WSVN — Patricia Heurtaux is a talented designer who thought she had found a way to get through these slow times.
Patricia Heurtaux: "You will receive a commission of $100 for each survey."
Lazarus Arguelles was looking for a job for a year when he thought he found a way to make the checks come in.
Lazarus Arguelles: "I'm showing over a $1,000 on my account, I'm like, oh, this must be legit."
Susan Soltero was unemployed struggling to make her house payments when an Internet company hired her as a so-called regional manager to distribute money.
Susan Soltero: "On April third they deposited $9,300."
Susan, Lazarus and Patricia, three honest people, three people struggling to pay their bills. Three victims of these desperate times.
Patricia Heurtaux: "Angry of course."
Patricia got an email from a so-called survey company on the West Coast asking her to be a mystery shopper and analyze the quality of service from a Western Union. They sent her a check for $1,000, told her to keep a $100, wire the rest through Western Union and report back.
Patricia Heurtaux: "Your report should include how courteous the attendant is, how clean the location is."
It sounded legit, she did her job. So did Lazarus, and, just like Patricia, a few days later he got bad news from his bank.
Patricia Heurtaux: "I get the e-mail notification that your account has been withdrawn negative. The check came back and bounced."
The money had been wired to Russia. Lazarus now owed the bank almost $1,000.
Susan Soltero: "It's very scary."
It's much worse for Susan. She had gone on-line to post her resume. An Internet scammer found her and left her owing the bank more money than any unemployed person can hope to have.
Susan Soltero: "Unfortunately, I am legally responsible to replace this money."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, you may be thinking, how could these people fall for these scams? Because on the other end are slick con artists. I got an email offering me cash. I played along. I got this envelope from Alabama, sent through UPS. Inside, two legitimate looking money grams worth $1,640. I was told to keep 10 percent and wire the rest to a company in London. Very slick instructions from very slimy crooks.
Cindy Guerra: "We have seen such an increase in scams."
Cindy Guerra is with the Florida Attorney General's Office and is seeing an incredible increase in crooks coming after people desperate to pay their bills.
Cindy Guerra: "Often times, the people being victimized are the people that are already hurting: people who are loosing their homes, people who have lost their jobs, people that are really down and desperate."
Susan Soltero: "My home will disappear, my animals are going to have to disappear. Everything in my life as I've known it for the 17 years that I've been here is going to be gone."
Bankers wouldn't talk to us, but under federal law, they have to clear the money orders within 24 hours. It takes days for a bank to determine they are worthless, and since the crooks get the victims to wire the cash overseas you can't get it back.
Cindy Guerra: "Impossible, impossible. Once that money is out of the country, impossible. If it's too good to be true, chances are it's a scam."
But it's easy to get scammed when you are desperate to take care of your family.
Patricia Heurtaux: "I'm not stupid, but you feel stupid after that."
Easy to get scammed when you are hit by hard times.
Susan Soltero: "I am very worried, but I'm taking it one day at a time."
When a crooked con is skimming the web waiting to work you over.
If you've been the victim of a job scam, report it to the Florida Attorney General's Office by calling 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. You can also go to the Florida Attorney General's Office web page to file a complaint or check on a suspicious business.