By Chris May
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – 3 On Your Side has a warning about an easy money scam. It starts with a job offer and an immediate pay check. It sounds great in this tough economy, but it’s not what it seems and a viewer who became a victim alerted 3 On Your Side to this con so you won’t fall for it too.
“I thought it was something that was legitimate,” said Terri.
Terri thought she had landed a job as a mystery shopper. For the single working mother of two the extra money would come in handy.
“I need a few repairs on my house, I need a new roof and a couple other things,” she said.
Terri’s first assignment arrived in the mail with instructions and a $995 money order.
Her first assignment was to deposit the money order into her bank account. She was told to use $25 to make a purchase at a store and then evaluate the service. For that, she could keep $200. The amount of $770 was left over in her account.
“The remaining balance would be wire-transferred to another shopper for them to do the same type of activity,” Terri said.
Three more money orders arrived the next day in the amount of $995 each.
“You are to deduct $400 of salary from the total amount you will receive today,” said Terri as she read from the instructions that came with the money orders.
This time she was told to wire the rest, around $2500, to another mystery shopper and evaluate that wire service. Within days all four money orders were returned by her bank as counterfeit.
“Everything bounced, everything came in, I had a negative balance on my account,” Terri said.
Her own money, some $5000 was gone; bank penalty fees heaped on top of the loss.
“And so right now I work three jobs to try and just make things, make ends meet simply,” she said.
The scammers had used a letter head from BestMark, a legitimate business, on its correspondence with Terri.
“Best Mark would never ask you to cash or deposit a check or to transfer any funds,” BestMark’s CEO Ann Jennings told us. “This is a red flag.”
A scam warning is posted on BestMark’s website. Even so, Jennings says they hear from hundreds of people every week who believed they were dealing with the real company.
“It’s very, very sad because it ends up being a lot of people who really can’t afford to lose this kind of money,” said Jennings
Reginald Wade is a United States Postal Inspector in Bryn Mawr, PA who says this kind of scam most often originates overseas.
“As soon as they have you, as soon as they get you to participate, then they’re going to keep you involved and keep sending you solicitations and keep you on their list,” says Wade.
He says that while bank employees are trained to recognize fake money orders, the better ones slip through.
“They do look pretty genuine, I have to admit,” said Wade.
Federal agents are cracking down and made close to 800 mail fraud arrests last year. But for victims of this heartless crime, the damage is done.
“I think it’s very sad that they want to take advantage of people that work very hard,” said Terri.
3 On Your Side wants you to be able to protect yourself from these easy money scams. So we’ve set links to the Federal Trade Commission where you can learn how to spot the con artists.