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WARNING! Fake Money Order Scams

Another scam warning!  This particular scam has been successful at stealing tens of thousands of dollars from people all across the nation.

There are a few variations of this money order scam all of which will leave you without the promised money and likely in debt to the bank.  The first one we’ll look at is the “Secret Shopper” scam:

The Secret Shopper scam appears on the surface to be a lucrative and easy way to supplement your income by working from home and preforming simple “mystery shopper” evaluations on local retail outlets or money transfer services like Western Union.

I have to mention that all “Mystery Shopper” offers are not scams.  As a matter of fact, when I was younger I worked as a Mystery Shopper and it was a lot of fun but not very lucrative.  It is very easy to spot the legitimate “job” offers from the scams.  A legitimate mystery shopper job offer will never make you pay for anything upfront.

The secret shopper scams are just that… scams.  Actually, the secret shopper jobs are actually clever schemes designed to turn the proceeds of crime into untraceable cash.  Victims of these types of scams are sent checks or money orders ostensibly for use in evaluation assignments. They are instructed to cash the money orders, deduct a certain percentage for their “wage” and then use the rest of the money for their store “evaluations”

Unfortunately for the unsuspecting “secret shopper”, the money orders or checks will turn out to be counterfeit or stolen.

Usually the first assignment for the “shopper” is to evaluate a money transfer service like Western Union.  They will be told to wire the remaining money, after keeping their pay, to another “worker” as a way of testing the quality and reliability of the wire service. In other instances, the shoppers will be instructed to cash their money orders at a particular bank and evaluate the quality of the service provided by the bank’s staff.  Once again, they will be instructed to wire the cash to another worker after they evaluate the bank.

It turns out that the other “workers” are really the scammers themselves.  What they have just accomplished is to turn fake or stolen money orders or checks into cash that cannot be traced back to them, thus laundering the money from the crime.

Guess who is left holding the proverbial bag?  You guessed it, the “secret shopper”.  The shopper is now the one who will face any legal consequences when the police discover that it was them who cashed the bogus checks or money orders.  If the victims where unfortunate enough to use their own bank accounts to cash the money orders, they will be left with a big deficit in their account when the bad checks or money orders are rejected by their bank.

Like I mentioned before, there are definitely legitimate mystery shopper job opportunities out there, but be aware of any mystery shopper job or payment processing agent, that involves you cashing checks or to process funds using your own bank account and then wire the money back to other people.  Legitimate organizations are not going to ask you to do these things much less instruct you to pay yourself from proceeds that need to be processed.

The other type of money order scam is targeted at the online seller or auctioneer.  These scams work in much the same way in that the victim is contacted about an item they have for sale, often times the item is listed on social type sites such as Craig’s List or other classified sections of forums, and the scammer offers to pay via a money order.

Well, that sounds OK right?  Not so fast, the rub here is much like the shopper scam in that the scammer will send payment for an amount over the agreed upon purchase price and ask the seller to keep the amount for payment and then wire or mail back the remaining amount back to them or to another person.  If you are asked to do this you can be assured it is a scam.

The last and to me the most obvious of the money order scams, yet millions of people fall for it each year, is the student, tourist or overseas military personnel asking for help in cashing checks or money orders.

Just like the other scams, the victim is asked to cash the check or money order, keep a small portion as a “gift” for helping them out, and send the rest back to them, usually using Western Union.  …like the other scams, if you are asked to do this, don’t!

Why do people fall for this?  You would never be so naive as to become a victim of such a scam right?  Well, the con-artists have seemed to find a way of exploiting the benevolent nature of Americans. This scam plays to our core values, which blinds our judgment in dealing with what is really happening.  It seems that the internet brings this scam and others into our home, where we feel secure but apparently are more vulnerable.

For additional information and resources on fraudulent money orders, call the Money Order Fraud Hot Line, run by the Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigative Support Center, at (800) 372-8347.


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