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Financial Crimes

Illinois man indicted in money order fraud scheme

ROCKFORD, Ill. – An Illinois man was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of mail fraud for his role in a scheme where victims applied to work-at-home ads on the Internet believing they would work as "secret shoppers" or payment processors.

These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, and the Chicago Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Michael S. Mackay, 46, of Crystal Lake, Ill., was charged May 7 in the Northern District of Illinois with two counts of mail fraud.

According to the indictment, from September 2011 to at least May 16, 2012, Mackay was involved in a scheme to defraud victims into falsely believing that they were hired as "secret shoppers" to evaluate and report their experiences with local businesses. After applying for work, victims received a letter with at least one counterfeit negotiable instrument, such as a fake money order.

The victims were instructed to deposit the counterfeit money order into their bank accounts, retain a certain percentage as payment for their services, and visit the nearest Western Union to wire transfer the remaining proceeds as instructed. The victims, believing they were hired as secret shoppers to evaluate local businesses, were also instructed to report their experience via email to an email address contained in the letter. The participants in the scheme received the proceeds via the wire transfers before the victims learned that the money orders were counterfeit.

During the course of the scheme, Mackay received at least $2 million in counterfeit money orders in packages sent to Crystal Lake from New York, Nigeria and Ghana. Each package contained counterfeit money orders in amounts ranging from $900 to $2,000 each. The fake money orders appeared to be issued by the U.S. Postal Service, American Express, Capital One Bank, Citizens National Bank of Texas, First National Bank, and Navy Federal Credit Union.

According to the indictment, Mackay placed "secret shopper" letters in U.S. Postal Service express mailing envelopes, along with at least two counterfeit money orders to at least 665 victims throughout the United States. The indictment alleges that Mackay mailed over $1 million in counterfeit money orders to the victims and received wire transfers of at least $10,000 from his victims and others involved in the scheme as payment for his role in the scheme before the victims learned that the money orders were counterfeit.

Each count of mail fraud carries up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 maximum fine or an alternate fine totaling twice the loss or twice the gain (whichever is greater), restitution, and a period of supervised release of up to three years following imprisonment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Love, Northern District of Illinois, is prosecuting this case.

Members of the public are reminded that a criminal indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial, at which the government has the burden of proving guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.