County Consumer Affairs Division Warns Residents Of Two New Scams

MIDDLESEX COUNTY – The Middlesex County Division of Consumer Affairs is warning residents of a new check scam that asks recipients to deposit a cashier’s check into their personal checking account and then draw against it as part of a “Secret Shopper” program. A second scam uses victims to send fraudulent checks via post mail.

In the “Secret Shopper” scam, the Cashier’s Check is phony but looks legitimate, and in many cases the company name printed on the check is a real company.

“The Middlesex County Consumer Affairs division is warning people to NOT respond to such e-mails, mailers or newspaper advertisements, and most importantly do NOT cash or deposit checks,” said Freeholder H. James Polos, chair of the county’s Public Safety and Health Committee. “We are warning our residents so that we may help protect their assets and save them from falling victim to this latest scheme.”

Individuals are receiving postal mail or an e-mail or seeing newspaper advertisements seeking “Secret Shoppers.” An investigation by the Consumer Affairs Division found that when individuals respond, they receive the phony cashier’s check in the mail and are given an e-mail address they are to contact for instructions on how to proceed.

Consumers are directed to deposit the checks into their own bank accounts, wait 24 hours and then withdraw the money. Consumer Affairs investigators who responded to the e-mail were instructed to keep $200 of the $2,510 check they received as a “commission.” They were instructed to take an additional $50 to a store and purchase items “under cover” and then report the shopping experience.

Finally, the investigators were asked to take another $50 for Western Union fees to wire transfer the remaining funds ($2,210) to a name and address provided in the e-mail. The address was in a foreign country.

By the time the victim’s bank realizes the check is fake, the victim has already withdrawn the funds from the account and sent it to the address provided. Because the check is fake, the funds are taken from the victim’s own money.

In a second scam, known as a “Work from Home” scam, individuals are mailed packages of fraudulent checks. In some instances, these individuals are given postage stamps to use, which turn out to be fake. In other instances, they are instructed to purchase postage stamps from the post office, for which they will be reimbursed. These individuals are not reimbursed for postage. In both cases, these victims are sending fraudulent mail on behalf of the scammers.

“I applaud our Consumer Affairs employees for taking such a proactive, aggressive approach to uncovering this scam and warning our residents,” said Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano.

Anyone who believes they may be a victim of either of these types of fraud should contact the Federal Postal Inspector at 1-877-876-2455, and the US Postal Inspector – Newark Division at 1-973-693-5450. The Inspection Service’s web site provides additional information as well as an online complaint option:

Anyone who received this type of scam via e-mail should contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), authorities said.

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