The Work From Home Scam

Posted by on Aug 21, 2012 in Money Laundering, Mystery Shopper, Spam, Work From Home

The Work From Home (WFH) scam is also known as the Mystery Shopper or Personal Assistant scam. It’s not new on the scene, but enough people get caught by it every day that it’s worth taking a deeper look at. The primary objective of the scam is to get people (usually the honest ones) to send scammers money. A secondary objective is that of money laundering.

In today’s post, I will explain how it all works with the aid of a real life example involving myself and an unsuspecting scammer.

On a side note, I keep wanting to refer to spammers as bozos, clowns, fools and monkeys. It’s not just the spammers that fall into this category for me, it’s any fraudster that thinks they can get away with this kind of monkey business. Fortunately, I have been in talks with folks who have advised against using such terms.

“It’s not professional”

And they’re right. So, no nasty terms will be used when referring to spammers in this post.

The WFH scam breaks down into four components:

  • A. Scammer baits a victim
  • B. Scammer verifies the victim’s details
  • C. Scammer priority mails the victim a check (shock!)
  • D. Victim indirectly sends the scammer a check in return

Let’s go through each component in detail.

A. Scammer Baits a Victim

From all of the scammers I have dealt with in this scam, I think their aim is not to get victims that want to work from home, but more to get victims that are desparate to work and will try anything. The scammers present their “opportunity” as a means to do exactly that.

The scammers source their victims using a shotgun approach (fire in that general direction with this big gun, you’ll hit something). Go through your junk mail and search for “personal assistant”, “work from home”, “mystery shopper” or “shop for gifts”. The odds are that you are going to find something. If you reply, you’re en route to becoming a victim.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Here’s an email I received earlier this month (I have highlighted the statements that should set off alarm bells in your head) from Derek Early (

Subject:Personal Assistant : More About  the Job Position

I got your email from the states data collection services/chamber of commerce.
I'm looking for someone who can handle my business & personal errands at his/her
 spare time. Someone who can offer me these services:

* Mail services (Receive my mails and drop them off )
* Shop for Gifts
* Bill payment (pay my bills on my behalf)
* Sit for delivery (at your home) or pick items up at nearby post office at your 

Let me know if you will be able to offer me any or all of these services.Where
 are you located? I will love to meet up with you to talk about this job but I
 am currently away on business. I am presently in Canada,so there will be 
no interview. I will prepay you in advance to do my shopping.
I will also have my mails and packages forwarded to your address. If you will
 be unable to stay at your house to get my mails, I can have it shipped to a
post office near you and then you can pick it up at your convenience.

When you get my mails/packages, you are required to mail them to where I want 
them mailed to. You don't have to use money out of your
 pocket. All you have to do is have the package(s) shipped to wherever I want and do 
my shopping.

You are allowed to open the packages to reveal its content.The content of the
packages are Art Materials,business and personal letters. All expenses and taxes
 will be covered by me. You will work between 15 to 20hrs a month.The pay is
$500 weekly. That is not a bad offer is it? I need your service because I am
constantly out of town as i co-own an Art Gallery here in Monrtreal,Canada.

I will be returning to the States by October so this process will be going on
till then.If you don't mind, I will meet up with you when I return and then we
can talk about the possibility of making this long term.

Well, let me know if you are able to handle the position. I hope to hear from
you soon.No heavy package is involved! You  can do the shopping at any nearby
store.You will be shopping for gifts.I will provide you my personal Courier
account number for Shipping. All you have to do is provide my account number and
 shipping charges will be billed to the account.I will provide clear set of
instructions for each task I need done as well the funds to cover them.

If I were to mail you money to do my shopping plus upfront payment for your
services, where will you want it mailed to? How should your name appear on the
 payment? Provide me with the following details listed below:

Full Name:
Full Address(No POBox):
Zip Code:
Home Phone:
Cell Phone:
Occupation(If any):
Email address: 

NB: This position is open to individuals 18 years and above and no sign up
fee is required.

Thank you
Kind Regards

In this scenario, the spammer is sending out spam email to large numbers of people in the hope that someone will respond. Here’s my response:

Hi Derek, 

Things have been incredibly hard lately, I'll do whatever it takes to
make a living. Thanks so much for this opportunity. 

I have lots of experience with business administration and can double
as a courier no problem. I am in Seattle, if you have time to stop by
from Vancouver on your way back, I'm just a very quick flight away
(30 minutes!). Otherwise I will see you in person some other time for

In the meantime, please send through a list of what you would like me
to start shopping for. I have a Walmart very close by, and a Seers
and Best Buy too.

Here are my details:

Full Name: Wesley Barbosa
Full Address(No POBox): [removed]
City: [removed]
State: Washington
Zip Code:
Home Phone: [removed]
Cell Phone: [removed]
Age: 35
Occupation(If any): unemployed
Email address: [removed]

Looking forward to working for you!


Despite the incredibly low response rate that spammers receive from their spam campaigns, it obviously works for them otherwise they just wouldn’t be doing it. Unfortunately, spam is not the only medium one can use to attract a victim in this scam. Other forms include job postings on popular online recruitment sites and even putting up “Work From Home!” banners on the side of the road.

B. Scammer Verifies the Victim’s Details

Responses received from the spammers campaign are verified for authenticity. If an invalid address was sent or there’s nobody on the other end of the cell phone number provided, then the scammer is probably not going to waste anymore time. The reponse I sent had perfectly valid details, I even provided another number that they could contact me on (and some of them do actually call — they’re really friendly too!)

Two days after I sent my reply, I received another email from Derek:

Subject: Confirmation: Personal Assistant (Acknowledge Requested)

This is to acknowledged that your information has been received,I Just verified all
your details and I am comfortable with giving you a trial start.I am happy to have
you as my personal assistant and I am willing to work with you immediately. Information
about the payment and instructions for first assignment for next week will be sent
to you before Wednesday.Looking forward to work with you.Kindly acknowledge the
receipt of this email.Thank you.

