Counterfeit checks at heart of work-from-home scam

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- It's an attractive offer -- make a little extra money on your own time. Thousands of people went for it -- but FOX6's Contact 6 says the offer was bogus.

Investigators 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.," U.S. Postal Inspector Matt Schmidt said.

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 middle man involved.

"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," Schmidt said.

Schmidt is specifically discussing the woman who is the middle man in the scheme. She 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 money not spent.

Days later, the victims get the bad news -- 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.

"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," Schmidt said.

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.

"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," Schmidt said.

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.