NORTH PORT, Fla. - Michael Smith stares at his bank accounts in disbelief. Among his four accounts he and his wife have less than $100 to their name. But even worse are the credit card statements.
"It was one day's decision that put me $30,000 in debt," said Smith, on the verge of tears.
That one decision took place in May. While searching for work online, Smith came across an ad to work as a secret shopper for United Services and Consultants. The promise of $2,700 every two weeks, plus commission, was too irresistible. After contacting the company, Smith was sent a job offer to work as a merchandise manager. He says he and his wife read the offer "over and over, and it looked good."
Smith went out on his first assignment on May 16th to the Apple Store at Coconut Point. He spent more than $24,000 on 17 MacBook Airs and one iPad. At the Port Charlotte AT&T store he bought six iPads for $4,500.
All these purchases were made on his two personal credit cards and, as promised, United Services and Consultants paid him back.
"I figured I had the job of a lifetime."
He figured wrong.
Smith then sent 22 boxes of electronics overseas to an address in Russia. United Services and Consultants sent him labels and payed for the shipping to make it easier to get the products out of the country. That's where the story takes a terrible turn.
"I found out that my charges were reversed," said Smith.
He was given a bank account number to pay his bills. There was supposed to be money in it. But a few days later he realized the account number was fake and now he's faced with almost $30,000 in credit card bills.
"I can't pay it back, I just can't," Smith sobs, "and I feel that I'm a victim."
WINK News tried contacting United Services and Consultants on multiple occasions at its New York office. The phone number appears to be disconnected and the companies website gives an error message.
Smith admits, he should have known better. The company is based overseas and the offer seemed too good to be true.
"Unfortunately I was so desperate," said Smith.
Beth Schell, a Crime Prevention Specialist with the Lee County Sheriff's Office, says scammers thrive on desperate people like Mike Smith.
"You forget the common sense aspect of, why would this person have me go to the store and purchase all this," said Schell.
Before you become a victim, Schell recommends doing a little research first. Checking with the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General's Office, or just searching the company online. We Google searched United Services and Consultants and the first page is a forum related to fraud. Add words like scam and the picture becomes clearer.
"We'll help you investigate, we'll help you do some of the leg work to help you figure out if what you're into is legitimate or not," Schell said.
A $30,000 lesson that Mike Smith learned too late.
"It basically destroys you," said Smith, "and it'll destroy anybody else who gets involved in this."