Secret Shopper scam: Watch out for fake Postal Service money orders

People looking for work are scouring the internet for anything that might help bring in a few extra bucks. So, Teri Lee of Shoreline thought there might be promise in the secret shopper ad she found on Craigslist - until she got her first assignment and discovered it was a scam. But this secret shopper scam has a slightly different twist than others I've warned you about.

Lee was notified of her approved application by someone using the name John Hover, who identified himself as the Payment Officer in the Processing Job-Unit. But the Priority Mail packet containing her first secret shopper assignment was from a woman using the name Sarah Flores, from Colorado- who included two U.S.Postal Service money orders for $980 each.

Instead of counterfeit cashiers checks, some scammers are turning to bogus post office money orders. The fakes look strikingly similar to the real deal. Dave Schroader at the Postal Inspection Service in Seattle, says the problem comes in waves, and you can spot the fakes by holding them up to the light.

"Real money orders have the (security) stripe all the way through, embedded actually, in the paper," Schroader said. "What happens is, these guys photocopy the money orders, so the watermark (of Benjamin Franklin) is on the front of the money order, instead of it actually being transparent and seen all the way through. And the magnetic strip (on a real money order) should be continuous. If you hold a fake up to the light its actually not continuous. You see the breaks in the stripe."

Lee's bogus secret shopper assignment instructed her to evaluate the customer service at WalMart, keep $200 for her pay, then wire the balance to a third party in Louisiana

"I mean, if I had done that I'd be in the hole $1,700," Lee said.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is on the trail of a number of money order crooks and is interested in hearing from anyone who has received a U.S. Postal Service money order which appears to be fake. You can report mail fraud online, or call 1-877-876-2455.

Schroader says while passing fake money orders through the U.S. mail is a federal offense, victims of the fraud are not prosecuted. Just remember, as with fake cashiers checks, if you cash a bogus money order, most financial institutions will hold you responsible for repaying every cent.

More information about the scam is available online.