MILWAUKEE, WI -- It seemed like an easy way to make a little money working at home, but instead it was a scheme that is now luring in thousands of victims. You need to know how to spot it before you become its next victim.
Investigators say counterfeit checks are at the heart of it. The scheme is on the rise and costing victims large amounts of money.
U.S. Postal Inspector Matt Schmitz, said, "It basically works by distributing counterfeit checks through the mail to individuals in the U.S."
The scheme 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 and the recipient becomes the middleman.
Schmitz said, "She would receive large amounts of counterfeit checks in the mail, she would then re-package the checks and envelopes and mail those to people that she was directed to mail them to."
The checks are usually accompanied by secret shopper letters and specific instructions for cashing. Recipients are asked to be secret shoppers: deposit the check, buy an item, fill out a survey and return any of the money they haven't spent.
Days later, the victims gets the bad news that the checks they deposited were counterfeit. They are now on the line 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.
Schmitz said, "A few months later, we were contacted by an informant that the suspect was back involved and distributing. 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 containing at least 1,000 checks worth about $450,000.
Inspectors say the scheme 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.
Schmitz said, "If there is an overseas attachment to a work at home scheme we would strongly recommend that the person investigate who they might be working for and query the company."
The suspect in the counterfeit check ring, who continued to send letters despite the warning from postal inspectors, was sentenced to 2 years in a federal prison.
US Postal Inspectors