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Rip-Off Alert: Counterfeit checks at heart of 'mystery shopper' scam

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 12/05/2013 11:01 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) -- It seemed like an easy way to make a little money working at home, but instead it was a scam that is now luring in thousands of victims.

In this Rip-Off Alert, it’s a twist on the mystery shopper scam illustrated in the past.

Postal inspectors from Wisconsin say counterfeit checks are at the heart of a scam that’s on the rise and costing victims large amounts of money.

“It basically works by distributing counterfeit checks through the mail to individuals in the U.S.,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Matt Schmidt.

The scam starts with a simple email looking for an account manager who wants to work from home.

Once recipients indicate they’re interested, the scheme is in motion -- with a middleman involved.

“She would receive large amounts of counterfeit checks in the mail,” Schmidt said. “She would then re-package the checks and envelopes and mail those to people that she was directed to mail them to.”

The middle man in the scheme receives the bad checks from someone overseas and sends them out with secret shopper letters.

The checks are usually accompanied by specific instructions for cashing, and recipients are asked to be secret shoppers: buy an item, fill out a survey and return any of the money they haven’t spent.

Days later, the victims get the bad news: The checks they deposited were counterfeit, and they are now responsible for the full amount.

In one case, postal inspectors tracked down the so-called account manager and ordered her to stop receiving and sending bad checks.

“A few months later, we were contacted by an informant that the suspect was back involved and distributing,” Schmidt said. “Interviews were done with the informant they gave quite a bit of information on her activity up to that phase.”

During the search warrant, inspectors found boxes of letters the suspect was preparing to send out. There were at least 1,000.

“We had intercepted a package that was destined for her that contained somewhere in the neighborhood of $450,000 in counterfeit checks,” Schmidt said.

Inspectors say the scam is growing in popularity because so many people are trying to find additional income.

In order to ensure you are not getting involved in illegal activity, research the company trying to hire you.

The suspect in the counterfeit check ring who continued to send letters despite the warning from postal inspectors was sentenced to two years in a federal prison.
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