Scam Alert! Shopper Beware!
Scams seem like they are becoming more prevalent. Or just when one seems to die down, another one pops up in its place. Scam artists prey on unsuspecting people, so if something seems too good to be true then make sure you ask questions and investigate. Otherwise, you may become the latest victim to a scam. One of the most prevalent scams I have seen over the years is the Mystery Shopper Scam. There are different variations of the scam but this is the one I have seen the most. Someone receives an email, usually unsolicited, stating that the sender is looking for people to become mystery shoppers at a well known retailer. They are told that they will receive $300 or more for their services. They are also told that if they are interested, they should reply via email with their name and address. Finally, they are told that they will be sent a check for more than $300. I have seen the amounts of these checks for as much as $2,900. They are to deduct $300 for themselves as payment for their services and then either wire the remainder of the funds back to an individual at the company or deposit the check and send a money order to an individual at the company. This should be a red flag but it does not stop a lot of people from doing it.
Unfortunately, those recipients who follow through with the instructions are usually left holding the bag for the full amount of the check. Usually, it is discovered that the check is fraudulent, but not before the scammers have received their money. Since the fraudulent check was deposited into a legitimate account, the accountholder is usually liable for the whole amount. If you are skeptical about the validity of the Mystery Shopper Job, you can do one of three things:
- Do not reply to the email or Help Wanted Ad, then file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or your state Attorney General.
- If you did reply and received a check, you can show it to your banker to check to see if it is a real check. Chances are that the banker has seen the check before and can tell you on the spot whether or not it is fraudulent.
- If you do not want to feel embarrassed by showing it to your banker, you can deposit it into your account and wait 10 business days or more to see if it is returned as a bad check. That should give the bank enough time to determine the validity of the check. I do not recommend this option because the check could slip through the cracks, and you would still be liable for the whole amount of the check if it was returned at a later date.
If you are interested in becoming a Mystery Shopper, there are legitimate jobs out there but don’t do business with mystery shopping promoters who:
- Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email.
- Require that you pay for “certification.”
- Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
- Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
- Sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers.
- Ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to someone.
All the best!
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