Monday, November 30, 2009

Flint Township woman loses more than $4,700 in mystery shopper scam

By Laura Angus Flint Journal
November 27, 2009, 9:56AM
FLINT TOWNSHIP, Michigan — Laurie’s husband had just died and she was desperate for some extra cash when she heard about a way to make some online.
The 46-year-old Flint Township woman, who declined to give her last name, signed up to be a mystery shopper and received a check for nearly $5,000 on Oct. 23. She was instructed to deposit the money and make two wire transfers — leaving her with a payment of $250.
“I needed some extra money ... and I just fell right into this,” she said.
Days later, she got a call from her bank telling her the check was bogus — and she was $4,700 in the hole.
Tim Burns, public affairs director Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan, said counterfeit checks and money orders are becoming a huge problem because scammers can buy affordable printers that will print documents that can “fool even the banks.”
Burns said people should be wary if someone gives them a check for more than needed and ask for the extra cash to be returned or wired back.
“That should be a real warning sign,” he said.
Another scheme sees the scammer send a check for more than needed only to say later it was a mistake and ask for the victim to return the rest or extra cash is needed to cover taxes, he said.
“A lot of people get caught up in this because sometimes you get some pretty legitimate excuses for why they want you to do this,” he said.
Scam artists understand the deadlines banks have for giving people cash when they deposit a check, but it often takes a couple of days after those deadlines for the bank to determine whether a check is valid, he said. “They don’t need to hook everyone, they just need to hook a couple of people to make a lot of money.”
As the holidays approach, there will be scammers out there “hiring” people to wrap gifts and mail them overseas, said Burns. In these scams, the money used to buy the gifts comes from stolen credit cards or bad checks and the person who falls victim to the crime helps the scammers get the items out of the country where they are sold.
“They come up with a new angle every week on these things,” he said.
David McGrain, vice president of marketing for the Flint-based Financial Plus Federal Credit Union, said the credit union sees three or four counterfeit checks like this per week.
“There are an awful lot of (fraudulent) checks going around,” he said.
He urged people to talk honestly with bank or credit union employees when they get a check they’re not totally sure is legitimate and follow their bank’s advice.
“I think a lot of people really feel like they’ve been pretty gullible after the fact,” he said. “We wish they would think ‘am I being gullible’ before the fact?
Laurie said she thought the offer seemed legitimate, and had she not been in a financial bind, she said she would have been more cautious. She said she has always urged friends to avoid falling into similar traps, and will be more vigilant in the future.
“Just be very, very cautious because I really, really don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said.