MIAMI (CBS4) – It looked like a good way for Ray and Terry Crapello to make a little extra cash and they could apply online without even leaving their Cutler Bay home.

Ray Crapello remembered the offer: “Shoppers make extra cash for the holidays, be a mystery shopper. Visit stores, get paid for your shopping.”

He said his wife Terry liked the idea.

“She was just looking for a little extra holiday money the website she went to was promising. Make $2,500 a weekend; the whole 9 yards, just fill out this simple form,” said Ray Crapello.

After a few days, a package arrived at their home.

Inside, the couple found a $2,800 check from a bank they never heard of.

The two were instructed to cash the check and spend $200 shopping at local stores. Then they were to send the remaining $2,600 to the next mystery shopper.

Ray Crapello felt that something was wrong with the idea though.

“The sender was from Georgia, the bank in Alaska, [and] the recipient is in the Phillipines. I would think it’s almost untraceable. It’s a fraud, it’s a hoax,” said RayCrapello.

He now believes his family almost got caught up in the latest mystery shopping scam sweeping the net.

It could have cost him $2,800 when his bank debited the money from his account after the bogus check bounced.

Federal investigators said that we are now in the height of the financial fraud season.

“People are doing more purchasing now, so they’re more likely to become a victim of fraud just because they are allowing themselves to be at that exposure level, “ Secret Service Special Agent James Porter told CBS4’s Al Sunshine.

Financial fraud specialists said that the latest cyber-crimes and plain old fashioned counterfeiting is booming all over South Florida.

Counterfeit cash has more than doubled over the past few weeks.

The Secret Service said it is now finding out about $100,ooo worth of counterfeit cash a week around South Florida making it one of the top spots in the country for ‘funny money’.

“The counterfeiters obviously take advantage of the increasing shopping activity. They tend to use the holiday season and it does double the normal activity during the holiday season,” said Secret Service agent Abe Criz.

While shopping, you may notice that many stores around South Florida won’t take larger bills.

“There is an impact to the economy, there’s a chilling effect. You can see by a lot of retailers simply not accepting $100 bills, $50 bills,” said Cruz.

Terry Crapello said she’s lucky that she didn’t fall for the latest scam that is making it’s way around the net.

“The check is still sitting there, it looks bogus to me,” said Crapello.

If you do any shopping online, make sure to use a fully secured web connection to avoid identity thieves.

Many local Wi-Fi hotspots are wide open to anybody, and your credit card information can be intercepted and used without your permission.

For more information:

7 Key Types of Holiday Scams to Watch Out For This Christmas Season

12 Holiday Cyber Scams to Watch Out For

FTC Offers Tips to Help Consumers Shop Safely Online

Mystery Shopper Scams

How To Detect Counterfeit Money


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