Kind Regards

Followed by a prompt response from me

This is great! Thanks Derek, I'm eager to get started on my first assignment!

C. Scammer Priority Mails the Victim a Check

A few days pass, and then another email:

Subject: Personal Assistant : First Assignment and Instructions
(Payment to be delivered via USPS Today)

This email is to notify you about your first assignment to be delivered
to your residence via USPS Courier Service Today.

1. In order for you to receive your fee, take the payment to your bank
and have it DEPOSITED in your bank account for 24 hours and the funds
would be available the very next business day.Email me a copy of the
Deposit Slip (very important) Meanwhile,make an ATM deposit if it happens
 that you didn't receive the package on time before the bank closes so
 that the funds can be available the next business day to complete the
assignment on time.

2. Once you have cashed the financial instrument i need you to do the

a. Deduct $500 which is your pay for 1 week and $50 for Gas.

b. Then from the balance left set aside, deduct the money to cover
the wire transfer fees.

c. Send the remaining funds in CASH to my Art Materials Suppliers in
Philippines via Western Union using the receivers information below:
Split the payment into two equal amount when sending to both suppliers.

ZIP CODE : 1250

ZIP CODE : 1250

Send me the following details for the  transfers via email after sending
 the funds :

1. Senders Name as its written on the western union forms

2. Money Transfer Control Numbers {M.T.C.N} for each 

3. The total amount sent after deducting western union charges for each

4.  Western union charges.

Reply to confirm you received instruction to complete your assignment.

Kind Regards
Derek Early

That very same day I received a parcel that was marked extremely urgent. Whilst it was not from Derek, it did contain a cashier’s check for a significant amount of money.

Alarm bells:

  • The parcel received was not from Derek, it’s from Andrew Vickery (possibly another victim in the scam)
  • The name on the check is not from Derek, it’s not from Andrew either. It’s from Vahe Aslanian (another victim?)

D. Victim Indirectly Sends the Scammer a Check in Return

At this point the victim has received more money than originally expected from the scammer. The check says it’s a Cashier’s Check and if you take a real close look at it, you can actually see the watermarks. It looks legit! Of course, the check is not legitimate.

Needless to say, the folks that fall for this scam now deposit this check into their account, subtract their weekly wage and then send their own money to Art Materials Suppliers in the Philippines.

“Wow, he trusted me enough that he paid me up front. This can’t be a scam!”

What’s going on here?

There’s more to this than meets the eye, using the following diagram let’s step through and review what happened:

  1. Scammer starts online correspondence with victim once he has been authenticated
  2. Scammer contacts other victims (possibly from previous scams or even new to this one)
  3. These victims unknowingly become involved in forwarding a check on his behalf. The scammer hopes that the ultimate victim (me) doesn’t notice the irregularities of all the different names. After all, the scammer has trusted the victim enough to (i) send him a check via priority mail and (ii) pay him more than what he is “owed”
  4. Victim deposits check, doesn’t wait for it to bounce and then gets right on top of sending money to the other scammers involved

Step 2 from above is where things get interesting. If I had responded I may have been upgraded to have been included as one of the folks of step 2 in another scam, possibly to forward another check along or even a parcel. The unsuspecting victims here are used to throw investigators off of the scammer’s trail. It’s another moving part in the machine, it’s another lead that goes nowhere, it’s a pain.

An example of what can be done with the victims in step 2 involves credit card fraud. The scammer buys stolen credit cards online and then uses them to purchase items from an online store. The shipping address provided is one of the unsuspecting victims. This victim receives the parcel, opens it and then follows his instructions to send it off to another victim. The parcel mixes around in the network of victims until it exits as a package sent to the phillipines or even sold by a victim, his pay is then deducted and the balance sent to a scammer (this process is also known as money laundering).

Another variant of this scam manifests itself through popular sites the likes of Craigslist. The principles are the same in that it is based upon trying to gain the victim’s trust by having the scammer initially “trust” the victim (with a fake check):

  1. Scammer picks a vertical on Craigslist, all the better if it is for items that are not very popular
  2. Scammer contacts some of the sellers and asks if he can pay via cashier’s check
  3. Scammer then overpays the victim, i..e, instead of paying $25 for a piggy bank, the scammer pays $2,500.
  4. Scammer waits for the check to be delivered then either phones the victim or contacts him via email: “I just noticed I over paid you! If it’s not too much of a hassle could you please just subtract the $25 for the piggy bank (and a little extra for you — say $50) and send the balance back to me?”


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  1. Thomas Vanhoutte
    August 23, 2012

    It’s an example of one of the ‘better’ frauds out there. At least they are better than the “you have won the lottery”.

    Here is a Belgian production regarding e-mail fraud. They are actually calling the scammers and laughing with them: (Dutch, but with English subtitles)

  2. Judee
    September 4, 2012

    Just got one of those e-mails and filled it out, glad I found your site, I knew it was fraud as always…will send the fake check to the Attorneys Gernerals office if I get one……THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR SITE!!!!!

  3. Work From Home Essentials
    September 9, 2012

    I totally agree you would believe how many people this happens to. I my self have been scammed before in the past and it is a terrible experience. I since then have found legitimate ways to work from home. Sometime you have to do your research in order to not getting scammed. Thank you for this information you are definitely helping people.

  4. Venessa
    October 26, 2012

    i got one of thoese cashier check and it look so real but dont know what to do with it or anything…

  5. wesleyb
    October 26, 2012

    If it’s too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true. It’s best just to leave it alone and not have any further contact with the folks behind this operation.