Don’t fall for shopper scam when unsolicited check comes
Question: In this day and age, it’s hard to tell what is real and what is a scam. I did sign up to be a secret shopper, but what they mailed me seems sketchy.
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Question: In this day and age, it’s hard to tell what is real and what is a scam. I did sign up to be a secret shopper, but what they mailed me seems sketchy. I didn’t expect to get a check right away (I haven’t done anything yet), and they have a bunch of instructions. Is this a scam?
Answer: Yes, it’s scam, and a pervasive one. With your query, you included a copy of the packet you received in the mail at your home address, which included a “cashier’s check” for $2,450.50 and detailed instructions about how to carry out an assignment evaluating a business as a “mystery shopper.”
Other readers reported similar mailers recently — they’re all rip-offs. Details differed slightly in each instance, as did the size of the check (ranging from $2,300 to $3,400), but all followed roughly the same script. One reader recognized it as a scam and asked us to warn others; you were suspicious but uncertain; and another, sadly, fell for it.
Here’s the gist:
The mark receives a check in the mail and an assignment as a “secret shopper” or “mystery shopper.” One common job: evaluating customer service at a MoneyGram cash-transfer location in a Walmart store. The mark is told to deposit the check, keep their “pay” (usually about $300) and get the rest in cash to pay for transactions to evaluate the business. Sometimes, rather than cash transfers, the mark is instructed to buy gift cards, iTunes cards or something else of value that can be transferred electronically.
The Federal Trade Commission explains what happens next: Days or weeks later “the bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money.”
How is this so, when the check apparently cleared and the deposit showed up in the person’s account? Banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but it can take weeks to reveal a fake check, the FTC explains on its website. By the time the scam is revealed, the thieves are long gone.
Bottom line: “If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then wire or send money in any way, you can bet it’s a scam,” the FTC warns.
This scam has been around a long time but rebounds from time to time, as it is doing now.
Q: I Googled the company that sent me the check, and it’s a real company!
A: That company didn’t actually send you the check. Its name was misused by the thieves.
Q: Does this mean all “mystery shopper” offers are scams?
A: No, but many are, according to the FTC. Mystery shoppers are hired to surreptitiously evaluate customer service at retailers and restaurants. They buy an item or have a meal and then report on the experience to the company that hired them.
Legitimate gigs never require a prospective mystery shopper to pay an application fee, nor do they require the shopper to deposit checks in a personal account or wire money to others, the consumer protection agency emphasized.
Mystery shopping generally is not high-paying. The shopper gets to keep the product or service they were assigned to buy, and sometimes receives a small payment as well, according to the FTC.
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