Jacquelyn Lynn - Online Consumer Advice and Commentary

Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer whose dynamic books and insightful articles have been helping business owners and managers work smarter and more profitably for more than two decades. She is the author of Entrepreneur’s Almanac, Online Shopper’s Survival Guide and co-author of Make Big Profits on eBay, as well as a regular contributor to Entrepreneur magazine. For more information and for the link to her business blog, visit www.jacquelynlynn.com.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Consumer Advisory: Harrisburg, PA, Attorney General Corbett cautions consumers about “mystery shopper” counterfeit check scam

HARRISBURG, PA — Attorney General Tom Corbett cautioned consumers to be wary of counterfeit check scams which are disguised as offers seeking “mystery shoppers” for major retail stores.

Corbett said the scam mailing typically includes an official-looking notice informing consumers that they have been selected to participate in a “secret shopper” or “mystery shopper” program, where consumers are paid to make purchases at stores and then evaluate the service they received. Consumers are told that they can earn several hundred dollars for each shopping assignment they complete, and the scam mailings imply that the secret shopper program is affiliated with retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Home Depot, JC Penney and other major chains.

“This scam draws consumers in with an offer of ‘easy money’ – getting paid to shop,” Corbett said. “In reality, consumers are being ‘paid’ with counterfeit checks, and are being asked to electronically transfer money to scam artists, often operating outside the country.”

Corbett said the mystery shopping scam typically asks consumers to evaluate a money transfer using a MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfer as part of their first “training assignment.” A check is normally included with the mystery shopper mailing, which consumers are instructed to deposit in their bank account to cover the cost of their first shopping assignment.

Corbett explained that consumers are often promised earnings of $500 to $800 per week for future shopping assignments, if they successfully complete their training. Consumers are also told that they must keep the nature of their work completely confidential, in order to avoid alerting businesses that they are being evaluated and to preserve the “integrity” of the mystery shopper program.

Corbett said the typical scam instructs consumers to wire-transfer $3,000 to $4,000, often to an address in Canada. Consumers are told that they are sending the money to a training supervisor or account manager, who will evaluate the consumer’s potential as a full-time mystery shopper. After completing the electronic transfer, consumers are asked to immediately send a copy of the MoneyGram or Western Union receipt to a fax number provided in the initial mailing.

Corbett noted that the scam artists are attempting to take advantage of a time-delay between when you deposit their check, and when your bank discovers that the check is actually counterfeit. In some cases, this could take several days, allowing unsuspecting consumers to transfer money long before they discover that the original check was counterfeit – and that consumers are responsible for repaying missing money to the bank.

Corbett said that modern computer and printer technology allows scam artists to generate extremely realistic checks, forms and letters. He urged consumers to look beyond the authentic appearance of any documents, or the attraction of quick money, to identify the basic framework of all these scams.

“Alarm bells should go off in your head any time someone sends you a check, along with a request that you deposit the check in your bank and wire-transfer a certain amount of that money to another person,” Corbett said. “Whether it’s a mystery shopper offer, payment for an online auction, a classified ad, or some other transaction – scam artists are hoping that you send them money quickly, without thinking about the offer, and fall for a deal that’s too good to be true.”

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Shield yourself from marketers

There is absolutely nothing wrong with companies trying to market their products to consumers—that’s business, and it’s what keeps our economy going.

But I like to control—as much as I can, anyway—the amount of marketing messages I receive. You’ll find some great tips for how to do this in Leslie Halpern’s article,“Six Tips for Maintaining Privacy: Marketers Will Invade Your Life If You Let Them.”

Jacquelyn Lynn

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is that really your grandchild calling?

I have a four-year-old grandson I adore and would do anything for. Right now, “anything” consists of trips to the playground, running around the backyard, and playing with his toys. I imagine things will change when he’s a teenager.

Con artists have sunk to a new low, preying on doting grandparents by posing as a grandchild in trouble and needing help.

The scammer calls on the phone and says something like, “This is your favorite grandson,” or even, “Do you know who this is?” When the unwitting grandparent responds with a name, the scammer has the information he needs. Typically, the scammers spin a story of needing cash but not wanting other family members to know, and they convince the grandparents to wire money.

The easiest way to avoid being a victim is to not offer any information the scammer doesn’t have. If the caller says, “This is your favorite grandson,” ask which one. If the caller asks you to guess who it is, refuse—answer “Do you know who this is?” with “No, I don’t. Who is it?”

And if a grandchild says he or she needs money but doesn’t want his or her parents to know, step back and think. If it was your child, wouldn’t you want to know? Don’t you have a responsibility to your own adult children to tell them when their children are in trouble?

If you get drawn far enough into the scam that you’ve agreed to send money, stop and confirm the need through a known contact number—not the one the scammer has provided—before you come up with any cash.

Finally, if you’ve been the target of a scam of any kind, notify the police.

For more on the fake grandchild scam, check out http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2006/11/grandparents_scam.html

Jacquelyn Lynn