Scam artists seek to take advantage of people who may be looking for additional income to make ends meet, especially during challenging economic times. Individuals are reporting a scam where they are led to believe they are obtaining employment as a “mystery shopper,” but instead are scammed out of their own hard-earned money.
HOW TO IDENTIFY THREAT:
Although some companies do hire “secret shopper services” to analyze their customer service by having “secret shoppers” buy certain goods or services at their stores and report their experiences, the fraudsters operating the “Secret Shopper Scam” offer no such service. Instead, operators of this scam convince consumers that they will pay them for shopping by sending them a check that later turns out to be a fake. Before the consumer can determine that the check is a fake, however, the fraudster will convince them to wire a certain amount of the fake check to them, while assuring them that they can keep the remainder of the money for their own payment and to purchase the agreed-upon goods or services as a “secret shopper.” Once the scammer receives the wire transfer, they disappear, and the individual’s money is lost for good.
HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST THIS THREAT:
Just because a check looks authentic does not mean it is. Scammers, using modern technology, can create authentic-looking checks emblazoned with the name and logos of actual companies and banks. Just because a bank deposits a check and makes the funds quickly available soon thereafter does not mean the check is legitimate. While a portion of the funds may be available in your account within days of your deposit, the check may take weeks to bounce or return as counterfeit.
Never wire money to strangers. Wire transfers can be picked up almost anywhere in the world and United States law enforcement agencies may have little recourse in recovering the funds.
Consumers should be encouraged to research the company before doing business with it. Contacting the Better Business Bureau or performing an Internet search on the company will often reveal whether it is a legitimate company. Take extra precaution if the company is based in a foreign country or requires money to be sent to an individual in a foreign county.
Remember that legitimate companies do not charge people to work for them, they pay people to work for them.
The Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s (MSPA) website, mysteryshop.org can be used to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and how to apply for them.
Consumers who suspect they may have seen a mystery shopping scam, file a complaint with:
• The Federal Trade Commission
• Their State’s Attorney General