Sunday, December 5, 2010

Working from home can be a risky business

IN the 1970s, working from home was quite common. In the village in Gombak where I grew up, my sister and I pasted tikam boards for extra pocket money.

Tikam is a game of chance now seldom seen except in shops in the rural areas. It is a large piece of cardboard from which cash or toys hang. At the bottom of the board are rows of paper foils containing numbers. For five sen, you get a pick. If the foil has a number that corresponds with a number on a prize, you win prize. Otherwise, you are given a sweet as compensation. Or nothing.
Pasting tikam boards was monotonous but easy.

We cut the numbers from a sheet of paper and pasted them onto paper foils that were then folded and mounted in neat rows on the main board. For each 144-foil board pasted, we were paid four sen. The earnings - less the cost of tapioca flour used to make starch - were our nett income.

Our neighbours made shopping bags from recycled cement packaging. For each bag measuring a foot by two feet, they were paid one sen. They had to first clean the paper of cement and trim it before it could be folded into bags. The only hazard was breathing in cement dust when the packages were sorted out.

Another family cleaned beer bottles. They were paid four sen for each large bottle; two for a small one. Since their well provided free water and the factory supplied detergent, the cost was only time and effort. The only risk they faced was getting cut by submerged broken bottles.

There were less hazardous moneymaking opportunities, too, I remember. A friend decided to check out one of the ads he saw in the papers one day. It promised a RM50 income a week working from home. My friend took me along to check out the advertiser located in a shopping complex in Bukit Bintang. It turned out to be a typing job for which I had neither the skill nor typewriter. My friend had both, so he got the job.

Having paid RM50 as deposit from which the penalty would be deducted if he failed to meet the delivery deadline, he was given a ream of paper to type sales letters at 50 sen apiece. Within two days he completed the job and was promptly paid RM25.

But at the end of the second week, when he had completed 100 pieces and gone to the office to hand in his work, he had a shock.

A group of disgruntled home workers had gathered in front of the locked office. My friend learnt that the employer had absconded with their deposits days earlier and the job offer was a scam.

When I saw banners on lamp posts advertising between RM500 to RM1,000 for working from home recently, I was reminded of the scam. I wonder if the banners were baiting school leavers waiting for their results and home workers in need of extra cash.

When opportunities are aplenty, I am sure opportunists are never far away.

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