Well, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is crackin' heads again: Last November, we reported the recent uprising of telemarketing fraud, where scam artists were selling--over the telephone--office supplies of dubious quality and inflated price to unsuspecting business owners. Now, the crooks are hitting closer to home, selling less-than-legitimate self-employment opportunities, and the FTC is again on the case.

"Operation Missed Fortune," their massive crackdown effort to deter sales of fraudulent get-rich-quick self-employment schemes, has so far resulted in more than 75 law enforcement actions. Some of the fraudulent "businesses" being sold include work-at-home scams, pyramid schemes often pitched on the Internet, and certain pre-packaged small businesses.

In trying to peddle their schemes, scam artists claim impressive yet unsubstantiated earnings figures, often fail to provide consumers with detailed business disclosure statements required by federal or state law, and anchor their reputation on endorsements from phony references, or "shills"--people who provide glowing, but false, reports about their so-called "successes."

As part of Operation Missed Fortune's national consumer-education campaign, the FTC is offering free brochures and tip sheets for consumers on how to protect themselves and their precious start-up capital. These can be found online at the FTC's Web site (http://www.ftc.gov) or by calling (800) 554-5706. Some of the tips include:


* Check out the company with the consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau in your state and in the state in which the company is headquartered to learn whether there are any complaints on file;


* Beware of shills--decoy references paid by a plan's promoter to describe their fictional success in earning money. Seek business addresses where possible so you can actually visit the site, and insist on a list of all individuals who have invested in the opportunity;


* Be wary of any opportunity that sounds too easy; success usually requires hard work.