The current economic and employment situation in the United States has created an incredible growth rate for one internet business . . . Internet Scams. Now, before you starting thinking there is no way that you could ever become a victim of a scam, keep reading.
One of the most common Internet Scams today is the Secret Shopper or Mystery Shopper Scam. The people operating these scams will find their victims from resumes posted online at legitimate classified and employment websites. Sometimes, the scammer will even post an advertisement saying that they are looking for Secret Shoppers in your area and wait for you to contact them.
There are legitimate Secret Shopper companies out there, but you have to know what to look for in order to protect yourself. One great resource for legitimate Secret Shopper Assignments is MysteryShop.org.
In a typical Secret Shopper Scam, the victim will be told they have been hired as a Secret Shopper and will be sent a cashier’s check or money order to cash for use on their assignments. One of the assignments will be to review the service at a Western Union or Money Gram location. They are given a name and address of a contact person they are instructed to wire money to, from the cashier’s check that was sent to them, and told to fill out an evaluation form on the service received & email or fax it back to the company they are working for.
Everything seems fine, and some victims may even complete a few “assignments” before the check is discovered to be counterfeit. On average, it takes about 10 business days for the bank to realize that the check is counterfeit, but we have seen some cases where it has taken over 6 months. Once the bank dose find that the check is counterfeit, they will contact you demanding the return of the money and deduct the full amount of the check from your bank account. This sometimes leaves the victims with a negative bank account.
Many people have told me they would not have wired the money until the bank had told them that the check was “clear”, “good” or “verified”, but those words do not always guarantee your safety. Often, with cashier’s checks, the bank will tell you it is “clear” within 24 hours, but it can still come back as counterfeit later, and you would be held liable. Even worse, some victims of these scams have been arrested after the bank charged them with trying to defraud the bank.
Some of the warning signs of a Secret Shopper or Mystery Shopper Scam include:
- They hire you or offer you the job before you have even talked to them, and there is not an interview process.
- They say that they are with a specific Secret Shopper company, yet they are using a non-company email address.
- The area code on the phone number that they give you does not match up with where they claim the company is located.
- You are sent a cashier’s check or money order and instructed to use those funds to complete your assignments.
- One of your assignments is to evaluate a money wiring service, like Western Union. We have checked with Western Union, but they do not use Secret Shoppers in their regular business practices.
Shawn Mosch is a scam victim turned Victim’s Advocate who, along with her husband Jeff, works to educate people about internet scams. After their personal experience with a counterfeit cashier’s check scam in 2002, Shawn spent countless hours searching for resources and support for victims of these scams. The lack of information and resources available at the time was the motivating factor in launching their website, ScamVictimsUnited.com, in 2003.