The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is putting people on alert for the latest bad check scam, this one targeting babysitters.
The situation hit home when a Wausau woman, whose name is withheld, was contacted for a babysitting position. The scammer claimed they were moving to Wisconsin, but said at the time they were out-of-state.
That person then proceeded to send the woman a check for $1,850 when her weekly pay was negotiated at $400. At that point, the scammer asked her to cash the check and wire back the balance. Instead of following those instructions, the 17-year-old reported the situation to police.
DATCP spokesperson Jared Albracht said the fake check scams have targeted other people in the past who are looking to work from home or sell items online.
“That happens all of the time, but you stop and think why would they send you more money and want it back?” Albracht said. “You're responsible for the checks you cash according to the bank, and why would you want to do that to a stranger you don't know?”
Albracht said the criminals typically blame the overpayment on an accountant or assistant and claim that they are not good with English as a means of avoiding phone or face-to-face conversations.
Albracht added fraudulent checks are hard to identify and often seem legitimate when someone initially cashes them.
“They take the check in. Oh, the money's cleared. I can wire this and take my share. But it takes a couple days to fully clear and to have that money ready to go,” Albracht said. “So it's that gap in time of a couple days there that catches people as well. They think they're in the clear and they're not.”
Seventeen-year-old babysitter Lori Malm has been watching kids for about six years now. She was not a victim of the scam but recently advertised for babysitting jobs on Craigslist for the first time. Malm said she’s careful to sort out all of the details with parents before accepting a position, including an in-person interview.
“You could be talking to basically a spam-bot for all you know,” Malm said. “You don't know who you're talking to. You don't have a face to put it. And people are a bit too naive nowadays to figure that out.
"I may be young, but I already have that figured out.”