Have you already joined?

These three questions appear very prominently on the introductory page of a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) booklet, The Trading Schemes Guide. The gist of the pamphlet is that there are many schemes you should not join in the first place and, if you have already joined, you might still be able to get out.

The booklet states up front that "many schemes are entirely legitimate, giving people opportunity to run their own small businesses. However, some schemes have taken advantage of their participants and have taken their money without giving anything by way of an honest business opportunity".

By law, promoters and participants in trading schemes are not allowed "to persuade anyone to make a payment by promising benefits from getting other people to join a trading scheme. Do not be misled by claims that high earnings can be easily achieved".

Contracts must include the promoter's contact details and other information concerning the product or service involved and your role in the scheme. In the first seven days the scheme can bill you for no more than pounds 200. You have the right to cancel your contract in the first 14 days.

The DTI pulls no punches when it notes that "schemes which concentrate on recruiting others rather than selling are illegal. They are a mug's game in which most people lose their money".

If you have your doubts about a scheme or have been a mug, the DTI wants to hear from you at the address below.

The trading schemes booklet is available from the Consumer Affairs and Competition Policy Directorate 4, DTI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET; 0171 215 0344.
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Author:Liebman, Robert
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 22, 1999
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