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Need Extra Money? Which Options Are Risky? Which Are Real?

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With economic times still tough for consumers, many of us are looking for ways to acquire some extra cash or to save money on necessities we have to purchase. Typical ways to acquire extra cash are to sell something or to find extra work. Buying goods and services at a discount helps us save on those necessities. How do you tell the real, practical options from the risky or fraudulent schemes? In this report, I'll give you some tips on how to tell the difference in several popular areas.

Selling gold, jewelry, coins and/or collectibles. Traveling buyers road shows are pulling in thousands of consumers all over the country today. Multiple ads on radio, TV, and billboards and full-page spreads in newspapers invite consumers to bring in their gold or jewelry (broken okay) or other collectibles to sell for "top dollar." While many of these shows are run by reputable companies, you will not necessarily get the best offer from them for your jewelry or collectibles.

As in anything, you need to be an informed participant. It's always a good idea to do some homework first.

  • Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau (in the area where the company is headquartered and locally).
  • Have an idea of the value of what you wish to sell. For example, if you have gold jewelry or fine, older jewelry ask a local jeweler or two what they would pay for it (or what they would value it for, if they don't buy gold or jewelry). Including a local, reputable pawnshop in your evaluation can also be helpful.
  • If you are selling jewelry just for the gold value, remember that jewelry is rarely "pure" (24 carat) gold. Values vary depending on the percentage of gold in the metal. Learn the relative values.

Valuing other collectibles can be even harder than jewelry, particularly if you are dealing with furniture or decorative items. Again, local appraisals are a good place to start.

Because it is so hard to sort the reputable firms from the scam artists, particularly those that are only web-based companies, most experts recommend avoiding selling gold or jewelry to firms where you must mail your items to the company. When you deal in person, you can say no if the price isn't right.

Selling your jewelry or collectibles on an online auction site such as eBay is also an option. But there are additional costs to you as the seller. And you must be prepared for bad-faith customers also.

Work-at-Home "Opportunities." "Work-at-home" offers abound on the Internet. The vast majority are scams. The most popular today are schemes that ask you to pay an upfront fee to learn to make money on the Internet. That upfront fee may appear modest, but most offers have additional fees hidden in the fine print. These hidden fees can be huge and quickly increase overall cost. Any upfront fee is a red flag—the only person making money is typically the scamster who runs the site. Work-at-Home Businesses from the Federal Trade Commission profiles some other popular scams to avoid.

In addition to the millions of scams, there are a few legitimate jobs you can do online or at home. A number of IT specialists such as website designers and programmers do free-lance work from home offices. Persons with such skills typically have contacts with companies requiring the work or use reputable job boards. Some companies are also beginning to use at-home workers to staff call centers. Check out any company thoroughly before signing up and ignore any that want upfront fees or unnecessary personal financial information before you have a legal contract. There are also legitimate paid online survey opportunities that will pay in cash or products for your opinion. But even when the survey offer is legitimate, the income is usually minimal for the time you spend. Again, reject any offer that wants you to pay—that's a scam.

Online penny auctions. On the surface, these sites look like a great way to get name brand products for pennies on the dollar. Be warned, however, that there are hundreds of scam sites out there with many fewer legitimate sites. Even with reputable companies there's typically a catch. On most penny auction sites you have to pay a fee each time you bid and usually you have to buy upfront packages of bids. For example, you may have to pay $.50 for each bid and have to buy a minimum of 50 bids for $25. Bid windows for items are typically timed and you can usually raise the bid only a penny or two each time. Most times (unless you are lucky or skilled in strategy) you will not win the items, particularly popular, higher ticket items, and will simply have thrown your money away. A recent Time magazine article shares author Belinda Luscombe's experience on one site. She may have won $25 earbuds for six cents but spent $30 on losing bids for other items.

coupons.jpgCouponing. Done right, "couponing" can be the real deal for saving on groceries and other household items. Couponing experts typically recommend that, for a start, you use print coupons from newspapers and other publications, store coupons, and online coupons that can be downloaded to your store customer loyalty card. Other recommendations include organizing coupons, matching coupons to sale items for greater savings, and making price comparisons among several stores that you shop regularly. Also remember that saving on a product you and your family don't use is no savings at all. Entering "couponing tips" in your browser's search engine will take you to a number of websites with additional tips; just remember to check out the site by checking its privacy policy. Beware of any registrations requiring personal information.

Price comparison apps and websites. Buying items ranging from clothing to travel to electronics at a discount from retail price not only saves money, it's a favorite American pastime. Doing online price comparisons before shopping, whether in a store or online, is also smart. Hundreds of online price comparison apps and sites (or price comparison search engines) offer to help consumers with the job. Many are reputable and offer up-to-date information. Many are also prospect aggregators—they capture and share your personal information with third-party companies who then pitch their particular goods or services to you. Among these apps and sites are those, for example, who offer to acquire a number of quotes for services such as insurance or loans of various sorts.

Before you use any price comparison app or site, particularly if you are required to register or give any personal information, thoroughly check out the ownership and structure of the app/site (who's running it) and its privacy policy and terms of service. For every well-established, legitimate app/site there are dozens of poor or fraudulent apps/sites. Also, if you spot an offer for a product you like, check out the seller just as carefully. Also go to the product manufacturer's or distributor's website and compare the prices offered there. For travel services such as airfares, rental vehicles and hotels also compare direct offers from the service providers websites to the offers you've found on aggregate travel provider sites.

If you are interested in a financial loan, such as a mortgage or vehicle loan or other financial product, such as a certificate of deposit (CD) or money market fund, always talk to Mission Fed first. You will find that your credit union offers some of the best rates available and also works with you to find products that fit your needs and financial well-being.

Happy Endings for Your Wallet. Opportunities to save on what you buy or to raise a little extra cash are out there. But none are as easy as most of the ads and hype on homepages suggest. With a little preparation and taking time to check out what's real and what's risky (or a scam), you and your family can benefit. And remember, sometimes the best benefit to your budget is to say NO to a bad deal or scam.


Originally published September 2010. Reviewed and updated December 2014

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