Completing surveys or acting as a 'mystery shopper' is advertised as a Work at Home job opportunity. However, when you enquire you are likely to be asked for a registration or joining fee. You'll be given the figures revealing the thousands of pounds that can be made by people 'just like you', but the hard reality is that you'll be lucky to make the registration fee back in a year - if ever.
Some of these offers are free and do produce limited earning opportunities, but treat them with caution and don't hand over any money. There are ways you can make money at home using your computer without having to pay out first!
Companies can gather huge amounts of information on their products and customers without paying the end user directly for it. They will ask for info when you register your purchase for the warranty, when you give your email address, when you subscribe to their newsletter, and in many other ways.
They may offer a prize draw to complete a survey, but they are unlikely to offer any meaningful amount to complete one. Maybe you'll earn a money-off or discount coupon, but remember you're trying to earn money online not be encouraged to spend it.
Although you can earn money online to a limited extent with both 'paid to surf' and 'paid to take survey' jobs, the amounts involved are very meagre, and it's very difficult to make a living doing this kind of work. They may be worth considering if you are stuck at home anyway and can't think of anything better to do.
Don't expect to make a lot of money at this kind of work.
Read about one reporter's experiences as a mystery shopper in the Sunday mail (External site - opens in new window)
If you can surf the web, then you can design a website. Put together a site on something that you think people might be interested in - the list is endless, as is the potential for profit if you hit the right market.
Can you turn your interest, hobby or specialist knowledge into something that people will visit to be informed, or entertained?
If you can, then you have the potential for earning online in many ways, including selling advertising space on the site, selling e-books or offering a specialised service such as advice or information in your area of expertise, or interest.
If you can create an interesting or useful site, you'll be surprised at how quickly the visitor numbers build up, and how easy it is to start earning money from them even if it's simply by the placement of adverts or banners. A bit like this site reallly!
There are lots of programs around which make it easy to set up your own website. Some are available as shareware or freeware or can be purchased for anything from a few pounds upwards. There is also a huge range of web templates available which make setting up much easier and quicker.
You simply download the template and drop your own text and pictures in with an editing program.
You'll also need a hosting service costing from a few pounds a year - avoid the free hosting services if you want people to take you seriously.
You'll also need to buy a domain name - something which should reflect the nature of the site and what it does. A domain name costs hardly anything to purchase and many hosting companies will offer a free one in conjunction with a hosting package.
If you want to learn more, web design courses are run by many local authorities at affordable prices or even free if you are unemployed or in receipt of benefits.
If you feel the need for a more concentrated commercial course, expect to pay £200 plus per day. You can learn the basics on a one-day course and then go self-taught. Or if you want to get fully up to spec fast, go for a five day course.
Bear in mind, if you are unemployed, in receipt of benefits or living in certain development areas you may be eligible for a grant or loan for all or part of the cost of a course.
If you want an easier way of earning money with your computer, you could try creating a blog. Blog on something that's of interest and you'll find your visitor numbers will start to grow. Favourites include blogging on sports teams, stars, work, gossip and humour.
Despite twenty years or so of the world wide web, there are still many thousands of businesses out there with no online presence.
Contact local businesses who don't have a web site and and design one for a low price. Start off by pricing low for a basic design and charge more as you build a portfolio of sites. Can you add e-commerce, an email ordering service or other unique selling point?
There are still endless opportunities for making money on the web whether you design for other people, or build sites for yourself.
Like any new business, you'll probably have to pitch cheap to get started, but once you have created a few websites that you can show to potential customers, you'll find it gets easier and more lucrative to find new business.
Check out small and medium-sized businesses in your local area. It's much easier to get paid web design work if you can pitch face-to-face.
Could you specialise in designing sites for a particular type of business or market sector?
If you have knowledge on a particular subject you can make a much better pitch and you can offer to add value by writing content as well as just web designing.
This is certainly worth considering if say, you've been made redundant and have the specialised skills or experience to make a useful contribution to the customer's online content.
You could also offer SEO and promotion of websites to your web design customers, or indeed as a stand alone business.