Scammers targeting job seekers

January 8, 2009 5:37:35 PM PST
The unemployment numbers are not good, according to the federal government. Unemployment nationwide is now at seven percent and could grow. That means more people than ever are looking for jobs and scammers know it.

Those of you looking for a job need to know about one scam. It's been around for a while, but it is making a comeback and as one Houston woman found, online jobs can ruin you financially.

Like many people needing a job, Irene Garcia turned to the internet for work. She found the perfect opportunity advertised on CraigsList.

"I received a reply telling me that I had been selected as a mystery shopper," said Garcia.

After agreeing to be a mystery shopper, Garcia received a FedEx envelope with a check inside for $2,300. Garcia then deposited the check into her account and following directions, she found a Western Union office and wired $2,100 dollars to her contact.

The job was to rate Western Union.

"They wanted me to tell them the attendant's name, where I went, what location was it, how long did it take," Garcia told us.

A few days later, Garcia's bank account showed a negative balance of more than $2,000.

"And my whole account is totally screwed up," she said.

When Garcia's bank realized the mystery shopper check was a fake, the bank removed the money from her account and now Garcia must repay the bank.

"Now I am $2,300 in the hole," said Garcia.

There are warning signs on CraigsList and on Western Union's paperwork urging people not to do exactly what Garcia did. Also, real mystery shopping jobs pay far less than the money sent to Garcia.

"You won't make a lot of money mystery shopping," said one mystery shopper, who wanted us to conceal her identity. "These scams promise hundreds of dollars and at the most, I would get maybe 5 to 10 dollars."

That mystery shopper tells us the jobs she takes come with specific instructions along with a tiny payment.

"They will tell you a date range. You can go from January 3 to January 6 and a specific time, say between the hours of 12 and 6 for example," she said.

Now that more people are looking for work, experts say the fake check mystery shopping scam will only grow.

"When people get desperate, they tend to throw common sense out the window, so yes, I have a feeling, we will see more complaints like this," said Monica Russo with the Houston Better Business Bureau.

Remember, when you deposit a check, you are telling the bank the check is good. If the check turns out to be a fake, the bank seizes the money in your account and you are responsible for coming up with the cash to repay the bank.

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