A Chicago woman and her company are charged with advertising a work-at-home job opportunity that promised big payoffs but allegedly ended up costing consumers money when start-up fees they paid upfront failed to generate profits.

The complaint filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accuses Paris Hill, doing business as Hill & Associates Consulting Center, of multiple violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

Hill allegedly advertised openings for employees to prepare bankruptcy petitions as a work-at-home job that required employees to purchase computer software for $139 to prepare the documents.

According to Madigan's complaint, Hill has placed help-wanted ads in the Chicago Tribune since at least July 2004, claiming consumers could earn "$52K/yr with medical & dental benefits after 30 days."

However, consumer complaints received by Madigan's office state otherwise, alleging consumers paid start-up expenses to Hill and then didn't receive the work, or pay, they were promised.

"When Illinoisans look through a newspaper's help-wanted ads, they should expect to find legitimate paying jobs, not consumer fraud," Madigan said. "This case is another reminder that work-at-home opportunities are appealing, but they must be carefully evaluated before any consumer becomes involved."

Madigan's complaint says Hill falsely represented that individuals could earn $52,000 a year, would prepare as many as 50 bankruptcy petitions a month, would be able to work full-time as bankruptcy petition preparers and would be eligible for medical and dental benefits. None of these claims proved to be true.

Hill is also accused of leading individuals to believe they would be employees of her company when in fact they were being hired as independent contractors, and that a call center would generate calls for the petition preparers when in fact they received very few or no calls.

As independent contractors, the individuals allegedly were told they would be paid commissions based on the number of bankruptcy petitions they prepared, earning $20 for one to 25 petitions, and $30 for 25 to 50 petitions and $40 for more than 50 petitions.

According to Madigan's complaint, the work never materialized and the independent contractors prepared few, if any, bankruptcy petitions.

Madigan's complaint seeks to prohibit Hill from committing future acts in violation of Illinois' consumer protection laws and asks the court to assess civil penalties of $50,000 per violation and an additional $50,000 for each violation found to have been committed with the intent to defraud. Madigan's complaint also seeks restitution for the defrauded consumers.

Madigan's Consumer Fraud Bureau warns consumers that many work-at-home schemes are fraudulent and offers consumers tips on how to protect themselves. Before consumers spend money on a work-at-home offer, they should ask the company representative the following questions to determine the truthfulness of the advertisements or literature:

• What does the job involve? What steps will I have to go through? What tasks will I have to complete?
• How and when will I be paid? Who will pay me?
• How much will I have to pay for the work-at-home program, including costs for supplies, equipment, training and other fees?
• What specific standards must my work meet?