MONROE (WKOW) -- The ads for secret shopper programs are all over newspaper classifieds and the Internet. They offer what seems to be a great deal: free products and a payment just for buying them at your local store.
The only catch is you need to fill out surveys about your experience.
Sue Holzer of Monroe thought she'd found the sweetest secret shopper deal yet. A $400 payment if she wires money through Western Union and MoneyGram.
"I said, wow. This is a great opportunity," said Holzer. "This is the best job I've had yet for secret shoppers. So I went ahead and did it."
Holzer received and deposited a $5,000 check into her account. She followed the instructions and wired most of that money back to the sender, two individuals in Canada known as Evan Grant and Peter Barnes.
Four days later, the bank called.
The $5,000 check was a fraud. Holzer needed to repay the bank the entire amount.
"I freaked. I don't have $5,000," she said. I won't have Christmas this year."
Holzer has been unsuccessful tracking down the scammers because they apparently received the money in Canada.
This turns out to be a very common fake-check scam that sometimes takes other forms, like winning a lottery.
The Wisconsin Bankers Association says it's up to consumers to trust the person or business they're receiving checks from.
"Some of these [scammers] are very good at what they do," said association executive Rose Oswald Poels. "Looking at a check by itself, will rarely get you to the point [to say] it's illegal."
Checks usually need to pass through several points in the banking system and get transferred to the original bank in order to be determined if they're real.
Money is available to customers depositing the checks immediately as a result of federal law. It does not mean the check is valid and it does not mean the bank will honor it, said Poels.
The Federal Trade Commission outlines more information for consumers about fake check schemes at its website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre40.shtm.
Send comments to Dan Cassuto at firstname.lastname@example.org.