An old cry rises: 'money for nothing'

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Like sex, shortcuts sell – or so many marketers appear to believe.

Want to get fit without exerting yourself? TV infomercials push a pill that burns fat "while you sleep."

Want to "make money without doing anything!!!"? An e-mail sender called "Unknown" promises to send along its formula.

Recommended: How is money reshaping American politics? Take our quiz.

That offer trumps one sent by "Alberto" in Denmark that promises energetic people an opportunity to earn a substantial income working from home for an entity claiming to be a "Fortune 500" firm.

Buy into that and I can point you toward some Nigerians who'll cut you in on tens of thousands of dollars just for giving them access to your "bank particulars."

As ill-advised as such deals may sound, they can offer real allure – through a nothing-to-lose sort of reasoning – when times get tough, as they have of late.

Legitimate at-home work options still abound, and they can cushion a financial blow. A neighbor of mine just began giving real attention to her long-simmering interior-design company. It will help out the household; her husband recently lost his job at a semiconductor firm.

But experts warn home-worker wannabes to beware enterprises that require an initial outlay of money, as many do. Diligence has never been more important, as today's lead story explains.

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Can't get your mind off the stock market? You're forgiven.

The Dow has hit a four-year low, the Nasdaq a six-year low. No one knows quite where war worries and the continuing corporate soap opera will take the economy next.

But investors wondering about a "bottom" should consider ways to protect what they have. Next week's Mutual Funds Quarterly may help.

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