DENVER — Looking for a little extra work? You may be enticed into trying mystery shopper opportunities you see online. But, thieves are cleverly luring people into a scam involving counterfeit checks and losing their own money in the process.
"I was looking to make a little bit of extra money because I was only working part-time at an Air and Space Museum," explained fraud victim Jerry Peterson.
So, when Peterson saw an online ad for a mystery shopper job, he applied — giving them his name, address and number.
"One day I get this priority mail package with this letter saying congratulations, you know, we’ve accepted you as a secret shopper," Peterson recalled.
Inside the envelope was a check for $3,830 as well as detailed instructions on where to go and what to do.
He was told to go to Staples or Office Depot and spend a combined $180, keep $400 for himself and immediately wire the rest of the money back.
Timing is key in counterfeit check schemes.
"They want you to deposit this check — quickly withdraw the funds before the bank realizes this check is counterfeit," said U.S. Postal Inspector Rob Barnett.
Then, the victim is responsible for all the money lost.
When Peterson discussed the package with his wife, they quickly realized it was scam. Then, they called police.
"He immediately goes, 'This is a fraud – oh yeah.' I’m like, 'Have you seen this before?' And he said, 'I see this everyday,'" Peterson recalled.
Peterson did nothing. Then, he started getting calls.
"About a week later, I was getting at least two phone calls a week asking me, have I finished my assignment yet?" Peterson said.
Another red flag: even though Peterson was talking to the same man on the phone different cities kept popping up on the caller ID.
Fortunately, he didn't lose any money, but Peterson is angry and knows first hand how scams can hurt a family.
His mother got caught up in a similar scam before she passed away and her children had no idea.
"She ended up losing her house, and her car and bank account. Ended up in a nursing home. That’s why I feel the way I feel," Peterson said.
His experienced advice is simple.
"Don’t do anything until you talk to someone that you can trust," advised Peterson.
If you are ever suspicious about a package or check you receive in the mail, you can take them to a local post office or call a local postal inspector for guidance.